Is Homosexuality Unnatural or Immoral?
Classic Philosophical Questions Part 8 - Applied Social and Ethical Problems
James Gould, from the International Journal of Applied Philosophy
Kem Stone - 26 June 2008
It has always perplexed me that so many people can feel so strongly that homosexuality is morally wrong.  I can
certainly understand why people might find it uncomfortable or even disgusting, but there is such a wide gap
between these feelings and those of intense fear and hatred that I am unable to understand why so many people
make that leap.  Even those who do not go so far as to
hate homosexuals are often prejudiced against them to
some degree, and in society at large they are probably the most commonly despised and oppressed group among
us, moreso than any racial or ethnic minority.  Since I believe (and have a hard time understanding why so many
refuse to believe what seems so utterly obvious) that homosexuality is a natural trait occurring from birth and not
susceptible to voluntary alteration, I find such prejudices not only unjustifiable but based entirely in ignorance.  
Any unfair treatment of another human being that results from something that human being has no power to change
is, I believe, an ugly and despicable thing.  Yet many otherwise intelligent people, including philosophers and
Supreme Court justices, believe that homosexuality
is a choice, that it is not natural, and that therefore making
laws to discriminate against those who practice this behaviour is justifiable.  One of the editors of this anthology,
James Gould, writes an argument opposing such beliefs, and while I agree with his position I feel that he is far too
generous to his opponents, whose arguments I not only believe are wrong but completely irrational and harmful to
society as a whole.  For this reason I will interject my own opinions into this exposition far more frequently than
usual.

Gould deals with two primary questions in his article: whether homosexuality is unnatural, and whether it is
immoral.  Although I believe that the answer to both questions is an obvious “no”, because so many people (the
majority, in fact) hold the contrary belief, it is worth a close examination to determine whether there are any
legitimate grounds at all for such claims.  First of all, Gould asks if there is any support for the charge that
homosexuality is unnatural.  To determine this we must first decide what we mean by “natural”, which has two
basic meanings.  First is “the totality of existence”, which holds the “natural” in contrast with the “imagined” as
anything that has real, solid existence including people, tables and chairs.  By this definition, the brain is natural but
the objects of the mind are not.  Homosexuals clearly have real existence, but the desire to engage in sexual
intercourse with members of the same sex is just as much an object of the mind as the desire to have sex with a
member of the opposite sex, so this definition does not help us at all.

The second definition is the more commonly used: that “natural” is everything in the world excluding man and his
works.  “According to this view, man grows up in nature and he never gets out of nature, but he is separate from
it.  Nature is external to man and his values, and is distinguished from culture, art, and history.  Man, nonetheless,
is not unnatural.  The unnatural is what is external to the normal structure or occurrence of a thing” (534).  We can
use this framework to approach the homosexuality issue, as it can be deemed unnatural if it is found to be external
to the normal occurrence of things.  The majority hold the affirmative opinion, that homosexuality is contrary to
what is normal and therefore unnatural.  Even a chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, Warren Burger,
expressed this belief in a 1986 decision in which he ruled that the right to engage in homosexual acts is not
protected by the U.S. Constitution because the acts are “unnatural” and therefore justifiably punishable.  That the
chief justice of the Supreme Court should hold such an opinion says a great deal about how deep the anti-
homosexuality sentiments run in society, as the decision itself is clearly rooted in prejudice rather than truly rational
grounds.  If being “unnatural” is sufficient grounds to make a law against something, we could make a law against
farming or construction, against reading, writing, and just about everything except sleeping and eating.  We could
even make a law against lawmaking, as this too is not a “natural” practice.

But even if being unnatural is a ridiculous reason to forbid something, we can play along with the opposition and
consider whether homosexuality really is unnatural in the first place.  Gould raises several different definitions of
“natural” or “unnatural” and considers whether any of them can be used to support that claim.  A definition of
“natural” used by many dictionaries is “based upon the operations of the physical world.”  Because animals are a
part of the physical world, and many mammals such as mountain goats engage in homosexual behaviour,
homosexuality can not be considered unnatural according to this definition.  Science overwhelmingly supports the
view that homosexuality occurs naturally, which is why I feel this debate is settled in spite of all those who refuse
to concede the point.  Even Freud believed that human beings are innately bisexual.  “Likewise, Wardell
Pomeroy, Kinsey’s successor to the Institute for The Advanced Study of Human Sexuality, contends that if
cultural constraints did not play a role in the spectrum of sexual behaviour in the United States, half of the male
population would continue to be exclusively heterosexual and four percent would be exclusively homosexual.  The
rest would be bisexual to varying degrees” (534).  I have no idea how such determinations could possibly be
made, but they do strongly support the notion that human sexuality is far more complicated than a black-and-
white dividing line between gay and straight, a point for which I will offer strong support at the conclusion of this
entry.

