Friday, June 17, 2016

An implicit premise in the gay rights debate

Race and gender are about who you are and are unchangeable (transgender cases aside). Actively pursuing a homosexual sexual orientation is about what you do. Opponents of gay marriage often say that there is nothing wrong with being gay, the only problem is gay sexual activity.

To hold this position, however, you have to abandon a culturally popular belief, that a sex life is essential to human happiness.

For example, colleges like Wheaton College are often accused of discriminating against homosexuals because they have code of conduct that proscribe homosexual activity. But did you know that a Bible professor at Wheaton College, Wesley Hill, is openly gay. Ah, you say, that doesn't count. Hill is committed to a celibate lifestyle. But he is not only a gay man, he's most certainly NOT in the closet.

But if a sex life is essential to human happiness, what happens to people who can only pursue that happiness with children? What about persons with a spouse for whom intercourse is painful? What about someone married to someone whose sexual ability has been destroyed through injury?

Since I love to illustrate points with songs, this song, Ruby don't take your love to town,  is about a man injured in Vietnam whose wife has decided to run around.

16 comments:

Jeffery Jay Lowder said...

Race and gender are about who you are and are unchangeable (transgender cases aside).

I know you want to leave transgender cases aside, but why not just say instead:

"Race and gender identity are about who you are and are unchangeable."

Kairos said...

Hmmm. I think Reppert means to say that gender identity IS changeable. That's the 'aside' part.

Legion of Logic said...

You can't help being a particular race and you can't help being a particular sex, even if you have a condition that makes you "feel" or "identify" as the other.

Legion of Logic said...

You can't help being a particular race and you can't help being a particular sex, even if you have a condition that makes you "feel" or "identify" as the other.

Jeffery Jay Lowder said...

Vic,

But if a sex life is essential to human happiness, what happens to people who can only pursue that happiness with children?

I would answer those questions as follows.

Because a sex life is essential to human happiness, having a sex life is "prima facie" a good thing, i.e., its goodness can be outweighed by something. It is not, however, an "ultima facie" good thing, i.e., its goodness is absolutely in the sense that it is always okay to have a sex life regardless of the circumstances.

I won't even try to come up with a comprehensive list of factors which might outweigh the prima facie goodness of having a sex life, but it seems pretty obvious that "having a sex life at the expense of having sex with a person unable to provide consent" is just such a factor. So however "good" it might be from the pedophile's point of view to having a sex life with children, that "good" is completely invalidated by the child's inability to provide consent to sexual activity. Period. The same would be true for anyone else unable to provide consent, such as a mentally disabled adult, someone who has been drugged against their will, someone who is asleep, someone who is made to offer 'consent' under duress (such as at knife-point), and so forth.

What about persons with a spouse for whom intercourse is painful?

Great question. Putting to the side couples who are into BDSM, it seems pretty obvious that the good of "having a sex life" is outweighed by the fact that "intercourse is painful for one's partner."

What about someone married to someone whose sexual ability has been destroyed through injury?

I'm not sure I understand the scenario. Are you saying the injury has made it impossible for the spouse to have intercourse at all? If that is the case, then there is nothing to discuss. It's impossible for them to have intercourse.

Jeffery Jay Lowder said...

You can't help being a particular race and you can't help being a particular sex, even if you have a condition that makes you "feel" or "identify" as the other.

We might all be in agreement but are using different words to make the same point. I'm not sure.

I could be wrong, but I thought this is why there is a distinction between "sex" and "gender identity." And even "sex" divides into things: "chromosomal sex" and "anatomical sex." As I understand it, anatomical sex is changeable, whereas gender identity and chromosomal sex are unchangeable.

So, using those distinctions, I would reword your sentence as:

"You can't help being a particular race, having a particular chromosomal sex, or having a particular gender identity."

Or maybe you (and/or Vic) deny that gender identity is changeable?

planks length said...

(transgender cases aside)

There is no "aside". Until someone figures out how to change the male Y chromosome in each and every cell in a male person's body, then no matter what self-mutilation he engages in or whatever hormones and/or other drugs he ingests, he will remain a male.

Bradley Manning is a male, no matter what he chooses to call himself.

Angra Mainyu said...

