Is homosexuality immoral, evil, sinful, or morally wrong? If we have no reason to think that an action is wrong (a sin), then we have a pretty good reason to think that the action isn’t so wrong after all. Taking a shower could be wrong, but we don’t have any strong reason to think it could be wrong, so we have good reason to think that taking a shower is okay (morally permissible). People who don’t wear their seat belts could potentially cause significant harm to themselves through neglect, but it doesn’t seem to be particularly “immoral” overall. If we falsely identify an action as wrong, then we could end up causing guilt, oppression, and animosity towards people who don’t deserve it. I will argue that we have no reason to think that homosexuality is wrong. In particular, I will argue that the major philosophical ethical theories would not find it wrong and arguments that people present against homosexuality are not persuasive.
Major Ethical Theories
The major philosophical ethical theories include utilitarianism, the categorical imperative, Aristotelian virtue ethics, and Stoic virtue ethics. I will consider how I understand each of these theories to find homosexuality morally permissible rather than immoral.
I understand utilitarianism as the following – Utilitarianism states that morality should be guided by the results of an action. If an action maximizes good results (such as happiness) and minimizes bad results (such as pain), then the action is right in the sense that we ought to do it. If an action causes needless suffering, then it would be wrong to do it. If an action would not have any bad results, then the action is not wrong.
Homosexual behavior does not lead to significant harm as far as I can tell. It is true that promiscuous unprotected sex could lead to STD’s, but that is just a fact about promiscuous unprotected sex.
2. Categorical Imperative
The categorical imperative was originally stated to be, “Act only in accordance with that maxim through which you can at the same time will that it become a universal law.” I take this to mean “act only in accordance with reasons that would apply to all similar situations.” If you think that it is permissible to take a shower because it is neither disrespectful to others nor does it hurt anyone, then you have to accept that other actions that are neither disrespectful nor hurtful are also permissible, such as tying your shoes.
Homosexual behavior appears to fit this description (it can be respectful and harmless) in at least many cases. Consenting adults can decide to have sex for personal enjoyment without hurting anyone and without being disrespectful whether the sexual act is between people of the same sex or not. If we accept that sexual acts in some situations are permissible, then we have to accept that it will be permissible for the same reason in similar situations.
On the other hand an action such as stealing is disrespectful to people. If I think I am justified to steal a computer because I can make better use of it than someone else, then I will have to accept that other people will be justified to steal it from me for the same reason. It would be hypocritical to think I can steal from people for that reason and other people can’t. Fortunately people don’t agree that stealing is so easily justified. That doesn’t mean that stealing is never justified. It might be that we can agree that life and death situations could justify stealing without being hypocritical.
3. Aristotelian Virtue Ethics
I understand Aristotle as finding personal happiness and flourishing (a life well lived) to be the main goal of ethics, and people who know how to be happy well have a virtuous character. His main interest in ethics will be in terms of virtue and vice. He thinks that certain tendencies of character that lead to an extreme behavior will not lead to happiness. Courage is to allow fear to moderate our behavior to risk our lives, reputation, comfort, and so on, only when doing so is necessary to have greater happiness. Foolhardiness is it keep fear from moderating our behavior and leads to unnecessary risk taking, and cowardice is to allow fear to moderate our behavior too much.
Aristotle would agree that certain sexual behavior is virtuous and some is not. If homosexuality is a defect in one’s character (a detriment to one’s happiness), then I would suspect that homosexuals would be less happy than others, and consequentially have more mental illness than others. However, homosexuality in and of itself has not been found to be relevant to unhappiness or mental illness:
In a review of published studies comparing homosexual and heterosexual samples on psychological tests, Gonsiorek (1982) found that, although some differences have been observed in test results between homosexuals and heterosexuals, both groups consistently score within the normal range. Gonsiorek concluded that “Homosexuality in and of itself is unrelated to psychological disturbance or maladjustment. Homosexuals as a group are not more psychologically disturbed on account of their homosexuality.” (Homosexuality and Mental Health.)