Would those who insist on believing that homosexuality is unnatural have any luck with other definitions?  The
second that Gould offers is “possessing a normal connection with someone” but it is obvious that whether or not a
connection is “normal” is a completely subjective value judgment that can not be determined scientifically.  
Furthermore, “some so-called ‘crimes against nature,’ for example, are practiced by well over half the adult
population.  Hence, in a significant sense these acts are normal and are not in this sense unnatural” (535).  Gould’s
third definition is “present or existing from birth” which fails to exclude homosexuality according to the American
Psychiatric Association, which has declared that homosexuality
does often exist from birth.  This alone should put
an end to the debate, but there are more definitions to consider.

A pragmatic definition of “natural” offered by Herbert Schneider is “that which works” which in and of itself does
not help either side very much.  But Schneider also writes that “‘even the unnatural act may be a value an
individual chooses,’ and perhaps be, in his mind, best for him.  Hence, homosexuality may be deemed by an
individual or by others as the best way of life for him” (535).  A Professor Finnis offers the definition that the
natural is “that toward which one is naturally inclined”, and while he believes his definition excludes homosexual
behaviour because he also refuses to believe it is a natural inclination, the American Psychiatric Association has
reached the opposite conclusion, and thus homosexuality fails to be unnatural even by his definition.  The final
definition of “natural” that Gould offers is “that which is in conformity with the laws of nature”, and since
homosexual behaviour does not require the negation of
any of Newton’s laws of motion, the Principle of
Conservation of Energy, Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity, or any other natural law in the universe,
homosexuality can also not be considered unnatural under this definition (which is a circular and therefore useless
definition anyway).  One definition of “unnatural” is that it is a synonym of “artificial”, and since no one considers
that homosexual acts are artificial (even if they involve the use of artificial objects) this definition also fails.

Finally, Gould considers the most forceful and commonly used argument in favour of the position that
homosexuality is unnatural, which is that human organs have a primary function, and it is unnatural whenever they
are used for purposes contrary to that function.  “Such an argument involves the contention that sexual organs are
principally used or are to be used for reproduction.  The descriptive aspect of this contention…is obviously false,
as both the male and female sex organs are only occasionally used with conceptive intent.  The prescriptive aspect
raises the question of whether our organs should have only one particular act?  Who is to say so?” (535). Gould
points out that our eyes have the function of observing but are also used for flirting, and that our arms and legs
have several functions just as our sex organs do.  For this argument to have any real merit, one would have to
think of the human body as a machine that comes with an instruction manual outlining the primary function of each
body part and warning against their “improper” uses.  One
could argue that the human body is a machine
designed by God, and that the Bible is its instruction manual, but anyone who makes this argument has already
forsaken rational judgment and will never be convinced by even the most basic, self-evident logic.

Gould has offered seven definitions of the natural and determined that homosexuality can fit into all of them.  With
the exception of the religious argument, which is impervious to rationality, this should put the widely held yet
demonstrably false belief that homosexuality is unnatural to rest.  Chief Justice Burger has lost
his rationale for
declaring that homosexual acts are justifiably punishable, but is there another?  Not all natural acts are moral—
rape being the most obvious example—so is there some reason by which anyone can justifiably claim that
homosexual behaviour ought to be forbidden?

Some would cite safety concerns, as before AIDS became as widespread as it was, the fact that it seemed limited
to the gay community made the homosexual lifestyle appear reckless and dangerous.  Among the more frightening
pieces of data, it was once recorded that over two-thirds of gays in the San Francisco area had some venereal
disease, and the chances of picking one up in a bathhouse were one in three.  In those times, homosexuals were
considered a danger to themselves and to society.  Since then, gays have shown a marked decline in their number
of sexual partners, though the number of their sexual encounters has remained the same.

Because safety is no longer a viable argument (although it was not much of an argument to begin with, seeing as
how the health of gay people is theirs to risk in the first place) some turn to an even more absurd line of reasoning
having to do with the high level of promiscuity that is considered (whether fairly or unfairly) a part of the gay
lifestyle.  “Given the fact of these incredibly numerous involvements, do these men have any time to give to
supporting the needed volunteer groups which help make a society function?  Society cannot adequately function
without a significant number of its citizens playing volunteer roles, but if one’s mental and physical activities are
continuously concerned with sex, then the needed social roles are less likely to be filled” (536).  Thus some would
argue that homosexually can be justifiably forbidden on grounds of
social utility.  Gould’s only response to this
travesty of an argument is that because not all people freely choose to become homosexuals, it is not fair to deny
them sexual expression.

