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January 30, 2009

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That notwithstanding, lets not count out the impact of a major culture shift that has taken place in the last 20 years. Young people today have been raised with homosexuality as an alternate life style. Whether TV, movies, or high school friends, it is a part of their heritage. (i.e. Ellen Degeneres has had a popular talk show since 1997). They do not see it as wrong, any more than the culture our great grand parents grew up in saw the church, prayer at school, or any number of Christian practices as "wrong." They were simply part of the culture.
I suspect that for most late teens or twenty somethings, the new definition of tolerance is not so much a justification for their own beliefs as it is a norm in their culture.
When we add to the mix, rather pull out of the mix, a majority who attend church, or at least are raised with a culture that teaches there is a supreme being and a law above the law, then the cultural acceptance of almost anything is assured.
I know its often quoted, but Dostoyevsky was right - "Without God, all things are permissable." I suspect that the culture we face today, is not far from the culture the apostles faced. In their time, things like sexual immorality in many forms, and slavery, were society norms. Despite this, they turned the world upside down.

"tolerance" as an idea comes from the modern university.

It means "Shut up and do what you are told!"

I've worked at a university for 20 years. I've never heard of a case where someone has been told to "shut up and do what you told". Do you have a particular example in mind?

Hey Joe have you seen the film,"Expelled"? Expelled gives a thinking person all the examples needed. You can hear from some of our university textbook writers,and those they have expelled from speaking balanced thought.

And Ed the New Testament Church that turned the world around did not only attend church they were the church, a Royal Priesthood, and that is what we need today. The word church was a word used for all the christian people combined and not the buildings that we call church today. Blessings.

The people who opposed proposition 8 didn't do so out of "the new definition of tolerance."

They did so because they believed in the moral truths of equality and justice. That is, they thought that it is a violation of human rights to treat people differently according to the law based upon their sexual orientation.

So the reason that I reject proposition 8 is a moral reason. If you know someone who opposed prop 8 b/c they don't make moral judgments, then they are self-referentially incoherent. You can't call something wrong w/o making a judgment!

So the concern of a "new definition of tolerance" is a red herring.

"Do you have a particular example in mind? "

See here: http://www.thefire.org/

"That is, they thought that it is a violation of human rights to treat people differently according to the law based upon their sexual orientation."

You know, I agree with you. In that case, they indeed made a decision based off of what you stated. Though the ramifications of that conclusions were in alot of cases not addressed, or even willfully ignored. The fact is, many of them failed to take into account the entire scope of their sexual orientation and how it impacts more than just them and their partner. So even if they were making a judgement based off of what you said (and I agree, many of them did), that doesnt mean that their moral truths, were actually true. The concern for the definition of tolerance is absolutely valid. Should we tolerate everything and forsake discretion?

Sorry, that=those*

So even if they were making a judgement based off of what you said (and I agree, many of them did), that doesnt mean that their moral truths, were actually true.

Yes, that's right and that is where the public debate ought to take place.

I'm a Christian, and have been in a university environment for 10 years now. I've never been told to shut up and do as I'm told.

Perhaps I haven't been outspoken enough. Perhaps I haven't taken enough philosophy courses. Perhaps engineering is different from other academic pursuits, I don't know.

I've seen Expelled, and have walked away very thankful that those I work with here have been very 'tolerant' of my beliefs.

"Yes, that's right and that is where the public debate ought to take place."


Very well said. :)

That is, they thought that it is a violation of human rights to treat people differently according to the law based upon their sexual orientation.

Alden, nobody is denied marriage or treated differently under the law because of their sexual orientation. Marriage has a definition that applies to everybody equally--the same rules apply to every single person, regardless of their orientation.

This isn't a matter of rights, or else you would also have to say that we're denying equal protection under the law to polygamists or people who wish marry a family member. If you're willing to define them out of marriage, then you're conceding that this isn't a matter of equal protection and civil rights. What you're really saying is that you like a different definition that rules out a different set of people.