4. Stoic Virtue Ethics
The Stoics agreed that our character is relevant to ethics, but they thought that the most important element of our character was our reason and beliefs. Irrational beliefs lead to inappropriate emotions and behavior, and rational beliefs lead to appropriate emotions and character. The Stoics thought that all forms of suffering (such as fear and anger) were caused by irrational value judgments that something bad has happened. In the great scheme of things getting you wallet stolen is not a big deal, but stealing a wallet tends to be inappropriate (based on vicious character) because it tends to be caused by greed rather than a rational belief that stealing the wallet is somehow the right thing to do all things considered.
For a Stoic any sexual behavior could be caused by inappropriate beliefs insofar as we think sex is the best thing in the world and allow ourselves to lust after sex irrationally. However, a Stoic admits that pleasure can be a rational goal when we dispassionately realize the limited importance of pleasure. I believe homosexual behavior can be perfectly virtuous in that sense, and perhaps for other reasons as well.
Arguments Against Homosexuality
I have spent some time researching the arguments against homosexuality and I have found the following arguments:
- Homosexuality is unnatural.
- Evolution demands that we procreate.
- Homosexuality leads to health problems.
- Homosexuality leads to mental health problems.
- Homosexuality is dangerous to children.
- Homosexuality could lead to the extinction of the human race.
- If homosexuality isn’t wrong, then consensual incest isn’t wrong.
- If homosexuality is found acceptable, then more people will become homosexual.
- If homosexuality is found acceptable, then we will become prejudice against people who think homosexuality is wrong.
- The Bible/Qur’an is against homosexuality.
Professional philosophers almost all agree that homosexuality is not wrong, and they would not be impressed by these arguments. Some of these arguments have been presented by theologians who seem to be ignorant of actual ethical philosophy and ignorant of actual scientific research.
1. Homosexuality is unnatural.
Some people seem to think that there is an “essence” of what a proper human being should be like as well as what our sexual organs should be used for. They believe that sexual organs should only be used for procreation.
First, it isn’t clear why being unnatural is wrong. My hands weren’t made for walking, so is it wrong for me to walk on my hands? No.
Second, I don’t know why sexual organs should only be used for procreation. Perhaps some people think that’s why God created sexual organs, but so what?
Third, homosexuality is found in nature. It is something that could fulfill a role, such as a homosexual who helps care for children of a family member rather than producing new children. This could give living offspring a better chance at survival rather than produce more offspring that might not have enough resources to live.
Fourth, homosexuality isn’t the only form of sexuality that doesn’t lead to procreation. If having stimulating sexual organs for pleasure is wrong, then homosexuality is no more wrong than masturbation or the majority of sex everyone is having. It is hypocritical that people get so hyped up against homosexuals and not everyone else also engaging in sexual stimulation for pleasure to an equal degree.
I suspect that most people know that sexual stimulation isn’t that bad of a thing, and we can’t condemn homosexuals for doing something we know isn’t that bad for everyone else.
Fifth, it might be that something is wrong in an unnatural sense if it is unhealthy, but that is a separate issue that I will discuss later.
Sixth, I don’t agree that human beings have an “essence.” Such an idea was proposed by Aristotle before modern science and philosophers no longer take it to be a tenable position.
Arash Naraghi presented a more in depth objection against the above argument against homosexuality here.
2. Evolution demands that we procreate.
Jason Dulle, a theologian, argued that homosexuality is wrong from the perspective of evolution because evolution thinks that passing on one’s genetic similarity is “the good.”
One, this is false. Evolution does not say what is right or wrong, or good or bad. Evolution is just about how the world works.
Second, evolution does not say that procreation is the best way to pass on genetic similarity. It is possible that when limited resources are available that one should not procreate and should instead help protect whatever family members are already alive.
3. Homosexuality leads to health problems.
Jason Dulle argued that homosexuality leads to promiscuity and STDs.
First, It might be true that this is a problem that many homosexuals have, but homosexual behavior in and of itself does not cause the problem. A monogamous homosexual relationship might be a solution. Even so, Dulle is not considering the difference between virtuous and vicious sexual behavior.
To be prejudice against homosexuals for statistical issues, such as higher promiscuity and STD rates, is nothing more than irrational discrimination against an entire group based on what some members of the group do. We might as well decide white people are a bunch of oppressive and greedy business owners, for example.