I believe that this argument is not only rooted in prejudice and the unfair stereotype that all gays are wildly
promiscuous, but that it is logically flawed as well.  If promiscuity itself is the problem, why not make a law that
one can not legally engage in over
x amount of sexual encounters per month?  Why limit it to gay people just
because it is believed that this particular group is
in general the most promiscuous?  And if it is not promiscuity
but the fact that people are devoting their time to things other than volunteer organisations that help society
function, why not outlaw going to the gym, taking an art class, watching T.V., or any of the ten billion other things
people can do with their time besides join a volunteer organisation?  This argument presents the absurd and
transparently false dichotomy that one must either choose between having sex and contributing to society—and if
that were true every society in the world would be on the verge of collapse.

Another argument that Gould briefly mentions is given by those who believe that homosexuals seduce and harm
adolescents at higher rates than heterosexuals.  This argument is a failure because there is no evidence to support
this charge.  And yet even if a correlation between homosexuality and child abuse could be found, it would still not
be legitimate grounds to make a law against it.  That would be like making a law against being black because
statistics show that black people are more likely to commit a crime at some point in their lives.  You cannot
justifiably punish an entire group of people because a certain percentage of that group engages in harmful
behaviour.  Whites commit crimes too, just as heterosexuals abuse children.  Any law using this as a justification
would be hypocritical at best.

Finally, Gould considers an argument put forward by a recent head of the British judicial system, Lord Devlin.  
Devlin has a slightly more well-thought-out argument than Warren Burger as to why anti-homosexual laws are
acceptable.  He holds that “a shared morality is what holds a society together and hence the enforcement of this
shared morality is necessary to prevent society from collapsing or at least weakening” (536).  He cites the
Vietnam War as an example, during which the American population was split between those who were against the
war and those who were in favour of it, and during this time when a common morality was not shared, there was a
great deal of turmoil.  Only when the war ended could society feel itself as whole again.

Devlin’s theory has two parts.  His disintegration thesis, which maintains that the enforcement of a shared morality
is necessary to prevent society from collapsing or weakening, and his conservative thesis that the majority have a
right to follow their moral convictions and defend their moral environment.  Should the shared morality be violated,
two basic harms—one tangible, the other intangible—will result.  The tangible harm is a diminution of the strength
of society.  “There are activities which are quite harmless to society when only a few of its members indulge in
them, but which become harmful when the number of participants grows large.  Devlin cites drunkenness as an
example.  He also argues that ‘unrestricted indulgence in vice’ will weaken an individual to the extent that he
ceases to be a useful member of society, and society will itself be weakened if it has a sufficient number of such
weak members” (537).  The intangible harm is a weakening of the moral convictions themselves, as if immoral
behaviour can weaken one’s belief in a single part of society’s shared morality, it can undermine the entire moral
code.

I will concede that there actually is some weight behind Devlin’s argument.  If enough members of a society
engage in unrestricted vice, society as a whole will be weakened.  We need look no further than the Roman
Empire to see evidence of this.  And it is certainly the case that if one part of a person’s moral code comes into
question, the entire moral code is often shaken as well.  However, are these reasons sufficient to outlaw
homosexuality?  Can any behaviour be outlawed because society itself would be weakened if too many people
engage in it?  Drugs and alcohol can be outlawed under such a justification, but so can watching too much
television.  Devlin believes that because any deviation from society’s shared morality could bring about its
collapse, this is sufficient to justify suppressing the deviant conduct.  “But no one, even Devlin, with even a minimal
respect for individual freedom, can possibly accept this.  Religious intolerance, racial persecution, and the
suppression of fundamental liberties of minorities, can all be justified on this basis.  By Devlin’s dictum the first,
fourth, sixth and fourteenth amendments could be rejected” (537).

The problem with using society’s “shared morality” as a justification for the enforcement of that morality is that it
makes no room for the possibility that the majority may be wrong.  Under this moral framework, slavery, female
circumcision, sacrificing children to gods, and a whole slew of other atrocities could be justified. Reformers would
always be wrong by default, and the only difference between right and wrong would be whether an action is
socially acceptable.  Because Martin Luther King Jr. was speaking out against the moral opinions of the majority,
under Devlin’s reasoning it was right to assassinate him.  Because Jesus Christ challenged the shared morality
existing within his society during the time he lived, in order to be consistent Devlin would have to endorse his
crucifixion.