This isn't a matter of rights, it's a matter of discussing which definition we ought to use because no matter how we define marriage, there will be some sets of people who don't meet the definition. (Please note that never is an individual barred from marriage--no person is told he or she can't marry because he/she has a certain characteristic.) That's where the discussion ought to be--what definition is best for society? (and then that definition ought to be applied equally to everybody). The discussion shouldn't be made up of claims of bigotry and demands that you have a right to your definition. Unless you want to be a complete hypocrite towards the sets of people you would like to rule out.

Yes, I've seen the film Expelled. It offered ample evidence in support of the observation that religious people will lie, lie, distort, deceive and then lie some more if they think it will defend their beliefs. The stench of that film is still with me to this day.

I went to the FIRE website, and found that the first article was about Penn State. Ironic.

A couple of years back, the PA state legislature formed a committee to invesigate the "supression" of conservative idea on state-supported campuses. This committee traveled to several campuses, asked for student to tell their stories of "supression" and wasted who knows how much time and money. And in the end, they found nada, butkus, zero. Enough with the persecution complex.

Sorry, that should be "bupkis".

What happened to my previous comment? Did it violate some unwritten rule?

Joe, I don't see any of your comments in the spam folder, so if something didn't post, I don't know what happened to it.

well put Amy!

My apologies. When I first posted my comments, I could see them on the website, so I assumed that they were up and visible to all. Then they disappeared for a short period of time. Then they reappeared. So, I assume that is a just a function of the way these things are posted and/or displayed. There are no additional comments other than the ones I now see posted.

"Perhaps I haven't taken enough philosophy courses"

I've taken plenty of philosophy courses. I've never encountered the sort of intellectual suppression that some of the folks here seem to fear. So maybe in some other discipline?

Joe,
Out of curiosity... do you have any opinion on the main topic, this notion of tolerance? How would you define tolerance?

"nobody is denied marriage or treated differently under the law because of their sexual orientation. Marriage has a definition that applies to everybody equally--the same rules apply to every single person, regardless of their orientation"

Amy, is this supposed to be an argument? (That is, do you intend the second sentence to support the first?) If so, I suspect that you are misreading the import of "treated differently under the law". Even if "the same rule applies to every single person," does this imply that "nobody is treated differently under the law" in the relevant sense? Consider applying the following rule to every single person: on pain of decapitation, nobody can grow over 6 feet tall.

"Yes, that's right and that is where the public debate ought to take place."

Very well put. But that, obviously, is not where the debate is taking place (re homosexuality as a precursor to homosexual marriage). And the reason for that appears to be the love for tolerance, in the sense that the author of the article above has defined it. It's not to say that the "tolerance-speakers" are consistent, just that they often resort to this "last stand" when they run out of other arguments (and by "tolerance-speakers", I'm holding people on both sides of the aisle accountable).

I never hear any public (secular) debate about whether homosexual acts are moral, or whether homosexuality is somehow innate to a human being's identity. Both are now assumed by the media, government, schools, and the general public (at least in my circles). In fact, a couple years ago I was watching ESPN SPORTSCENTER and the sports commentator said regarding a homosexual athlete, "they're born that way and everyone should just accept it" (there was no one to debate against him on that point, not that sports anchors are in the least bit qualified to speak on such a subject from a philosophical perspective).

"Who are you to say/judge?" is the ultimate trump card to which a poor debater resorts when he wants to paint the opponent as a judgmental tyrant. In other words, it's an ad hominem attack of sorts.

"that is where the public debate ought to take place....I never hear any public (secular) debate about whether homosexual acts are moral."

How would you propose framing a "secular" argument that homosexual acts are immoral? Also, what would be the particular point of trying to establish the immorality of homosexual acts?

occasional reader,
Here's a good start:
http://www.str.org/site/News2/?page=NewsArticle&id=5255

OR asked: "How would you propose framing a "secular" argument that homosexual acts are immoral? Also, what would be the particular point of trying to establish the immorality of homosexual acts?"

By "secular argument", I just meant an argument in a public setting (as opposed to, say, in a church). I'd love to see it in the news media (obviously a secular setting), but that's not gonna happen anytime soon.