Second, even if homosexuality in and of itself was reckless similar to how refusing to wear a seat belt is reckless, it is not clear that homosexuality is immoral. We don’t think of wearing a seat belt as some sort of moral command that people sin against.
Third, we might worry that homosexuals tend to be mentally ill or often engage in criminal behavior, but even if such a link could be established, we could not conclude that homosexuality is wrong in and of itself. If homosexuals are mentally ill or engage in criminal behavior more than other people, then it would still be illegitimately discriminatory to hold that against all homosexuals. Crimes are often linked to men as opposed to women, and minority racial groups as opposed to white people. It is irrational to think that men or racial minority groups are somehow inheritable evil, and it is irrational to think homosexuals are inherently evil or the same reason. (Updated 6/6/2010)
Dulle makes use of statistics to convince us about how reckless homosexuals are, but we can also use statistics to try to justify racism in a similar way. Many criminals are minorities. Consider the following:
The racial composition of the US population as of 2008 was 79.79% White American (65.60% non-Hispanic and 14.19% Hispanic), 12.84% African American (12.22% non-Hispanic and 0.62% Hispanic), 4.45% Asian American (4.35% non-Hispanic and 0.10% Hispanic), 1.01% American Indian or Alaska Native (0.76% non-Hispanic and 0.25% Hispanic), 0.18% Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander American (0.14% non-Hispanic and 0.04% Hispanic), and 1.69% Multiracial American (1.64% non-Hispanic and 0.05% Hispanic). 15.25% of the total US population identified their ethnicity as Hispanic.
The racial composition of the US prison and jail population as of 2008 was 33.44% White American (non-Hispanic), 40.21% African American (non-Hispanic), 20.29% Hispanic, and 6.06% Other (American Indian, Alaska Native, Asian American, Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander American, and Multiracial American). (Wikipedia: Race and Crime in the United States.)
The problem with using statistics to try to prove something like homosexuals being reckless by nature is that there are many factors and we aren’t really sure what the cause is. We should suspect that race is not the cause of crime and homosexuality is not the cause of recklessness.
4. Homosexuality leads to mental health problems.
Robert A. J. Gagnon, a theologian, argues the following:
As regards lesbian relationships, the limited studies that we have to date suggest that homosexual females experience on average disproportionately high rates of measurable harm as regards shorter-term sexual relationships and higher instances of mental health problems, relative not only to heterosexual females but even to homosexual males. (Why Homosexual Behavior is More Like Incest and and Polyamory Than Race or Gender)
First, the statistics do not make it clear why homosexuals are mentally ill.
Second, many homosexuals have perfectly good mental health. It could be irrationally discriminatory against all homosexuals to condemn them based on the fact that some of them have mental illness.
Third, the view that homosexuality leads to mental health problems is just one more baseless accusation against it. This argument is refuted by a quick internet search, and Gagnon is either conveniently ignorant of what actual mental health research shows or he conveniently decides to keep such information from view. I already mentioned such research in the section on Aristotle that shows that homosexuality does not cause mental illness. There could be some sort of a controversy concerning the effects homosexuality has on mental health, but Gagnon’s claims are misleading at worst and uncertain at best. It is true that more homosexuals are attempting suicide than heterosexuals, but
Stress caused from a sexual stigma, manifested as prejudice and discrimination, is a major source of stress for people with a homosexual orientation. Sexual-minority affirming groups and gay peer groups help counteract and buffer minority stress. (Wikipedia: Homosexuality and Psychology)
Fourth, I already mentioned the if homosexuals have mental illness at a high rate, it would not prove that homosexuality is wrong in and of itself. (Updated 6/6/2010)
5. Homosexuality is dangerous to children.
Jason Dulle argued that homosexuals are dangerous to children because they tend to be child molesters, and other people worry about homosexuals raising children who might raise them wrong. Both of these concerns are misguided.
First, it is not clear that homosexuality itself has anything to do with child abuse. Jason Dull misuses statistics once again to try to prove something that is false. A quick internet search would show that homosexuals have not been shown to have a tendency towards child molestation:
The empirical research does not show that gay or bisexual men are any more likely than heterosexual men to molest children. This is not to argue that homosexual and bisexual men never molest children. But there is no scientific basis for asserting that they are more likely than heterosexual men to do so. And, as explained above, many child molesters cannot be characterized as having an adult sexual orientation at all; they are fixated on children. (Facts about Homosexuality and Child Molestation.)
