Homosexuality, Civil Rights, and Natural Law

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By Howard Kainz   
Thursday, 01 September 2011

Massive and successful efforts have been made to characterize homosexuals as normal rather than deviant. Yet heterosexuals are still befuddled about same-sex attraction. And a long series of attempts have been made during the last century to “diagnose” the causes.

Sigmund Freud, not speaking as a moralist, but summing up the cultural mores in the early twentieth century, writes in General Introduction to Psychoanalysis:

It is a characteristic common to all the perversions that in them reproduction as an aim is put aside. This is actually the criterion by which we judge whether a sexual activity is perverse – if it departs from reproduction in its aims and pursues the attainment of gratification independently.... [Such activity] is called by the unhonored title of “perversion” and as such is despised.

Freud sought to understand, and possibly remedy, homosexual attractions. He came up with two possible “etiologies.” In some cases, a son over-identifies with the mother rather than the father, or a daughter over-identifies with the father. And in other cases, it may be the result of arrested narcissistic development, which causes attraction to same-sex reflections of oneself, rather than to the opposite sex.

Freud’s erstwhile disciple, Carl Jung, on the other hand, focused on the fact that, while boys in development normally repress their female characteristics to the unconscious, and “project” them later on to females, some boys repress their male characteristics to the unconscious, and later project them to males. He explained female homosexuality as the converse situation, where girls repress their female rather than male characteristics to the unconscious.

Some Christian groups trace male homosexuality to the cultural phenomenon of women wearing pants. This explanation probably merits about as much attention as the theories of Freud or Jung.

Enormous changes have taken place with regard to psychological perspectives on homosexuality and are reflected in revised versions of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), published by the American Psychiatric Association. In the 1952 edition, homosexuality was defined as a “sociopathic personality disturbance”; in 1968 as a “sexual deviation”; but in 1973, reclassified as a condition of interest to psychiatrists only if an individual was dissatisfied with his or her sex orientation (“ego-distonia”).

Since that redefinition, the search for causes, very often by gay researchers, has focused largely on biological factors – the ratio of etiocholanolane to androsterone in the urine; the ratio of androgen to estrogen in early development; DNA anomalies in the X chromosomes of homosexual brothers; the size of the suprachiasmatic nucleus in the brain of homosexuals; increased probability of homosexuality in identical twins; or the possibility of a “gay gene.”

All these studies have been subjected to criticism by other scientists for their methodology, or for ineffective controls or lack of reduplicability, or for including bisexuals along with homosexuals.

What kind of evidence for a clear biological cause would be convincing? It’s almost impossible to imagine.  At the time of conception, the chromosomes are male or female and determine what kind of sexual organs will develop in the fetus. Male and female hormones are in both sexes, and develop in combination with environmental variables, making it unlikely that even the most advanced algorithm could predict the occasional appearance of same-sex attraction.


            Is “minor attraction” the next civil-rights movement?

Psychiatrist Robert Spitzer, who in 1973 spearheaded the movement in the APA for redefinition of homosexuality, has since caused consternation among his peers by reversing himself after a five-year study of 200 homosexuals, and concluding that homosexuals can change their sexual preference.

In spite of the complete lack of evidence that anyone is “born gay,” the theories ascribing homosexuality to a biological cause, rather than to contingent environmental situations, or to personal choice, have become very important because of their current relevance to political and moral issues.

If (in spite of the fact that many homosexuals have had children normally, and many have changed their sexual preference) it is thought that some or many homosexuals are born that way, homosexuality seems to become a civil rights issue – in analogy with race or ethnicity or gender. As a result, things that formerly seemed a matter of plain common sense – such as restricting homosexual men from becoming boy scout leaders, or living in close physical contact with other young males, as in seminaries or military units – become “discriminatory.”

But if, as the Catholic Church maintains, and the APA used to echo, homosexuality is an “intrinsically disordered” condition, it is certainly a handicap in the conduct of normal social and family life, but not something analogous to race, gender, etc., calling for new civil-rights legislation.

The “born gay” position also seems to militate against what has been considered to be one of the most obvious dictates of the natural law – propagation and nurturing of offspring.  This is, of course, a precept for the human species, but not for every individual; thus voluntary celibacy is allowed.

Some sexual acts contra naturam, such as rape, incest, and the molestation of children and minors, are still criminalized.  But the fact that some acts that formerly were considered contra naturam have been pronounced legal in the twentieth century does not mean that they are in accord with the natural law. Could 3 percent of the population, because of differing sexual attractions, be exceptions to the precept of the natural law relating sex and procreation? Only if the meanings of “natural,” as well as “sexual intercourse” and “marriage,” are changed arbitrarily.

And it may not stop there. Reminiscent of the movement to reclassify homosexuality as normal rather than deviant in the 1970s, a group of pro-pedophile activists and mental health professionals (B4U-ACT) organized a conference in August in Baltimore, including panelists from Harvard, Johns Hopkins, the University of Louisville, and the University of Illinois, to support the declassification by the APA of “minor attraction” as a “mental disorder.”

If they are successful, we may eventually be confronted with new ethical positions about what is “natural,” new civil rights legislation, and even new “hate crime” guidelines.


Howard Kainz is emeritus professor of philosophy at Marquette University. He is the author of many books, including the recently published The Existence of God and the Faith-Instinct.

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