I would argue that the morality or immorality of homosexual acts has a lot to do with whether the government ought to be encouraging such actions (say, through the sanctioning of such acts through marriage, and in teaching that such acts are normative in public schools). The government is not, cannot be, and no longer even pretends to be neutral with respect to homosexuality. It blindly endorses it. Thus, the debate ought to be raised again and made public. Instead, the gatekeepers of public debate largely want to shove this question under the rug while keeping the hollow "equality" and "discrimination" issues at the forefront of public consciousness (without, of course, intelligent discussion of what those terms actually mean and how they apply here).

Define a vague, squishy term like "tolerance"? No, thanks. the word seems to mean a multitude of different things in a multitude of contexts to a multitude of people.

However, I think I can cite as an example my experiences teaching as a non-Catholic at a Catholic college. At one point, I was concerned that my non-Catholicism would be an issue in the tenure decision, so I went to the college president (who was also a priest) and I asked him about it. He said, "if you can put up with us, then we can put up with you". It's not a definition, but it seems like a good place to start.

The tricky bit seems to be in deciding when one's actions no longer count as "putting up with" someone and something and deciding when one is genuinely justified in no longer "putting up with" a particular action or individual. And that takes us back to the vague, subjective, squishy bits. Unfortunately, I am but a lowly biologist, and not a philosopher.

It is quite wonderful to have a biologist contributing here. I, for one, very much hope that you continue the dialogue--and even to recruit your colleagues! The mistrust of the university among certain evangelicals strikes me as something academics need to take seriously. I think a prayer is in order:

May this forum provide a line of communication between church folks and university folks.

Jesse, I read the article you recommended. It really doesn't address the supposed immorality of homosexual behavior at all. Did you send me to the right article?

Naturallawyer, you write that the government "blindly endorses" homosexual behavior. I'm not sure what you mean. What particular endorsements do you have in mind? (This is an honest question. I've not given this issue enough thought.)

"By "secular argument", I just meant an argument in a public setting (as opposed to, say, in a church)"

Naturallawyer, this blog is fairly public. Let's see how your argument fares. I'll play the side that isn't quite convinced that homosexual behavior is immoral (at least in any sense in which it would matter to avoid "immorality"). Maybe others can join in.

OR: a fair question.

Lets start with California Government Code §12920:
"It is hereby declared as the public policy of this state that it is necessary to protect and safeguard the right and opportunity of all persons to seek, obtain, and hold employment without discrimination or abridgment on account of race, religious creed, color, national origin, ancestry, physical disability, mental disability, medical condition, marital status, sex, age, or sexual orientation."
Sexual orientation is equated to all sorts of other immutable characteristics, as though it's the same. I'm not proposing that discriminating against homosexuals to keep them from employment would be fair or just; but neither would it be fair or just to permit discrimination because someone is fat, thin, tall, short, blonde, brunette, ugly, beautiful, etc. The inclusion of sexual orientation with the exclusive list in the statute elevates the protected status given to homosexuals and tacitly presumes that sexual orientation belongs in the same category as all those other characteristics. I'd say that's an endorsement of homosexual behavior, especially because homosexual groups wanted the statute amended to include them and now it does.

And then, of course, there are stunts like this one: http://www.lifesitenews.com/ldn/2008/oct/08102306.html ("Coming out day" at a public elementary school)

You also have the obvious California Supreme Court decision overruling the will of the people and forcing homosexual marriage on an unwilling populace. The CA SC is certainly part of the government structure.
While the case was pending, the Governator was encouraging gay marriage proponents "not to give up" and stated "They should be on it and on it until they get it done" (re gay marriage).

Finally, with respect to proposition 8, the state Attorney General intentionally framed the wording of the proposition to discourage votes in favor of it (there was litigation about this, but I don't have a link right now). The State AG is obviously part of the government.

So, in California at least, that's the legislature, the governor, and the courts (the trifecta!). And then of course there's the AG and the schools...

"this blog is fairly public."

