Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Not a Sin: Teleology II

What harm does homosexuality cause?

This question is one which generates way more heat than light. Those who want to persuade society that homosexuality is a sin know that they have to prove that homosexuality is harmful. At present they are failing.

The first kind of harm I will consider is the most straightforward - physical or medical harm. There is a paucity of reliable data available on the subject. So instead of incisive answers we get ideologically driven hate-tracts cobbled together with shoddy scholarship and methodologically flawed "scientific studies".

Exhibit A: Paul Cameron's famous pamphlet about the "Medical Consequences of What Homosexuals Do."

Now go read this thorough 12 part analysis of the pamphlet and all 34 references cited. Or this scholarly treatment of the same pamphlet. Read how Dr. Cameron uses studies without any scientific credibility, or extrapolates from sample data taken exclusively from STD clinics and voluntary respondents to surveys published in pornographic magazines to make generalizations about all homosexuals. Observe the highly selective use of data - even from his own studies. Then go and learn how Dr. Cameron has been thoroughly discredited by his peers, ejected from the American Psychological Association for repeatedly misconstruing the results of other people's research, and pays a non-peer-reviewed journal to publish his work in order to maintain a semblance of academic credibility.

Paul Cameron is not the subject of this post, but he is the most widely distributed writer on the supposed harm caused by homosexuality, and he is an example of the really poor quality of these arguments. When it comes to medical consequences there has never been a large, random, scientifically credible study done which compares the effects of homosexual sex with heterosexual sex. All the studies currently out there share a variety of flaws. They have too small of a sample size to be representative. They are non-random; most of the participants have come from STD clinics or voluntary respondents to surveys published in suspect areas like pornographic magazines. They are almost exclusively concerned with male homosexual behavior - there are no good studies of lesbian sex that I am aware of. They utterly lack a heterosexual "control" group, meaning there is no basis for comparison.

But even without accurate scientific data there is something we can say, which immediately discredits any suggestion that homosexuality is harmful (in a medical sense).

There is no sexual behavior homosexuals engage in which is not practiced in far greater numbers by heterosexuals. Anal sex, fellatio, cunnilingus, you name it there are far more heterosexual couples doing it than homosexuals every day of the week. Therefore any medical consequence which could be attributed to a particular sexual behavior when practiced by homosexuals would also be true of heterosexuals.

There are other kinds of harm, though, besides the physical. What about emotional or psychological damage? Does homosexuality cause mental harm?

Immediately, we are confronted with a problem. How can we demonstrate that homosexuality is a primary cause of mental distress? How do we separate damage done to a person by a society which rejects and despises them, from damage caused by the sexual orientation itself? There is no clear cut method. The mind is still in many ways a mystery, and we will probably never know all of the complex interactions which make a human personality. It is possible, as most neurologists are increasingly persuaded, that the human brain does evidence both sexual dimorphism (different brain structures based on gender) as well as sexual-orientation dimorphism. If this is the case, how will we measure mental health in people who are neurologically different?

One thing is certain: we won't measure it via psychological profiling. The American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from the DSM in 1973 because study after study had failed to prove the long-established clinical bias that homosexuality is pathological. Hundreds of psychologists working for over a hundred years with the active assumption that homosexuality is a disease failed in even a single case to demonstrate that homosexuality is mentally harmful. Indeed, when given anonymous psychological profiles psychiatrists have been totally unable to distinguish homosexuals from heterosexuals.

There is no mental health issue homosexuals suffer from which heterosexuals do not suffer from in equal or greater proportion. Thus we cannot say that homosexuality is mentally harmful any more than heterosexuality is.

If homosexuality isn't physically harmful or mentally harmful, perhaps it is socially harmful. Doesn't homosexuality ruin marriages, corrupt children, destroy the family unit, and lead to the dissolution and devastation of society?

If mental harm was a nebulous and subjective criteria to measure, social harm is even more so. What objective method can we possibly use to determine whether homosexuality is damaging to society? Ultimately, there is none. Anyone can allege anything is damaging to society and it would be very difficult to prove or disprove. Popcorn is bad for society. Prove me wrong.

The burden of proof, though, lies on those who allege harm, and fortunately, in attempting to prove their thesis that homosexuality is harmful to society they have said some outlandish things which undermine the credibility of the argument.

For example, conservatives routinely insist that marriage has ALWAYS consisted of one man and one woman in every culture and every religion for over 5000 years. Thus, permitting homosexual relationships (and even worse officially approving of them through legalized marriage) destroys an enduring and universal institution. The absurdity of this statement is unbelievable. Polygymy and its partner Polygyny are practiced and socially approved in a variety of cultures around the world right now. Consent, which is a HUGE factor in any marriage in this country, has no role whatsoever in an arranged marriage, which is common in many places and was the norm prior to the 20th century even in our culture. Marriage has more often been about kinship arrangements and the uniting of two families than about the uniting of two people - even in western culture. And same gender marriages have been normal in various cultures through Southeast Asia. Cultural Anthropology 101 easily debunks this ridiculous argument.

Indeed, could homosexual relationships possibly damage marriage any more than the soaring divorce rate, an epidemic of domestic violence, and good old-fashioned infidelity have already?

As for corrupting children - is a child with two dads or two mothers really worse off than a child with a single mother? Or two sets of remarried parents? Is there something specific about a parent's predilections in the bedroom that you can demonstrate has more effect on the child's well-being than, say, attention, or discipline, or affection?

There is absolutely no proof that homosexuality is any more harmful to society than heterosexuality. From where I stand heterosexuals are doing a bang-up job destroying society all on their own.