Second, it is not clear that homosexuality has anything to do with raising children poorly. Research has shown homosexuals to be good at raising children. The consensus was that they were equally good, but a new study found the following:
The new study by two University of Southern California sociologists says children with lesbian or gay parents show more empathy for social diversity, are less confined by gender stereotypes, and are probably more likely to explore homosexual activity themselves. Writing in recent issue of the American Sociological Review, the authors say that the emotional health of the two sets of children is essentially the same. (Gay Marriage Does Affect Children Differently, Study Finds.)
It is true that children were willing to explore homosexual behavior, but their emotional health was the same, and we so far have no reason to think that homosexual behavior is automatically wrong.
Third, I already mentioned the if homosexuals are criminals at a high rate, it would not prove that homosexuality is wrong in and of itself.(Updated 6/6/2010)
6. Homosexuality could lead to the extinction of the human race.
An anonymous author argued that homosexuality can destroy the entire human race:
One of the criteria or litmus test of a behavior that is beneficial to humanity at large is, “what if the action that you are promoting is exercised by a majority of the people of the world? Will it advance humanity or will it retard it?” In this case human beings will cease to exist. (Homosexuality and Islam – An Islamic Perspective.)
One, something is not wrong just because it would be bad if everyone did it. If everyone was a full time doctor, then our farms would be neglected because civilization requires specialists who each play a different role.
Some people do argue that some behavior is immoral by asking, “What if everyone did that?” but this is a misguided way to reason. (Some people even seem to think that the categorical imperative is something like this, but I think it is a clearly mistaken way to understand it.1) This kind of question abstracts away all relevant information of the situation. You could ask a doctor performing a surgery and cutting someone open, “What if everyone did that?” Obviously cutting people open is usually wrong and the situation at hand is relevant to our moral reasoning.
I suppose someone could worry that everyone could become homosexuals because it’s so exciting and enjoyable, but many people aren’t attracted to people of the same sex.
Two, even if everyone was a homosexual, they could still engage in occasional heterosexual sex to continue procreation, or they could use other methods, such as in vitro fertilization.
Three, if being a homosexual is wrong insofar as they are abstinent from procreative behavior, then being celibate is also wrong for the same reason, but that is absurd.
7. If homosexuality isn’t wrong, then consensual incest isn’t wrong.
There are at least three ways people try to relate homosexuality and consensual incest:
- Homosexuality is wrong because God says so, just like consensual incest.
- Homosexual sex is wrong because the people involved are too similar, just like consensual incest. It is the similarity between the two people having sex that makes each act wrong.2
- If we agree that homosexual sex is not wrong, the next thing we know people will say that consensual incest is not wrong.
Homosexuality is wrong because God says so, just like consensual incest – I will bring up God later. (See the tenth argument.)
Homosexual sex is wrong because the people involved are too similar, just like consensual incest – I disagree. Consensual incest isn’t wrong because the people are too similar. It’s wrong because it ruins relationships and destroys families. It is true that homosexuality can also ruin relationships and destroy families, but only to the extent that people condemn homosexual family members. Incest doesn’t only ruin families because we condemn incest, but also for other reasons, such a:
- People usually can’t comfortably spend time with family members who we fear will request sex (or have even requested sex in the past), so it can ruin family relationships, and such relationships are often something that should be improved rather than destroyed.
- We want to know that family members love us for ourselves and not because they want us to give them sexual gratification.
- If consensual incest is ever considered acceptable, then we might fear spending as much alone time with family members because they might want to make an unwanted sexual advance.
- Incest between a parent and child has proven to be less than consensual due to the power differences.
As far as I know consensual incest might not be immoral or destructive in all cases, but it is an incredibly dangerous sort of behavior that has the potential of having destructive effects.