I obviously was not stating that these types of debates don't occur enough on blogs (it is occuring on this one). The issue "whether white supremacists are truly superior to members of other races" doesn't become a publicly-debated issue simply because two guys duke it out on the internet over the subject (I'd say that "issue" is fairly well decided in our society, and certainly is no longer honestly debated). A publicly-debated issue, as I'm using the phrase, is one that occupies public attention and receives coverage by the gatekeepers of mass communication (and I don't think blog writers really qualify there).

OR said: "I'll play the side that isn't quite convinced that homosexual behavior is immoral (at least in any sense in which it would matter to avoid "immorality")."
What does it mean to be immoral "in any sense in which it would matter to avoid"? By definition, immorality is something that should be avoided, right?

As to the moral argument, here's my best off-the-cuff response, without putting too much thought into it...
(Note that this applies to homosexual acts, not homosexuals as such)

Human life and human beings are sacred. We know that because we know by nature (i.e. it is self-evident) that we should not harm other human beings (there is no prohibition against harming rocks, and I'm unaware of anyone that thinks there is).
Because human beings are sacred, there is an inherent integrity to their nature, to their design.
Sex is part of their design. Sex is a pro-creative act. Procreation is an inherent part of our understanding of sex. As a friend of mine once said, when referring to the animal kingdom, the difference between "sex" and "interesting frolicking" is whether the act will lead to offspring.
Sex is a part of human nature designed for procreation. It's also designed for other things, including binding two people together in love. There is also a design to sex that confirms the complementarity of the sexes.

No one should intentionally act *against* the sacred design of the body and its functions. That is abuse of a sacred design. Homosexual sex acts do that.

Naturallawyer (to your 8:49 comment):

“Sexual orientation is equated to all sorts of other immutable characteristics, as though it's the same.”

Putting stuff in the same list hardly entails “equating” the items listed. Or, is “race” being equated “mental disability” here? Moreover, marriage status is hardly an “immutable characteristic.” And why do you suppose that “blond hair” or “shoe size” wasn’t added to the list? Maybe the writers wanted to keep the list relevant? If you agree that employers shouldn’t be allowed to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, how would you propose re-phrasing the policy? I assume that you are not supposing that the only way for the state to avoid “endorsing” homosexual behavior is refuse to protect employees from being discriminated on the basis of sexual orientation.

That Faith Ringgold School held a “coming out day” more plausibly shows that some school admin folks in Hayward favor the acceptance of homosexuality. This instance doesn’t really establish that the government endorses homosexual behavior. I had a teacher in high school who displayed, in his classroom, a portrait celebrating Willie Nelson. I never thought of drawing a connection between this and the government’s endorsement of Willie Nelson.

Does the court’s failure to outlaw something imply the court’s “endorsement” of it? Even if particular politicians endorse homosexual behavior—even if particular politicians are homosexual—does it follow that “the government” endorses homosexual behavior? What if other politicians oppose homosexual behavior? Suppose that I could point to folks in each branch of government that opposed watching a certain television show. I wouldn’t take this to be an argument demonstrating that “the government” opposed the show.

Naturallawyer (to your 9:44 comment):

You are presumably aware that many types of sexual activity will predictably not lead to offspring. Does this make all such activities immoral? If “sex is a pro-creative act” I would say, “chewing is a digestive act.” Does this mean that chewing bubble gum is a perversion and morally impermissible? (Personally, I’m not even slightly tempted to think that the morality of bubble gum chewing hangs on the question of the biological design.)

Amy said,

Alden, nobody is denied marriage or treated differently under the law because of their sexual orientation. Marriage has a definition that applies to everybody equally--the same rules apply to every single person, regardless of their orientation.

This isn't a matter of rights, or else you would also have to say that we're denying equal protection under the law to polygamists or people who wish marry a family member.

Actually marriage does not have a legal definition. So it is a matter of discrimination to restrict the legal application of marriage to persons of different sexual orientations.

You also say that if it is a rights issue then it follows that it violates polygamists rights and marriage rights for incest. But this doesn't follow.

The claim is that arbitrarily treating persons differently under the law is a violation of rights. I say that sexual orientation is an arbitrary in regards to the application of law. Should they not vote? Hold office? etc.

