tagReviews & EssaysCorvino's Defense of Homosexuality

Corvino's Defense of Homosexuality

byCal Y. Pygia©

In his essay, "Why Shouldn't Tommy and Jim Have Sex?," which appears in Contemporary Moral Problems, edited by James E. White, John Corvino, an assistant professor of philosophy at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan, offers "A Defense of Homosexuality."

According to Corvino, these are the typical arguments against homosexuality:

* It is unnatural.

* Homosexual sex is harmful.

* Homosexuality violates Biblical teaching.

Homosexuality as unnatural

The first argument against homosexuality takes four forms:

* Homosexuality is statistically abnormal.

* Animals do not engage in homosexual behavior.

* Homosexuality frustrates the chief purpose of the genitals.

* Homosexuality is disgusting.

Homosexuality is statistically abnormal

Against the contention that homosexuality is unnatural, Corvino argues that many other things, including clothing, houses, medicine, and government, are unnatural as well and that, moreover, many things that people hate, such as disease, suffering, and death, are natural. Were it to be argued that any activity that differs from a statistical norm is unnatural, Corvino quotes a group of Christian and Jewish scholars: "The statistical frequency of an act does not determine its moral status." In other words, although homosexuality may be unnatural in the sense that it is statistically abnormal, it need not therefore be considered immoral.

Animals do not engage in homosexual behavior

Corvino also points out that, in fact, animals sometimes do engage in homosexual behavior, but points out that the documented existence of "gay" sheep and "lesbian" seagulls, among other animals that engage in such behavior, is irrelevant to human behavior, since animals also do not cook food, brush their teeth, worship, or attend college, none of which activities

Is considered immoral. "The idea that animals could provide us with our standards--especially our sexual standards--is amusing," he contends.

There is a biological basis for homosexuality

Likewise, arguments that claim that homosexuality is an innate condition based on genetic causes and that "one is born that way" is, like the opposite argument, that people choice to be gay, is irrelevant, since each of these views "assume a connection between the origin of homosexual orientation, on the one hand, and the moral value of homosexual activity, on the other" which is irrelevant to the question as to whether homosexuality is moral. Against the idea that homosexuality is unnatural because it frustrates the chief purpose of the organs of procreation, Corvino argues that sex organs may be considered to have more than one use: "Just because people can and do use their sexual organs to procreate, it does not follow that they should not use them for other purposes" such as "giving and receiving pleasure." Sometimes, Corvino says, when people say that homosexuality is unnatural, they mean only that homosexuality is disgusting. It may be for some, he agrees, but he adds, "plenty of morally neutral activities. . . Disgust people," including "handling snakes, eating snails, performing autopsies, cleaning toilets" and that, "at best," to say that homosexuality is unnatural (i. e., disgusting) "expresses an aesthetic judgment, not a moral judgment."

Homosexuality as harmful

This argument against homosexuality also takes four forms:

* Homosexuality harms families.

* Homosexuality harms individuals' psychological and physical health.

* Homosexual displays encourage children to become homosexual.

* Homosexuality harms society.

Homosexual harms families

People argue that homosexuality is harmful to families, to individuals' health, and to society. It is said to erode family, but homosexuals contend that they have happy, successful family lives, sometimes adopting children or--in the case of lesbians--having their own children through artificial insemination.

Homosexuality harms individual's psychological and physical health

It may be argued, Corvino says, that the psychological problems that homosexuals are supposed to suffer result from the way that society treats them, contending that anyone who was "told from a very early age that the romantic feelings. . . experienced were sick, unnatural, and disgusting" and being ostracized or physically assaulted for expressing such feelings could explain depression and self-destructive behavior (as, indeed, could the lack of family support services explain the breakup of homosexual couples). AIDS has nothing to do with homosexuality per se, Corvino argues, since "it's not homosexuality that's harmful" but the virus, which "may be carried by both heterosexual and homosexual people." Many more heterosexual men (and, increasingly women) molest children than do homosexuals, but the labeling of male pedophiles as "homosexuals" rather than as "pedophiles" may distort this reality.

Homosexual displays encourage children to become homosexual.

Corvino suggests that the idea that increased public displays of homosexual behavior may cause children to become homosexual involves the fallacy of circular reasoning: "One cannot say that doing X is bad by arguing that it cause other people to do X. One must first establish independently that X is bad," and no one has been able to establish that homosexuality is bad.

Homosexuality harms society

It has been claimed that homosexuality harms society because, if everyone were homosexual, there would be no population. However, not all who practice homosexual behavior are strictly homosexual; many are bisexual. Among lesbians, as noted earlier, some women can conceive through artificial insemination. In addition, many people are exclusively heterosexual. In fact, some people who are heterosexual are also celibate, many Catholic priests included. Are celibate priests also harmful to society? Are infertile heterosexual women or impotent or infertile heterosexual men? As Corvino notes, "From the fact that the continuation of society requires procreation, it does not follow that everyone must procreate" and even if the false claim that "if everyone were homosexual, there would be no society" were true, "it would not establish that homosexuality is immoral."

Homosexuality violates Biblical teaching.

Against the notion that homosexuality violates Biblical teaching, Corvino argues that "substantial changes in cultural context have altered the meaning and the consequences--and thus the moral value--of" the practice" of homosexuality, since such practices are no longer "integral to pagan practices" of the day and no longer involve "older men and younger boys," as they did in Old Testament times. In addition, in the United States, where freedom of religion id valued, religious sanctions or prohibitions against homosexuality are not sufficient for :moral or legal sanctions."

"A Reply to Corvino"

In the same volume, Corvino's defense of homosexuality is followed by "A Reply to Corvino" by David Bradshaw, an assistant professor of philosophy at the University of Kentucky. According to White, Bradshaw contends that "Corvino is confused because he fails to distinguish between three levels of opposition to homosexuality. There is opposition to the gay rights movement, opposition to the homosexual lifestyle, and opposition to homosexual practice. Bradshaw is mainly concerned with the third sort of opposition." In his response to Corvino, Bradshaw, White says, "is mainly concerned with the third sort of opposition," arguing that "homosexual practice is morally wrong because it is prohibited in the Bible and because it violates the body's moral space."

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