24 May 2012

Homosexuality again, thanks to Obama

I don't want to look like all I blog about is homosexuality, or that it is the most important thing to discuss. But, Obama making comments on gay marriage has generated a media storm and a corresponding social discourse, so I have some thoughts.

Over the years, wading through all the talk about homosexuality, I've come up with an analogous trait for comparison on issues. Because society is so polarized on gay marriage, it's hard to avoid being labeled as backwards if you do anything short of promoting homosexuality. So when issues come up I compare homosexuality with obesity. That's right, I said it. You see, being overweight isn't a politicized issue, so it allows for reasonable thoughts and conclusions. It is similar in several respects: both can appear from a predisposition, both are influenced by social conditioning, both are socially stigmatized, and both are undesirable. If you're offended by the comparison, you'll have to wait until the end, but for now just bear with me and assume that homosexuality is an undesirable trait of comparable value. I'll show you how this works by comparing all the major controversial issues going on.

Let's look at workplace rights. Would I support firing people because they're they're too fat? No. Hiring and firing should be based on the merits of the person and their ability to fill the job description. The job description might be to be attractive (think modeling), but very few jobs are defined by physical characteristics and most workplaces make accommodations for people who can perform. So discrimination based on sexual orientation is a no-no. I support several pieces of legislation adding sexual orientation to anti-discrimination laws, and I support repealing the ban on gays in the military.

Let's look at bullying. Would I support the bullying of young people for being fat? No. It makes me want to go beat up the little bulliers, actually. Or maybe spend some time with them and be a role model. Whatever. The point is that nobody would go around supporting young kids picking on each other. So I don't support the harassing and bullying of young kids for being gay. Duh.

Let's look at social acceptance. Would I support intolerance and disdain for fat people? No. Everyone needs to be treated with respect and valued for their spiritual qualities. I know and love a lot of overweight people, and it makes no sense to base friendships on of such a superficial characteristic. So I would never support a general intolerance toward gay people. I know and love a lot of gay people as well. Society currently has a severe and unhealthy bias in this regard, and it will take a generation or two to get rid of it. 

Let's look at sex. Would I try to prohibit two fat people from having sex? No. Our society has decided that we don't prohibit sex between consenting adults. Why would obese people be restrained from that expression more than anyone else? So I don't support the enforcement of sodomy laws that single out homosexuality. In our society that would be unfair and hypocritical. The Supreme Court already struck those down.

Let's look at marriage. Would I support prohibiting two fat people from getting married. No. Everyone can decide for themselves who to share their time and bank account with. It doesn't really matter whether it's called a union or marriage. So I don't really care about whether secular governments issue marriage licenses to gay couples.

Let's talk advice. Would I give unsolicited suggestions to a fat person that they eat healthy and workout to shed some pounds? No. That would be rude. But if they mention that they're struggling to overcome a compulsion that lowers their quality of life, then I would be sympathetic and supportive. I would help in whatever small ways I can while they fight an uphill battle to lose weight. So I would not give unwelcome advice to any gay person that they should try to suppress their feelings, but if someone recognized it as a detriment and burden that they need to struggle through, and asked for advice, I would be sympathetic and supportive. 

Let's talk values. Would I teach my children that being overweight is no big deal? No. I would do my best to encourage ideals that promote a healthy and happy life. Even if they are one of the handful with a genetic predisposition to obesity, I would then search out medical solutions to the problem. So I would never raise kids with the idea that homosexual desires should be encouraged or developed. On a related note, I would also never raise kids with the idea that heterosexual expression should be encouraged. Rather, it should be suppressed outside of marriage. (Again, I'll get back to why it's an undesirable trait) 

Let's look at adoption. Now it gets tricky. You see, when you go through adoption agencies, they screen people to find the best home environment. Even in the most ideal circumstances, adopted children will struggle with psychological and physical issues. By something as simple as the lack of breastfeeding, they are already vulnerable to chronic health problems like food allergies and asthma from a weakened immune system. By the nature of having to give a baby up for adoption, an increased prenatal stress will cause developmental delays in the baby, and a higher incidence of risky behavior such as smoking and drinking during pregnancy will leave adopted children with behavioural problems, shorter attention span, depression, and weaker adaptation and social abilities. Orphaned children even experience genetic changes that leave them more vulnerable than children raised by biological parents. The more time from birth to adoption, the worse all these risks become.

It is also known that children of overweight parents are themselves more likely to be overweight due to the home environment. Children whose parents are of a healthy weight are are three times more likely to be of a healthy weight themselves. If you combine the vulnerability of foster and adopted children with the increased chance of the undesirable trait of being overweight, then I think it would be appropriate to discriminate against obese people adopting. Not that overweight people should be banned, but it is one of many considerations in potential parents. In fact, that's pretty much how it works right now for most countries adopting. Agencies consider weight, age, income, existing children, mental capacity, and marital stability (previous divorces, years married). Many countries do not allow adoption by single parents, and Indonesia requires a belief in God before adopting a child. These requirements make sense to ensure the most stable and healthy environment for an already vulnerable child.

So when it comes to adoption by gay couples, it makes sense to place restrictions and barriers to their adopting. This, of course, is assuming my original premise is correct that homosexuality is an undesirable trait comparable to being overweight. Addressing that issue is surprisingly simple. Gay men and women have a higher incidence of sexually transmitted diseases, cancer, substance abuse, violence, mental illness, prostitution, eating disorders, depression, homelessness and suicide. Gay individuals will have many times more partners in their life and their relationships are much less stable. This article, for example, highlights some of the physical health risks in homosexuality. By the nature of the relationships, they can't produce their own children, and parents experience greater happiness and meaning in life than non-parents, so a homosexual predisposition is a detriment to human happiness. These are all well known facts, but the psychological deficiencies are all currently assumed to be the result of an unaccepting society, not the result of anything fundamentally unhealthy about homosexuality. The physical health risks are dismissed as something to be aware of by health care providers. These topics are taboo because according to most people, and especially in the media, any negative association with homosexuality will only further the social intolerance that leads to discrimination and bullying. The taboo even extends into medical research into the underlying causes of homosexuality.