The onus is on the person who argues that we should legally discriminate against homosexuals in applying the legal statues of marriage equally. And this hasn't been done, so it is a violation of human rights.

Further, one relevant difference is that polygamy and incest isn't legal, but since homosexuality is not, then it is an arbitrary form of discrimination.

OR: (re 10:17)


"Putting stuff in the same list hardly entails “equating” the items listed. Or, is “race” being equated “mental disability” here? Moreover, marriage status is hardly an “immutable characteristic.” "

You're right, marital status is not immutable, although that category was added most recently, I believe. But race is being equated to mental disability in a certain sense (obviously not in every way, or else there'd be no need to list both). The point is that those categories have been elevated to "suspect status", whereas other characteristics have not.

"And why do you suppose that “blond hair” or “shoe size” wasn’t added to the list? Maybe the writers wanted to keep the list relevant? If you agree that employers shouldn’t be allowed to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, how would you propose re-phrasing the policy? I assume that you are not supposing that the only way for the state to avoid “endorsing” homosexual behavior is refuse to protect employees from being discriminated on the basis of sexual orientation."

As to shoes and blonde hair, you conveniently omit the more pertinent examples, ugliness and fatness. Do you think people should be able to discriminate on these grounds? Morally speaking, of course not. They are certainly "relevant" to the cause of fighting unnecessary discrimination. But do those categories deserve suspect status? I would posit that fat people suffer far more discrimination than homosexuals. In any event, you were just asking for ways in which the government endorses homosexuality, and elevating homosexuality to suspect status is one example I gave, and I think it stands.

"That Faith Ringgold School held a “coming out day” more plausibly shows that some school admin folks in Hayward favor the acceptance of homosexuality. This instance doesn’t really establish that the government endorses homosexual behavior."

I can't really take this argument seriously. If the government's promotion of a particular world view in public schools (by forcing children to attend a certain ideological event) is not "endorsement", what is?
I presume this means that you emphatically support prayer in schools, from a legal perspective.

Does the court’s failure to outlaw something imply the court’s “endorsement” of it?
With all due respect, this comment displays a complete misunderstanding of the California Supreme Court's decision. The people had already passed Proposition 22 several years ago, indicating that there would be no homosexual marriage in CA. The CA SC did not "fail to outlaw something", it forced its views on an unwilling electorate. Again, if that's not "endorsement" (and imposing one's world view on others), I'm not really sure what is.


Even if particular politicians endorse homosexual behavior . . . does it follow that “the government” endorses homosexual behavior?
Of course it does. The government is made up of nothing but politicians. To the extent that those politicians endorse a certain position and act accordingly, the government endorses that position. Exactly what do you think "endorsement" means? Can you give me an example of anything that you consider "endorsement"? You asked for examples of what I meant when I said government assumes that homosexuality is morally permissible. If the governor's quote doesn't convince you, well I don't know what else to tell you because I don't think there's any evidence that would.

What if other politicians oppose homosexual behavior? Suppose that I could point to folks in each branch of government that opposed watching a certain television show. I wouldn’t take this to be an argument demonstrating that “the government” opposed the show.
If politicans opposed homosexual behavior, then I obviously would not say that government blindly accepts that homosexual acts are moral. You questioned why I said that, and I've provided examples. If the government opposed a tv show but did nothing about it, I suppose you might argue that the government has no position on the show. But if the government went out of its way to elevate viewing the show to a protected status, and then created a constitutional right to watch the show, and then had its governor tell viewers of the show not give up hope to create a governmental right to watch the show, and then had school children watch the show in public schools that they are coerced to attend, how could you possibly disagree that the government tacitly accepts (if not encourages) that show?

Again, if you still are not convinced, I'm not sure what other evidence would ever convince you that the government generally accepts the morality of homosexuality without any longer questioning whether that belief is correct.

OR (re 10:34):

You are presumably aware that many types of sexual activity will predictably not lead to offspring. Does this make all such activities immoral? If “sex is a pro-creative act” I would say, “chewing is a digestive act.” Does this mean that chewing bubble gum is a perversion and morally impermissible? (Personally, I’m not even slightly tempted to think that the morality of bubble gum chewing hangs on the question of the biological design.)

