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Sexual ethics and animal behavior.

by Barnabas
February 11, 2004

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"Gay groups argue that if homosexual behavior occurs in animals, it is natural, and therefore the rights of homosexuals should be protected." "The Love that Dare Not Squeak Its Name,"
- Dinitia Smith, New York Times, February 7

"Fish gotta swim, birds gotta fly, and insects, it seems, gotta do one horrible thing after another."
- Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

The Times article describes sexual contact, same-sex affection, and even "commitment" among non-human animals, but not in such detail as to be titillating. I remember being scandalized, at age 10, by one kitten "nursing" another in the absence of a mother cat, its little nose tucked tightly in the crotch of its partner. It didn’t look nice to me, but then it didn’t look naughty either. They were cats!

So the Times article is balanced enough. If there is advocacy involved, it is too subtle to notice. (To some critics, advocacy includes even bringing up the subject of homosexuality.)  Ms. Smith does acknowledge the argument of some gay groups that homosexual behavior in animals, being "natural," has some relevance to the ethical behavior of human beings. But ethics is not about what people do, it’s about what they should do; not only are examples of other animals irrelevant, so are the examples of other humans. In my mother's words, now made immortal by the memory of her elderly sons: "Be good. Don’t be like other boys."

We freely grant that actual human behavior may have any number of causes, alone or in combination. Example is one.  Biology another. But when it comes to ethics, the argument "natural, therefore right," is without merit. In computer terms, "natural" human behavior is the default setting, and  ethical behavior is  programmed.  

We are members of the animal kingdom, but few of us believe that is all we are. The fact that we even consider ethical justification as relevant to behavior demonstrates that in our own eyes we are more than that. Annie Dillard’s description of insect behavior as "horrible" is anthropomorphic, as she knows;  the insects don’t think of it as horrible. It’s just what they do. When the  higher vertebrates play with each other sexually, why should that have any more to do with us than the fact that some mother spiders eat their babies if they don’t scamper away quickly enough, or that other animals seem to kill for pleasure rather than for food?

We think ourselves capable of ethical behavior, which means disciplining what comes naturally. Why else do we force restless children to sit in quiet rows in a classroom, in order to do what they are told? Okay, maybe we shouldn’t do that either. But I doubt that gay groups, when they think about it, really want to base their sexual ethics on  animal behavior.

NOTE: As background for this article, Barnabas is indebted to Jeffrey Satinover, M.D., Homosexuality and the Politics of Truth. Here is one description of the book: "A stunning book. Originally trained as a Jungian analyst, Satinover presents a scientific perspective on homosexuality interpreted through a traditional Judeo-Christian viewpoint. This book is both scholarly and philosophical, and is written in a clear style that is at once erudite and passionate." - Joseph Nicolosi, Ph.D. For more info, go to http://satinover.com/hatpot.htm.

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