If we agree that homosexual sex is not wrong, the next thing we know people will say that consensual incest is not wrong – I disagree. There is a slippery slope fallacy being committed here. (Some people even argue that accepting homosexuality could cause people to accept bestiality, incest, and so on.) We have no reason to think that accepting homosexuality would lead to strange beliefs or corruption. If homosexuality is not wrong, but incest is, then homosexuality should not be condemned, but incest should. There is no reason to think that society at large would become accepting of incest just because people realize homosexuality is not wrong. We shouldn’t fear having moral knowledge because of some strange effects the knowledge could cause (due to the pathology of various individuals).
8. If homosexuality is found acceptable, then more people will become homosexual.
Robert A. J. Gagnon argued the following:
Cultural endorsement of, and incentives for, homosexual behavior will likely lead to a higher incidence of homosexuality in the population, affecting young people at higher rates. This means that more people will develop a higher risk for the problems discussed in 2 above [promiscuity and STDs]. (How to Make a Valid Case Against Homosexual Practice)
This argument begs the question. If we assume that homosexuality is wrong, then making it acceptable and encouraging such behavior would be wrong. Assuming it is not wrong, then we have no reason to fear more people becoming a homosexual. That said, we don’t know that more people will become homosexuals even if homosexuality is found to be acceptable.
9. If homosexuality is found acceptable, then we will become prejudice against people who think homosexuality is wrong.
Robert A. J. Gagnon presented this argument as the following:
Caving into the homosexual agenda will lead to the radical marginalization of those who oppose homosexual practice and, ultimately, the criminalization of opposition to homosexual behavior. (How to Make a Valid Case Against Homosexual Practice)
Again, this argument begs the question. Racism is illegal because prejudice against race is wrong. The same could be true about prejudice against homosexuality.
10. The Bible/Qur’an is against homosexuality.
This argument begs the question. Assuming that the Bible is right about everything, then such an argument could succeed. However, if the Bible falsely says that homosexuality is wrong, then that just proves that the Bible says something false.
Additionally, Arash Naraghi suggested that religious people don’t have to condemn homosexuality:
“Is it possible to be a Muslim and at the same time consistently believe that homosexuality is morally permissible?” I believe the answer is yes. To my understanding, the Quranic verses concerning homosexuality are open to new interpretations. Even if for any reason, one does not find the new upcoming interpretations convincing, another option is still available: she might claim that those verses belong to the shell of the text, i.e., they are not essential to the heart of the Quranic message, and being Muslim requires one’s commitment only to the heart of the message, and not to the accidental elements of the holy text. (Islam and Moral Status of Homosexuality)
His answer for Islam could be applied to Jews and Christians as well.
For information concerning how the Bible can be interpreted in ways compatible with homosexuality being morally permissible, you might want to see “Explicit and Implicit References to Homosexuality in the Bible.”
So far I see no reason to think homosexuality is wrong. The four major ethical theories seem to give us reason to think homosexual behavior is permissible as opposed to immoral. I am disappointed with the arguments presented against homosexuality and the great deal of faulty reasoning, misinformation, ignorance, and/or suppressed evidence that many of the arguments require. Most of these arguments were presented by theologians with a PhD, which makes me wonder if theology has strict requirements for qualification.
1 Gene Veith suggests that the categorical imperative would find that “abortion is wrong because if everyone who could got an abortion, the human race would cease to exist.” Kant might mean that we shouldn’t do something if it is wrong for everyone else to do it given the exact same situation and moral reasoning, but that is quite a bit different than the issue brought up against homosexuality and abortion. Having an abortion isn’t wrong because if everyone did it, then the human race would die out. Kant isn’t especially concerned with negative consequences. The reason that abortion is wrong according to the categorical imperative (if it is) is because it can’t be justified by moral reason, and abortion will be just as unjustified for others as it is for ourselves.
2 Robert A. J. Gagnon also argues that “if the concept of too much structural sameness becomes irrelevant, then there is no reasonable basis for withholding public recognition of man-mother or adult brother-sister unions. One wonders, in the face of such an assault, how long resistance to adult-adolescent unions and, eventually, adult-child unions can be maintained. Note that I am not saying that by approving homosexual unions we may open the door to something worse: polygamy and incest. There are good grounds for arguing that homoerotic unions are worse for society than polygamy and adult consensual incest” (How to Make a Secular Case Against Homosexual Practice).