There is actually somewhat of a disagreement among conservative Christians (and presumably others) regarding non-procreative sex acts. Though I would discuss the issue further, I don't think the rated-R discussion is appropriate for this blog. Suffice it to say that I think there are certain non-procreative (heterosexual) acts that are immoral, though perhaps I could be convinced otherwise by a persuasive argument.

Re "chewing", two things: while you raise a fair point, you have not demonstrated that chewing is sacred in the way that sex is, so I suppose I should've included the "sacredness" aspect of sex in my original post. All humans know that sex is sacred (i.e. special). It's a very big deal for a reason, and adultery is a very big deal for a reason. As you imply, chewing is not as big a deal. That's why you picked it as an example.

I suppose I would distinguish between acts violative of sacred purposes of bodily design and acts that do not happen to serve all non-sacred purposes of the bodily design. To bolster my point (but not prove it just by this fact), I believe every culture attaches some moral, if not legal, rules to sex acts. I'm sure there are plenty of cultures that have no concern whatever with whether you chew gum. There is a clear moral difference between the two.

Further, chewing gum doesn't abuse the digestive purpose of chewing (in fact, I'm pretty sure you're still digesting in that case anyway). However, if one was to chew one's own arm off, or intentionally use gum to choke oneself, I'd deem that immoral. Using a bodily function to harm one's self would be inconsistent with the design of the body.

Naturallawyer,

I think your notion of “sacred” is going to have to carry all the weight in your argument. You’ll therefore need to define this notion. What is it that makes a given thing sacred? Why is it that activities associated with procreation are sacred, while activities associated with nutrition and bodily sustenance are not sacred?

It may also be helpful to distinguish “harm” from “wrong”. If we reserve the notion of harm for those activities that have bad consequences, then an activity can be wrong without causing harm (unless of course you are a certain type of consequentialist). It is right, I think, to allow for the possibility that an activity can be wrong even if all of its consequences are beneficial. For example, we might want to be able to say that the beneficial consequences of a given lie do not necessarily mean that lying is permissible. Going the other direction, we may want to say that an activity may be harmful without being morally wrong. Eating fast food is harmful (certain non-procreative sex acts are positively healthy in comparison), but we may not want to say that eating fast food per se is morally wrong. We may not want to say that transfat is a moral evil. Such things are primarily just harmful.

That said, the wrongness of an activity certainly can be connected to its harmful consequences. You apparently want to take this path in defending the wrongness of non-procreative sex acts. However, you should observe that non-procreative sex acts are not necessarily harmful (at least not obviously so). But if you can explain the wrongness of non-procreative sex acts that are not harmful, then the harmfulness stuff seems to be a separate issue.

Again, I think you need to elaborate on this notion of "sacredness".

(Pt. I)

I think your notion of “sacred” is going to have to carry all the weight in your argument.

While I normally loathe when people go to a dictionary to define words they've already used, I hoped to find something with respect to "sacred" that would help me. On dictionary.com, in the first entry, seven definitions appear, and of those, I think "secured against violation, infringement, etc., as by reverence or sense of right" is most appropriate for the sense in which I used the word. Another entry similarly states "Worthy of respect; venerable."

I think it's clear that the human body, and sex in particular, are worthy of respect. Only the fool would fail to respect either.

With respect to what makes something sacred, we're going to think deep thoughts... Human beings are sacred because God made them that way. I would chalk this one up to "self-evident" principles, as cited by our forefathers.

The thing that distinguishes "activities associated with procreation" and "activities associated with nutrition and bodily sustenance" is the reverence due to those activities. In secular society, we create movies such as "The Miracle of Life" (about childbirth) for public school health class. I have yet to hear of "The Miracle of Digestion" or "The Miracle of a Vegan Diet." There is a clear mystery in the creation of human life (and thus, in procreative acts) that is different than other bodily functions. Having sex isn't like burping. There is clearly far more meaning in the former than the latter. And maybe meaning is the difference: sex means something to the participants, something special (hence our going on in this debate). I have yet to see a debate on the meaning of burping, who should be able to do it, etc.

