21 September 2011

Contra Republicans: Homosexuality is neither wrong nor a disorder

Stephen Kershnar
Republicans and Gays: Get Off Their Case
Dunkirk-Fredonia Observer
September 19, 2011

Republicans have a problem with gays. The husband of one leading candidate, Michele Bachmann (R-MN) has a clinic that performs conversion therapy, which tries to change homosexuals into heterosexuals. Another two (Mitt Romney – Mormonism- and Rick Perry –Evangelical Christian) are members of churches that condemn homosexuality. Most of their candidates oppose gay marriage, as did Barack Obama during the 2008 election.

Gays are a small percentage of the population. On University of Chicago sociologist Edward Laumann and colleagues’ famous study estimate self-identified gay males are 2.8% of the male population and gay females are 1.4% of the female population, although about 9% and 4% have had sex with someone of the same gender. Still, both are significant numbers. Gays outnumber farmers and, depending on the way they are measured, probably approximate Jews, both of which get pandered to by politicians.

The Republicans’ and their churches’ positions boils down to the claim that gay sex is wrong or homosexuality is a mental disorder. The first can be quickly dismissed. One person acts wrongly only when he wrongs someone and there is no one whom gay sex wrongs. Such sex does not wrong the gay person’s partner as she gave informed consent. Nor does it wrong the gay person herself for the same reason. Even if it harms her in some way, and this claim would need to be defended, many activities that harm participants are not wrong. Consider, for example, smoking, overeating, or wasting money on the lottery.

The Bible condemns such sex. See Leviticus 18:22, “Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination.” See, also, Romans 1:27, Corinthians 1:9-10, and Timothy 1:8-10. Given that the Bible also rips pig eating and money lending and permits slave owning (see Leviticus 11:7-8, Ezekiel 18:13, and Leviticus 25:44-46), we can safely ignore the Bible when thinking about these types of issues.

The disorder issue is trickier. Currently, the psychiatric community does not consider homosexuality a mental disorder. In 1973, the board of directors of the American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from its handbook on disorders, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. The association’s membership ratified this decision in 1974. In 1975, The American Psychological Association followed suit. Until 1986, the psychiatric association it did consider gays as having a disorder if they were unable to get aroused by heterosexual sex and this inability interfered with their relationships and produced distress (ego-dystonic homosexuality). In 1986, it eliminated this diagnosis.

A disorder is, roughly, a disease or injury. More specifically, it is a dysfunction that causes harm. Following NYU professor Tim Wakefield, a dysfunction is the inability of some bodily mechanism to perform its natural function. A mechanism’s natural function is its evolutionary purpose or one of its purposes. For example, the heart’s natural function is to pump blood. If the heart fails to do this adequately and this causes the owner harm, then he has a disorder. Is homosexuality a disorder?

The evidence for homosexuality being a biological dysfunction is simply not there. If homosexuality is a dysfunction, then it involves a person failing to use his organs to perform their evolutionary function. It is unlikely that the penis and vagina were favored by evolution only for immediate impregnation. They also likely have a role in individuals bonding, which also has evolutionary advantages. This can be seen in that our closest animal relatives (bonobos), who engage in gay sex and adult-child sex, despite neither leading to reproduction.

In the U.S., heterosexuals and homosexuals differ in their rate of reproduction. On one study, only 38% of heterosexual couples do not have children, while 78% of lesbian couples and 90% of gay couples do not. If mechanisms are judged solely by how they frequently contribute to reproduction, then homosexuality would be a dysfunction. However, certain races also reproduce less often. For example, in the U.S., blacks reproduce at a significantly higher rate than whites (24% in 2008). The same is true for Hispanics. Also, people with higher IQs reproduce at a lower rate than people with lower IQs. The notion that whiteness and high IQ are biological dysfunctions is implausible.

If, in evolutionary terms, homosexuality resulted in more of gays’ genes being passed onto the next generation, perhaps by adding to the success of nephews and nieces, then it might have been favored by evolution. A similar mechanism can be seen in African hunting dogs where evolution has led to only the leading male and female producing puppies and the other members of the pack, who are related to the leading pair, helping to feed and protect them.

The harm claim is also unclear. It is unclear whether gays can be changed into heterosexuals. A 2002 study by Psychologists Ariel Shidlo and Michael Schroeder found it ineffective in roughly 9 of 10 participants. The most proponents of conversion therapy proponents can claim is that the studies conflict and are beset by methodological problems. If homosexuals cannot change their orientation, or most cannot do so, then it is unclear in what sense homosexuality harms them.

When compared to heterosexuals, gays do appear to be less happy. Professors Susan Cochran, Theo Sandfort, and others have found that gays do have higher rates of psychiatric disorders, including mood and anxiety disorders. For example, one 2011 article by Paul Flynn and Matthew Todd in The Observer found that for depression, gay men are four times more likely to suffer depression than straight men. Both gay men and women are also more likely to attempt suicide. They also are less happy. Laumann and his colleagues found that homosexuals were less likely than heterosexuals to say they were very happy and more likely to say they were unhappy most of the time.

It is likely that the lower-level of unhappiness in gays has an outside cause, societal hostility, that explains at least some of these problems. This is supported by the studies that indicate that nearly half of gays have been subject to verbal abuse or physical violence and that such victimization is associated with a variety of mood and anxiety disorders. Still, it is not clear whether this abuse is the cause of all of these problems. This lack of clarity is hardly enough evidence to support the claim that homosexuality is harmful to gays.

Homosexuality is neither wrong nor a disorder. Republicans should drop their hostile stance toward them, hide their religions’ stance toward them, and focus instead on Obama’s creeping socialism.


The Objectivist said...

Note that there are some dated studies that show gay males have many partners compared to heterosexual couples and that lesbians have fewer. This is unsurprising.

This is bad news for gays only if one thinks that sex is bad or wrong whenever it is not in the context of a committed relationship. I have yet to see a good defense of this.

The Objectivist said...

The presence of gay behavior in animals, particularly bonobos, is a real problem for the disorder theory. Unless there is an explanation for how similar behaviors can be connected (whether directly or indirectly) to an evolutionary advantaga in them but not humans, the disorder theory is in some trouble.

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