But there is another side to this whole question of harm. That is - aren't we doing measurable harm to our homosexual sons and daughters through discrimination? I'll take that up in the next post.


Steve Schuler said...

Another good article in this series. I have often thought that if the folks who expend so much energy in various forms of assault on homosexuals redirected their energy towards self-improvement we would all be better off. Better days are coming and you are evidence for that optimism.

Doug Hagler said...

In the only studies I've heard of on the topic, I believe there was some evidence that children raised by same-gender parents actually turn out a little better off - more emotionally healthy and so on. At the very least, you could look at hetero parents versus same-gender parents, and compare their kids' suicide rates, dropout rates, substance abuse and that kind of thing. There might be enough of the latter for a random sampling.

From the examples I've seen for myself, I can at least say that I've seen healthy children raised by same-gender parents; in some cases they were rescued from destructive/abusive heterosexual households.

Anyway, it'd be something to look into.

Aric Clark said...

@ Steve

Thanks for the compliment. I believe better days are in store.

@ Doug

I avoided bringing up anecdotal evidence in the post because I criticize others using it, but I can think of several examples in my personal experience where same-gender parents have done (or are doing) a superb job of bringing up their child. I'd love to see a genuinely thorough large random-sample study done of same-gender vs. hetero parenting. It would do a lot to dispel prejudice tackling as it would the intersection between homosexuality as contagious/choice, with family values.

Alan said...

"It would do a lot to dispel prejudice tackling as it would the intersection between homosexuality as contagious/choice, with family values."

I appreciate what you've been trying to do with this series, it's been well written and has covered all the bases.

But ...

Such a study would not dispel any prejudice at all. Nor do these sorts of arguments, as well formed as they are, change any minds, in my opinion. At least, I've never seen it and I've been at this a while now.

People simply do not make evidence based decisions about what they believe. Show someone the evidence from a study such as you describe and I think we can all predict what the response would be: "That's just liberal university hacks writing a report in a liberal, biased journal blah blah liberal blah blah liberal."

It's classic cult thinking in which the person who has been indoctrinated thinks that any negative evidence or negative critique of their world view clearly demonstrates just how right they are.

Unfortunately rational arguments, evidence, scientific studies ... none of that can penetrate the veneer of unexamined certainty, disinformation, and post hoc rationalizations that distinguishes many folks on the other side from those of us who have tried to understand these issues.

Aric Clark said...


You're absolutely right that many people are immune to reason. Most people are not able to change their own opinions - and they would say the same about us. As much as I try to be open I'm well aware that there are a several things I would never change my mind on short of a personal crisis or mental breakdown. For example - God it good and that means God does not torture people. Period.

Defeatism, or fatalism isn't the answer either, though.

Doug Hagler said...

@ Alan

Generally, I think you're right, but I'd submit myself as an example of someone who has made decisions to change my positions on three issues, and I promise you there are a lot of other people out there who have done the same. I've been involved in some of them :)

Violence: I used to be a violent person in a lot of ways. Then, presented with evidence that violence is wrong, and arguments to the same point, as well as some anecdotal evidence, I changed my belief to what is now - a flawed-but-ardent pacifism.

Abortion: Another situation where in looking at the evidence and ethical arguments, and examining my own beliefs and values, I changed my position from pro-choice to something else that takes a while to explain but doesn't line up with the pro-life movement either. In this case, I suppose I moved right-ward in most people's view.

Homosexuality: Again, presented with the evidence of gay people I've met and gotten to know, the science that continues to come out, Biblical interpretation, examining my own beliefs more deeply, etc., I changed my position from a closed one to an open one on the topic of homosexuality.

In my experience, the barrier here is pride, especially with violence and abortion for me. In the case of violence, I had to grapple with the (negative, shameful) impact of my thoughts and actions on others. For abortion, I had to break from the 'pack' of other eeeevil liberals who tend to be pro-choice and state my position - as a final presentation in ethics class at a liberal seminary :)

In the case of homosexuality, that bias melted away as soon as I got to know gay people on a personal basis. The other stuff was icing on the cake. "These are very clearly just people, and not the slightest bit threatening or dangerous to anyone."

Alan said...

"In the case of homosexuality, that bias melted away as soon as I got to know gay people on a personal basis."

I'm not saying people can't change their minds. Certainly they do. I keep holding in my mind the image of that one person in Hanmi Presbytery that voted for the new B, after that presbytery has been unanimously against us each time. Changing minds one at a time is how God changes the world.

But I don't think argument, reason, and evidence are what does it. I think it's actually knowing people. Communion changes things.

Jodie said...

I could have written Doug's above comments myself, almost verbatim. I was composing them in my head even before I read his.

But I would add Alan's comment to my own life experience:

"But I don't think argument, reason, and evidence are what does it. I think it's actually knowing people. Communion changes things."

Which is why, I suppose, that people who are afraid of change feel like they have to remove themselves from communion.

Aric Clark said...

Certainly reason and argument are severely limited in their ability to convert hearts. Almost all conversions begin as an experience in relationship with other people and involve primarily our emotions...

But after the initial experience which upsets the emotions and confuses the person's old convictions they need somewhere to land and I think reason and argument play a role at that point. At least I hope they do. Reason is important to me. I try hard to think through my positions and ensure I'm not being an idiot. I hope everyone tries at least a little bit to consider the evidence and form an opinion on the basis of reason (even if they are only reconsidering their old opinions for entirely irrational reasons)...