Victor,

Who holds that popular position?
It's looks clearly false to me, at least the way I'm interpreting those words, since it's clearly metaphysically possible that some humans are happy even though they do not have any sex. Maybe you meant something else?
I don't see how this would affect the debate.
In any case, for that matter, one might ask:
What happens if a person can only be happy by torturing others for pleasure?
Well, then, hopefully that person will not be happy. And if he pursues happiness in that fashion, he behaves immorally. But what's the problem here?

Victor Reppert said...

I do think that in the typical argument for same-sex marriage, it is often implied that rules against homosexual conduct are discriminatory against people of homosexual orientation. To do that, you have to use some version of the "happiness thesis."

But it has to be weakened to deal with obvious counterexamples.

Here is the kind of situation I was considering. A person has promised lifelong fidelity in marriage to someone who suffers and injury and is no longer able to function sexually. I am inclined to argue that the fidelity promise still holds even under this circumstance, in which case the sexually capable partner is morally obligated to be celibate, since that partner to whom he or she has promised fidelity can no longer function sexually, or cannot do so without pain.

JaredMithrandir said...

The Bible does NOT condemn Homosexuality. It condemns certain pagan ritual sex acts that involved penetrative Anal intercourse.

http://solascripturachristianliberty.blogspot.com/p/blog-page.html

Angra Mainyu said...

Victor,

I don't think you have to subscribe to the happiness thesis.
For example, I do think that laws against interracial sex, against interracial cohabitation and against interracial marriages (all of which existed in many places in the past) are unjustly discriminatory against people of race X because they don't allow them to have sex, cohabit or marriage people of race Y, while people of race Y are allowed to have sex, cohabit or marry people of race Y (and you can pick X and Y as you like, so the laws are at times being unjust to people of different races).
On the other hand, I do not believe that sex is essential to human happiness, at least in the sense of "essential" that would imply it's metaphysically impossible for humans to be happy without a sex life. If you have a different sense of "essential" in mind, but regardless, I would ask how you would make a case against laws banning, say, interracial sex without the happiness thesis, and why that wouldn't work for gay sex.

Regarding the fidelity promise, I think whether it holds depends on the specific case (and the sexually incapable partner should probably release the other partner of that promise if it holds, though that also depends on the specific case), but I'm not sure how that situation is a counterexample. It's an example in which a person has a moral obligation to be celibate, but I don't see it as a counterexample to a claim that a sex life is essential to human happiness. It may well be that a person has a moral obligation to behave in a way that will prevent them from being happy. Still, I do agree that the condition is false as I understand it; I just don't see why the happiness condition is or would be needed for arguments in favor of allowing same-sex sex, cohabitation, marriage, etc. At least, I'm sure it's not needed for any arguments I would make.

Victor Reppert said...

Well, anti-miscegenation laws are aimed at preventing mixed-race children from being born. Race is, however, not a morally significant category (for example, in the Bible the only lineage that seems to matter are the lineages of Abraham and David, and whatever concerns there were about racial purity were overridden in significant cases like Rahab and Ruth). But such birth prevention is, in fact, morally harmful.

On the other hand, it might be argued that same-sex relationships sever the connection between sex and diapers in a way that is morally harmful. If there is a connection between sex and babies, then sex becomes a rite of passage that brings one, at least potentially, into parental relationships. Thus when we are ready for sexual activity we also need to develop the kind of maturity that would make us good parents. It's part of growing up.

I voted against the definition of marriage proposition (similar to California's 8) in Arizona, and I still don't regret doing so. But I do think the kinds of moral concerns that drive the anti-same-sex marriage position are more serious than I have thought they were in the past, and are certainly not driven by hatred.

In the last analysis, I do think the defense of same-sex marriage boils down to the idea that we should not put roadblocks in the path of the pursuit of happiness without good reason, and they don't see a good reason in this case.

Angra Mainyu said...

A reply that doesn't require the happiness thesis is as follows:

It's not the case that same-sex relationships sever the connection between sex and diapers in a way that is morally harmful.
In fact, there is nothing immoral with same-sex relationships. Laws banning same-sex relations (for example) are morally harmful, and unjustly discriminate against people who would prefer to have same-sex relationships rather than opposite sex relationships. That is so regardless of whether sex is essential to human happiness (which isn't the case, anyway).