After examining all of the absurd, contemptible, and downright stupid arguments in favour of banning homosexual
behaviour, Gould draws the following conclusions:  “Any criticism of homosexuality must be balanced with the
obvious need of any human to have his or her sexual needs met.  Homosexuality cannot be rejected by any
definition of the unnatural.  Hence, homosexuality should not be outlawed; rather, as it becomes more accepted by
the general society these comments should be reflected upon by the gay community” (537).  While the gay
community may agree with Gould’s conclusions, I suspect most of them would think reflecting upon the opposing
arguments to be a waste of time.  The only good reason I can think of as to why the gay community might want to
consider the points made by Burger and Devlin is to strengthen their own arguments against them.

I believe that Gould is far too generous in his treatment of the arguments of the opposition, as this is one of the few
issues in which one side is clearly correct and the other obviously wrong.  There is always some room for doubt
when it comes to any philosophical issue, but whether homosexuality is natural or unnatural is a
scientific issue,
and the evidence has all but
proven that it is natural.  And because homosexuality is every bit as natural as
sunshine and rainfall, the changing seasons, and heterosexuality, there is no rational basis by which it can be
deemed immoral.  Certainly one can invoke scripture to make that claim, but scripture can be and has been
invoked to justify any moral claim one wishes to make, such as “heretics ought to be burned” or “adulterers ought
to be stoned to death”.  One can also appeal to the belief that certain body parts are meant for certain things and
therefore should not be used for other purposes, but this only works if we accept the presupposition that the body
was designed by an intelligent agent who included rules and instructions for its use.  If it is in fact the case that God
created a significant number of people to be naturally inclined to practice behaviour that He Himself forbids, then I
do not feel such a sadistic God would be worthy of worship in the first place, and we would be morally justified in
disobeying His commands.

It has been my observation that all anti-homosexual sentiments are rooted in emotion.  I have never met anyone
with a purely rational objection to homosexuality, because no such objection exists.  Those who make arguments
against it begin from a pre-existing aversion to such behaviour and then find any reasons they can to justify their
sentiments.  If any dispassionate thinker with no latent bias against homosexuals could come to the conclusion
through pure logic that homosexual behaviour is wrong, I would be very interested in hearing that argument.  Yet
no such argument could possibly be conclusive anyway, as the foundation of any person’s morality can always be
called into question.  If anyone’s line between right and wrong places homosexuality on one side and
heterosexuality on the other, I would consider their moral foundation highly suspect.

Finally, I think it is important to get beyond the kind of thinking that draws lines in the first place.  In reality there
is
no solid line
between right and wrong.  Nor is there a solid line between homo- and heterosexual.  Human
sexuality is far more complex than this widely held yet false dichotomy between gay and straight.  In considering
this issue I have come to the conclusion that there are four different basic fundamental sexual orientations, as there
are four different types of sexual experiences.  Whichever type one is most inclined towards usually defines his or
her sexuality, even if it is a type that the person’s gender precludes him or her from having.  There is 1) inter-
gender sex as a man with a woman, 2) inter-gender sex as a woman with a man, 3) same-gender sex between
two men, and 4) same-gender sex between two women.  In the interest of fully disclosing the position I myself am
coming from, I will use myself as an example and admit that I find myself in the fourth category, as I have very little
interest in normal heterosexual sex, yet I have no feelings of sexual attraction towards other men.  If I could, I
would have sex with a woman as a woman, just as I believe there are many women who would prefer to be a
man when engaging in sexual intercourse although their biology precludes it.  People like me do not fit into the
category of either gay or straight, because while I would prefer
same-gender sex my attraction is to members of
the
opposite sex.  There are also those who would prefer inter-gender sex but are only attracted to members of
their own sex.  Finally, when you add the fact that many people have
multiple preferences, it becomes very clear
that this issue is far more complex than those who argue against homosexuality would care to admit.

With these considerations in mind, where are the moral lines to be drawn?  Am I to be condemned for simply
being
inclined toward same-gender sex, although my inclination is toward same-gender sex among women and
my biology makes it impossible for me to ever act on this desire?  What about those who would prefer inter-
gender sex but due to their biology can only partially satisfy their desires by having sex with members of their own
gender?  Is the inclination itself to be subject to moral judgment, or the action that results from the inclination?  
Clearly, these are questions with no answers, and I submit that this is completely appropriate as one can not
legitimately pass judgment on anyone for something that person has acquired naturally without any conscious
decision.  To blame a person for being gay is just as absurd as blaming a person for being black, or a woman, or
blind.  And for anyone who stubbornly clings to the belief that homosexuality
is a choice, I would urge them to
reflect on their own sexuality and consider whether they could simply
choose to be attracted to members of their
own sex.  I know I could not be attracted to other men even if I tried, and if I could I would have to consider
myself bisexual to at least some degree.  Those who see homosexuality as a temptation to be resisted are at least
bisexual because the temptation would not exist otherwise, and they would almost certainly be much more
comfortable accepting their natural inclinations than finding reasons to morally condemn those who do.