(Pt. II)


I'm going to nitpick with your definition of "harm" as depending on "bad consequences." If someone commits a moral evil and it has all sorts of pleasurable (not necessarily "good") consequences, it is, as you note, still a moral evil (and vice versa with morally acceptable acts that cause unpleasurable outcomes). However, I would posit that all immoral acts harm the self in some way or another. (I am not arguing that homosexual acts are immoral because they harm the individual and they harm the individual because they are immoral; that would obviously be a logical fallacy or two.) Still, a pleasurable result of an evil act will always carry with it some "bad" consequence as well (guilt of the individual, conscience burden from ill-gotten gains, etc.). But I am not arguing that an act is morally wrong simply because it carries such negative consequences with it. Some of the consequences flow naturally from the wrongness of an act.

I also want to tread carefully in stating that I do not believe homosexual acts are wrong just because they result in harmful (unpleasurable) consequences. However, I think it no coincidence that homosexual acts do result in harmful consequences. I think some of the harmful consequences flow naturally from the wrongness of the act. The harmful consequences are a result of the wrongness, not vice versa. Thus, under my view, I cannot point solely to harmful consequences to prove that something is or is not immoral.

And regarding your fast-food analogy: I wouldn't so readily admit that mistreatment of one's own body is morally acceptable. It's certainly going to be a situational question requiring a specific set of facts, but I wouldn't dismiss the idea that mistreating one's own body is immoral.

There are two subtly different questions working in our debate: (1) why are homosexual acts wrong? and (2) how do we know homosexual acts are wrong? (i.e. "prove it").

With respect to #1, I think I'm going to stick with (a) sex is self-evidently sacred (inherently worthy of respect) and (b) homosexual sex violates the nature and purpose of sex (it inherently disrespects it).
Question #2 is technically irrelevant to deciding #1 (an act may be immoral without everyone knowing it; there are plenty of children that do not understand what rape is, but their ignorance does not make rape permissible as an objective fact). I've done my best to demonstrate the case, but even if I have failed, or even if not everyone can perceive the sacredness of sex and its purposes, that does not change the objective fact of whether it is or is not immoral.

Naturallawyer, I quite happily agree that both procreation and digestion are important functions and worthy of our esteem. I would tend, however, to think that what makes procreation particularly special is nothing very mysterious: procreation is special for at least these two reasons: (a) procreation involves sexual relations (and sexual relations are a part of a certain type of relationship between people, which relationship we have independent reason to value), and (b) procreation creates a child (and creating a child brings with it special obligations, first and foremost to the child created).

I propose, then, that it for the reasons (a) and (b) that procreation is more special than digestion. However, if (a) and (b) are what make procreation particularly special, then the particular “specialness” of procreation does not entail that non-procreative sexual activities necessarily violate anything important. Consider first (a). The sexual relations that are a part of the valuable relationship between sex partners do not obviously depend on those sexual relations being procreative. For example, sex does not entirely lose its value in a marriage even if one of the partners is infertile. More to the point, when the infertile couple has sex, the mere fact of infertility does not necessarily degrade the meaningfulness of their relationship between each other. Nothing important is obviously violated.

Next consider (b). All (b) says is that you’ve got some big responsibilities if you end up creating a child, or if you decide to engage in an activity that might create a child. If, for example, Joe's having sex with a girl might make her pregnant, then Joe owes it to both the girl and to the potential child to deliberate carefully about whether he is capable of living up to the responsibilities. Procreative sex involves the possibility that Joe may be violating something very important when you engage in it. Of course, the potential for such violations doesn’t arise if Joe decides to have sex with a man.

In summary, procreation and digestion are both worthy of our esteem. Procreation is special for two rather common sense reasons, neither of which show that non-procreative sex acts necessarily violate anything important. There is, furthermore, reason to think that non-procreative sex acts can be just as valuable as procreative ones, and that non-procreative sex acts hold less risk of violating important moral obligations.

Alden,

>>You also say that if it is a rights issue then it follows that it violates polygamists rights and marriage rights for incest. But this doesn't follow.