"On the other hand, it might be argued that same-sex relationships sever the connection between sex and diapers in a way that is morally harmful. If there is a connection between sex and babies, then sex becomes a rite of passage that brings one, at least potentially, into parental relationships. Thus when we are ready for sexual activity we also need to develop the kind of maturity that would make us good parents. It's part of growing up."
It could be argued, but it wouldn't be a good argument.
First, that would seem to condemn not only same-sex relationships, but other forms of sexual activity that predictably will not result in babies, such as sex using condoms + pills, sex after having a vasectomy, sex by people who are not fertile and where the chances of babies are for all intents and purposes zero (e.g., a woman who does not have a uterus), and of course masturbation. The "at least potentially" part doesn't get the infertile woman off the hook, since there is no chance of pregnancy in her case, either, so the connection does not exist in reality.

But that aside, why would one think that in order to be mature enough for sexual activity, one should also develop the skills for being a good parent?
In fact, why would one think that there is a moral obligation to learn how to be a good parent at all?
It's an obligation that those who risk becoming parents or try to become parents may well have, but I see no good reason to think that's a general human obligation.

That aside too, if there were a moral obligation to learn how to be a good parent, that would not support a ban on same-sex relations, or a ban on same-sex marriage. If anything, it would seem to support some sort of ban on people who don't meet certain maturity criteria from raising kids in the first place (which I think would be a seriously bad idea, but that aside). But there is no good reason to think same-sex sexual relationships or same sex marriage will diminish a person's parenting abilities.
But in any event, the happiness thesis is not


But I do think the kinds of moral concerns that drive the anti-same-sex marriage position are more serious than I have thought they were in the past, and are certainly not driven by hatred.

Maybe, but that does not support the view that the defense of ssm (or allowing same-sex sex, etc.) requires or usually is based on the happiness thesis.


In the last analysis, I do think the defense of same-sex marriage boils down to the idea that we should not put roadblocks in the path of the pursuit of happiness without good reason, and they don't see a good reason in this case.

I'm inclined to say there are other ideas just as important or more so, like the idea that we should not put restrictions on people's freedom without good reason, or that we should not discriminate between different people without good reason (i.e., the differences have to be relevant), etc.

However, even the view that we should not put roadblocks in the path of the pursuit of happiness without good reason, and there is no good reason in the ssm case, neither requires nor suggests the view that sex is essential for human happiness.

Victor Reppert said...

But marriage licenses aren't required for the relationship to be possible. The Metropolitan Community Church is going to see some couples as married that the Southern Baptist Church may not.

I am inclined to draw a sharp distinction between legal and moral conceptions of marriage. Subgroups in our society are going to perceive marriage differently and should not be pressured to view it some other way from the standpoint of what the take to be ultimately real, whether the ultimate reality they believe in is religious or secular.

Consider marriages that began as adulterous affairs. I don't think of them as real marriages, but it makes perfect sense to me why they are licensed by the government. But if I am asked to participate in the celebration of such a marriage, even as a wedding service provider, I ought to have the right to say no without being sued. We may have to deal with a plurality of marriage-concepts in our culture, and I am not sure how we go about doing that.

Angra Mainyu said...


But marriage licenses aren't required for the relationship to be possible. The Metropolitan Community Church is going to see some couples as married that the Southern Baptist Church may not.

True. I was considering both the cases of bans on same-sex sexual relationships (which existed in some states until Lawrence vs. Texas), and cases of same sex marriages.

In any event, this is apart from the issue of the happiness thesis.
On that note, even if someone believes that the reason not to, say, ban soccer (or recognize soccer leagues, etc.) is that we should not put roadblocks in the path of the pursuit of happiness without good reason and some people pursuit happiness by playing soccer, that doesn't suggest she believes that playing soccer is essential for human happiness.
Generally, one may well think that there are several alternative ways of achieving human happiness (none of them essential to it, but each a possible way), that we should not put roadblocks on any of them without good reason, and that there is no good reason either in the case of same-sex marriage or in the case of same-sex sexual relations.
So, even if the defense of same-sex marriage boiled down to the idea that we should not put roadblocks in the path of the pursuit of happiness without good reason and there is no good reason in that case, that would not seem to suggest that the defenders of gay marriage (on the basis of that idea) are committed to the further idea that a sexual life is essential to human happiness.

That said, I'm inclined to agree with the view that refusing to provide service should not be made illegal in present-day US, even though I think what lawmakers should do in that regard depends on the circumstances.

Victor Reppert said...

I have a strong argument against sodomy laws, they require empowering government to find out what consensual activity is going on behind closed doors. That means I have to empower government to be a peeping tom in MY bedroom. No thanks.