Homosexuality has been used as a moral wedge to polarize the country for political gain. But is homosexuality really immoral? How does one decide on this issue?
In condemning homosexuality as immoral on the basis of the Bible, the two categories of sin and morality get mixed up. This is problematic. To consider anything as sinful is a dogma. The concept of sin makes sense only in the context of a religious belief that others need not share.
But to claim something as moral or immoral, one needs to give reasons that are not subjective or faith-based. So, one should leave scripture aside and see if one can independently make a case that homosexuality is immoral. Let us look at the arguments.
People often claim that homosexuality is a high-risk lifestyle, which makes it morally unacceptable. But responsible homosexuality is as safe as responsible heterosexuality. In fact, the lesbian lifestyle is the safest of all sexual lifestyles.
Another argument we hear is that if everybody were to practice homosexuality, then the human race would eventually die out. But the same argument would count against any practice or profession. For instance, if everybody were to practice medicine, the human race would eventually die out as there would be no farmers or home builders, among others.
Perhaps the most common objection we hear against homosexuality is that it is unnatural, hence immoral. But it is hard to figure out what that statement really means. Surely it cannot mean that homosexuality is not to be found in nature, because it is obviously there, both among humans and animals.
St. Augustine and later theologians, relying heavily on Aristotelian methodology in their pursuit of natural theology, have tried hard to make sense of the word "unnatural."
They point out that hands are not meant for walking, so if one uses one's hands to walk when one has healthy, functioning legs, then that would be unnatural, hence a sort of perversion. Likewise, they claim that human sex organs are meant for the opposite sex so that procreation may be possible. If they are used amongst members of the same sex, then that is a moral perversion.
But, following their own logic, why can't we say that sex organs are meant for pleasure as well, so there's nothing wrong or perverse in using them in any way for sexual and emotional gratification, provided it is done in a responsible and reciprocal manner?
This brings us to the real substance of morality. Morality is about autonomy, responsibility and reciprocity. The religious gurus, with their morbid fear of sexuality and a pathological unease toward the body, have given us a misguided morality by putting undue emphasis on regulating sexuality. In the process, they have robbed morality of its substance by denying autonomy to women, homosexuals and any others who evoke fear in them.
This is real perversion of morality. Whenever sin and morality get mixed up, as is obvious when theologians equivocate between natural law and God's law, there's this danger. Celebration of sexuality in a responsible manner, regardless of sexual orientation, is not perversion.
But our culture of fear that denigrates anything that it considers different is a major roadblock to this celebration. Political manipulation of this fear is a major roadblock to our democracy.
It is our moral duty to pass public judgments on immoral things like hatred, bigotry and discrimination. But what is morally neutral, such as sexuality, is nobody else's business. Cynical exploitation of dogma for political expediency has no place in public life.
DEEN CHATTERJEE teaches philosophy at the University of Utah and is the editor-in-chief of the forthcoming, multi-volume "Encyclopedia of Global Justice." His publications include, most recently, "Democracy in a Global World: Human Rights and Political Participation in the 21st Century."