Yes, it does. If defining marriage as something specific is a denial of rights to one kind of couple that doesn't fit the definition, then it is a denial of rights to every group that doesn't fit that definition. Why are you treating people differently? The answer is that you're treating people differently because you recognize this isn't a question of rights, it's a question of which definition is best. That's where the conversation has to be.

You keep saying that sexual orientation is arbitrary, but the sexual orientation isn't the issue, it's the sex (i.e. male and female) that is the issue. Is it arbitrary to say that the genders of two people are relevant to marriage? There is nothing more relevant to marriage than the sexes of the persons involved. Men and women are different physically and emotionally. Their coming together brings together two opposites, creates new life, and each provides the children with something different. Mothers and fathers bring different things to children and family, and it's best for children to have both. The sexes of the two people are much more relevant to the situation than the number of the people or the familial relationship and yet you are "arbitrarily" denying those groups marriage.

If you're going to say this is all about rights, you can't claim it's okay to deny polygamists marriage simply because it's illegal because that is begging the question. Maybe the law making it illegal is wrong and a violation of their rights, just as you think the legal definition of marriage in California (and yes, we have a legal definition) is a violation of rights.

>>Should they not vote? Hold office? etc.

Again, you keep thinking this is about a person being a homosexual. It's not. It's about a person's sex (male or female). Marriage is about bringing opposite sexes together. If a homosexual man decided to marry a woman for whatever reason, absolutely nobody would stop him. This is because gender is relevant to marriage and parenting, not sexual orientation. We aren't not marrying two gay men because they're homosexual, we're not marrying them because they're not a man and a woman. Can you see the distinction? This has to do with what marriage is, not denying someone rights. Because of this, the idea that they should not vote or hold office doesn't follow in the least bit, and nobody suggests it. (And, incidentally, nobody is trying to prevent two men from pledging themselves to one another. It's just a matter of what the government has an interest in supporting.)

You said

"That's not tolerance. That's a societal contract to avoid mature, healthy discussion to try to find out what the facts of the world really are and how they should inform our public life."

I agree. Those who advocate tolerance become intolerant as soon as anything theistic is presented!!

Johnson C. Philip, PhD (Physics)
India

occasional reader,
Granted the article I sent didn't establish immorality, but it did lay down a secular argument as to why we shouldn't publicly endorse homosexuality, which is the issue at hand when it comes to legislation.

Still want a secular argument for the immorality of homosexual acts? I'm not sure I can offer one, as I'm not convinced morality can be established in an atheistic framework.

OR: "I quite happily agree that both procreation and digestion are important functions and worthy of our esteem..."
Obviously, sex isn't more special than digestion solely because it leads to pro-creation. Otherwise, sex would mean nothing more than digestion to homosexuals. Clearly, the meaning of sex is the issue.

"The sexual relations that are a part of the valuable relationship between sex partners do not obviously depend on those sexual relations being procreative. . . . Nothing important is obviously violated [by non-pro-creative sex]."

The problem with this argument is that sex between an infertile couple is not inconsistent with the purpose of sex. Infertile couples, as I'm sure you know, occasionally have babies. I've never heard of this happening with homosexuals. Heterosexual sex is a procreative act even when a child does not result, because it's an inherently procreative act. That is the meaning of the act. Homosexual sex is an inherently unprocreative act. Homosexual sex therefore violates (or, spits in the face of) the procreative purpose and meaning of sex; the meaning of homosexual sex is "I can do whatever I want with my body regardless of the meaning and purposes associated with various functions", and "procreation doesn't matter with regard to sex". The only thing you've done to suggest otherwise is point to infertile couples and pretend that's the same as homosexual sex. As you and the whole world knows, they aren't the same. The meaning of heterosexual sex is different than the meaning of homosexual sex.

Naturallawyer,

You argue for the claim: "Obviously, sex isn't more special than digestion solely because it leads to pro-creation."

Isn't this what I pointed out?

You state, "Infertile couples, as I'm sure you know, occasionally have babies."

Then replace "infertile couples" with "married couples who cannot reproduce." The point stands.

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