By Ikenna Okonkwo
President Goodluck Jonathan recently gave his assent to the Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act, 2013 [SSMPA] – which had been passed by the legislature as far back as November 2011. The bill has been met with either overwhelming praise or disappointment depending on where you stand. Nonetheless, as both sides have been advancing apologies to protect their stand, I have observed a number fallacies that I wish to refute here.
Going by the conversations, comments, blog posts and editorials in the past week, since the law was passed, I noticed that the critiques of the SSMPA hinge their opposition to this law on certain fundamental assumptions. In many cases, their defence was presented with a “take it or leave it” attitude. This unfortunately, portrays anyone with a contrary view as a hypocrite, bigot, illiterate or lunatic. On the side of the divide, some supporters of the SSMPA hinge their praise on a poor foundation. Some simply regurgitate religious precepts that are neither properly explained nor understood. Others make an appeal to culture and customs or simply that we are just not ready for such a seismic shift as accepting homosexuality.
Consequently, this piece aims at tackling the assumptions made by the pro-gay rights advocates and in the process base the argument against on the firmer grounds on which religious precepts and most customs are knowingly or unknowingly based.
The first assumption to deal with is the understanding of the concept of tolerance. At the centre of most arguments on homosexuality and gay rights is the differing understanding of what it means to tolerate. There is a clash between the classical and what I would call the contemporary understanding of tolerance.
In the classic understanding, tolerance is based on the assertion that in the matter at hand there is an objective truth. Hence if I am going to tolerate someone, I first assert that I am right and the other person is wrong. I also assert that the other person is wrong in something that isn’t trivial, but something that actually matters. What I therefore tolerate is the person and not his view or idea. This means that in spite of asserting that the other person is wrong, I still respect him as a human being and do not deny him his rights as a person. It also means that I also afford him the right to argue his case in public, allowing for civil debate.
In the contemporary understanding of tolerance, to assert that one’s view is right or true and the other persons view is false or wrong is intolerant in itself. This view is based on an idea that truth, especially moral truth, is relative to the individual or to the cultural circumstance (moral relativism). Apart from the fact that moral relativism is self-refuting this idea of tolerance actually stifles debate and leads to intolerance of dissent as absolute objective assertions are struck out as intolerant.
Natural vs. Unnatural
Fundamental to the pro-gay rights viewpoint is the assertion that homosexuality is a natural and normal phenomena that we have to come to terms with. The evidence put forward for this among others is that, for many people, these tendencies are not voluntarily cultivated; that homosexual behaviour has been observed in diverse cultures throughout human history; or that homosexual behaviour has been observed in other animals (1,500 species according to one study).
These arguments show an erroneous understanding of what it means to be natural. What is natural is not the same thing as what happens or as what normally happens. When we talk about nature, we answer the question of what a particular thing IS and what a particular this IS FOR. The question of whether homosexual attraction is natural is therefore determined by what human sexuality IS and IS FOR in the first place.
On the biological level it is clear that physiologically and morphologically the sexual organs are designed for the purpose of generation of offspring. On the human level ( we see that human sexuality has the added characteristic of the difference and complementarity of the man and woman necessary for uniting them and the proper upbringing of the children that sexuality is ordered towards. Homosexual tendencies and attractions are therefore unnatural and disordered as they are unable both biologically and on the human level to achieve the purpose of human sexuality. Even though those tendencies may be innate, voluntary or involuntary, even though they may be common among people or found in other animals, by the mere fact of being contrary to the purpose of human sexuality they are therefore disordered with sexual acts stemming from those tendencies wrong. Take blindness for example. Some people are born blind, some were made blind by accident or by carelessness or by others. Blindness has been with us throughout history and in different cultures. Many other animals have blind individuals. Does that make blindness natural?
That leads me to the question of rights. Gay advocacy is typically presented as granting rights to gay people just as every other human beings. The question is: what are human rights? Since being human is not defined as being of a certain race, or having a particular sexual orientation, gays have the same human rights as every other person. A right that has to be defended. The wording of some parts of the current anti-gay marriage bill actually give reasons to worry whether the human rights of gay persons concerned will not be encroached upon. And given the sad state of law enforcement in Nigeria those fears are legitimate. But again we are referring to rights for gays not because they are gay, but because they are PEOPLE.
The concept of rights also implies certain duties. That I have certain human rights also implies that I have the duty to respect the rights of other persons, whether or not we are the same or different. Not being willing (as a criminal) or not being able (as someone insane) to carry out those duties would warrant that some of my rights be curtailed by a legitimate authority. There are also other rights which are given to certain persons by virtue of being able or being charged to carry out certain duties. Persons in authority have certain rights that do not belong to the general public.
Understanding the nature of human sexuality, it is only logical that only those who can make proper use of sexuality that can be granted certain rights on that basis. Therefore as a same-sex couple cannot perform the duties that flow naturally from human sexuality they do not have the right to the institution of marriage. Going back to the analogy of blindness. Even though a blind man has equal rights with those who can see, he cannot be granted the right to drive a car or control traffic like other people with sight for the mere fact of not being capable of carrying out the duties required by these roles. Thus, denying the blind the right to drive is neither discriminatory nor a limitation of their freedom but merely an act of common sense.
The Fallacy of Labels
Gay rights advocates confuse the issue by convoluting rights that flow from human sexuality with basic human rights. This is manifested in the idea of gay people identifying themselves primarily on the basis of their sexual preference. It is absurd to describe oneself as gay or straight. Every person is first a human being who may have certain tendencies, some of which may be disordered. These tendencies do not define a person and therefore do not determine wjether he or she deserves human rights or not. When this fundamental error is made, the denial of marriage or the refusal sanction of homosexual behaviour is then seen a denial of human rights. As Hilary Clinton put it ‘gay rights are human rights’.
A lot can be said and has been said about the law. But one thing is clear. We have to ask the right questions about whether the homosexual conditions are natural or disordered and whether they deserve certain rights on that basis. The answers are there. Though they are unpleasant.
Ikenna Okonkwo is a Geologist and blogs at http://failedrift.wordpress.com