Certainly, there is unfair bias, discrimination, and intolerance about homosexuality in the world, and that discrimination does contribute to the psychological problems, but there are underlying problems with homosexual relationships that also contribute. For example, gay relationships will never be as stable as heterosexual ones because their potential mates are about 1% of the population (roughly 1% of females, and 3% of males have a natural attraction to the same sex), whereas a heterosexual person has 49% of the population to sift through for a good match.

Let me put it another way. Depression is more frequent and severe in homosexual, obese, and black populations in America versus, heterosexual, in-shape, and white populations. All three comparisons are struggling with social intolerance by others. If the social intolerance was completely removed from the equation, I believe everybody can recognize that there is nothing inherent about being black that should cause a higher incidence of depression. I also believe everybody can recognize that there is, in fact, something inherent in obesity that contributes to depression because it negatively affects the quality of life. The question is, which category does homosexuality belong in? To me, this is the most important question. Clearly a great deal of people believe that homosexuality falls into the category of race, not weight, where real symmetry exists. I believe it falls into the category of weight and negatively affects the quality of life. To many people the most important question is whether or not there is an unconscious predisposition to homosexuality. In fact, this is almost completely irrelevant. We recognize alcoholism as having a genetic predisposition, but at the same time we consider it morally reprehensible and self-destructive.

There is a fine balance to walk on sexuality, obesity, alcoholism, gambling, and other social issues where one acknowledges the negative while not being over-critical or intolerant of others. The social acceptance will only go so far to resolve the currently-observed problems associated with homosexuality. In countries like the Netherlands where gay relationships have been openly accepted for decades, the same psychiatric disorders appear at higher rates in gay people.

I think with time the current unstoppable wave of social energy pushing for absolute acceptance will wash over western society. In its wake will be the broken body of an old world that passively accepted injustice towards gays. The wave will also further rot out the pillars of sexual morality and accelerate an inevitable showdown between an increasingly atheist society and the religious institutions that hold the line on gay marriage. The next two decades will see a kind of bottoming out from the decay in moral standards and collapsing families. This will then lead toward a general searching for stability, which will be found only in fostering chastity, restraint, and focusing on marriage between a man and woman as the only healthy, socially-conscious, and responsible form of sexual expression.


  1. Thanks for this intriguing comparison. Very useful.

  2. As someone who struggles with obesity, I think you fundamentally misunderstand the roots of the current obesity epidemic and buy too much into the pop culture reasons force-fed us by the mass media.

    If you are a believer in justice, then one thing you would need to acknowledge is the decline in the quality of food available to the public. In many poor neighborhoods, the only source of food available comes from convenience stores, Walgreens, and McDonald's. Such foods have very high levels of sugar, which is, in itself, problematic. Organic produce is often only affordable to the wealthy. Also of great concern is the increased level of genetic engineering of foods. Some of them, like Bt corn, create their own toxins to deter pests--these have been known to make the stomachs of insects explode, yet we ingest them and links have been established between this and intestinal permeability, which in turn has been linked to obesity. Little thought has been given to how addition of foreign proteins to produce affects food allergies--which, not coincidentally, have also been clearly growing exponentially, and I have seen within myself clear connections between weight gain and eating food I am allergic to or sensitive to. So, before embarking on any generalizations obese people, you really should do your homework on the roots of the current epidemic, and not rely on CNN to provide you with the information.

    Now, as for homosexuality, you seem very quick to dismiss stigma as a source of mental illness and depression. As a youngster, I am not proud to admit that as a 7th grader I engaged in gay jokes like many of my peers, but someone who was a recipient of such jokes actually killed himself my senior year of high school. I don't think it was homosexuality that caused it. What about gay people being disowned by their families? I have relatives on both sides of the family to whom this happened. There are, in fact, studies that show little evidence of greater mental health problems among the gay population when personal struggles of stigma are taken out of the equation.

    As a Baha'i, and for other personal reasons, I am a firm believer in pre-marital chastity. Issues of both disease and mental health could easily be more attributable to people who lead a promiscuous lifestyle, regardless of their sexual orientation. The disease concern is obvious and well-documented, but there have also been studies that show married people to be happier, and it's easy to imagine that leading a promiscuous lifestyle while having little in the way of support from a life partner could just as easily be a cause of mental illness, in which case the development of gay marriage would be a positive step. Finally, a mainstream researcher who had initially endorsed "sexual orientation correction therapy" has since retracted his statement as mounting evidence has grown that such therapy is in fact harmful--buttressed by testimony from gays and lesbians who wanted in the worst way to change their sexual orientation but simply couldn't and finally determined that accepting their sexual orientation was the best way to deal with it.

    I think your post illustrates well the slippery slope on which people often find themselves when saying, "I don't hate these people but I don't approve of their lifestyle." You really need to be more careful when you make generalizations about people.

    Finally, the only reference to homosexuality I've seen in Baha'u'llah's or 'Abdu'l-Baha's Writings was in the reference in the Kitab-i-Aqdas to the "subject of boys." The commentary said that the comment was an Arabic reference having to do with "paederasty," and then went on to say that Shoghi Effendi interpreted this as also applying to homosexuality. Are there any other references to this subject in Baha'u'llah's or 'Abdul'l-Baha's Writings?