Karoly Maria Benkert, a 19th century German psychologist, is credited with having coined the term homosexuality. In coining this word, he was referring to what Palen has defined as “ a sexual orientation toward, and sexual activity with, members of the same sex” (2001, p. 273). Although homosexuality practices and philosophical discussions are fairly old, going as far back as the times of Plato, Cicero, Thoma Aquinas, and Michael Foucault, the topic remains controversial but vital in religious, philosophical, and political spheres.
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With time, however, homosexuality has enjoyed increased acceptance in society. Same-sex couples are now permitted to marry under the law in countries like Belgium, the Netherlands, certain provinces in Canada (for example, British Columbia, Nova Scotia, and Manitoba), and the U.S state of Massachusetts. It is also illegal to discriminate somebody on account of his/her sexual orientation in Denmark, Ireland, South Africa, and Finland (Kraft et al. 2006). The aim of this paper is to explore the concept of homosexuality from a philosophical context.
Natural Laws Theory
According to the conventional natural-law argument on homosexuality, homosexuality involves a misuse of one’s sexual organs. Sexual organs are thus meant for procreation and as such, using them for any other purpose is immoral because it does not meet the “natural end”. Plato viewed same-sex sexuality as being “unnatural”. He also states that opposite-sex sex brings about pleasure naturally. According to Plato, erotic attractions are strong in nature and hence problematic.
According to Levin, homosexuality is an unnatural act because it does not contribute towards evolutionary fitness. However, since homosexuality occurs in the natural world, it could regarded as natural. Levin further notes that since homosexuality evolves “a misuse of body parts”, it is thus immoral (Levin 2002). Levin further contends that homosexuality is abnormal in a “descriptive and normative sense” on grounds that homosexuals are “bound to be happy” for “evolutionary reasons” (Levin 2002, p. 236). Although Levin’s argument is quite noble, it lacks moral and normative conclusions. His argument only succeeds in demonstrating that homosexuals are likely to be unhappy on account of a “misuse” of their body parts.
Levin views homosexuality as an abnormal act because to him, those who engage in it are actually abusing their body parts. However, Levin has not provided a clear definition of what constitutes ‘abnormal’. From Levin’s arguments, we can argue that he views homosexuality as an abnormal act since it defies the natural laws theory. Homosexuality also defies societal norms. Stoicism also played a key role in the development of the natural laws theory. Stoicism was founded by Zeno, who was a champion for homosexuality. On the other hand, Cicero, who was also a stoic, was totally opposed to the idea of same-sex sexuality.
Acts of homosexuality are either done viciously or virtuously and as such, homosexuality does not signify any moral difficulty. A character trait can only be regarded as a virtue “only if it is likely to promote it’s possessor’s survival, enjoyment, and freedom from pain, the functioning of the social group, and the species’ survival” (Soble 2006, p. 282). Homosexual orientation could thus be termed as a vice based on the last condition. However, a homosexual orientation does not tell us much about an individual’s sexual behavior. As such, we cannot say that someone is defective on account of their homosexuality.
The queer theory emerged in the late 1980’s but it only gained popularity in the early 1990s. The theory developed from gay/lesbian studies that were very popular in the 1980’s. The gay/lesbian studies were mainly concerned with normative sexual behavior and class deviance. McGhee has defined queer theory as “ a collection of intellectual engagements with the relations between sex, gender, and sexual desire” (2002).
According to the queer theory, all notions linked to sexual behavior and the various types of normative and deviant sexualities symbolize specific social meanings (Gauntlett, 2008). The strong gay/lesbian-queer theory connection has seen many scholar asking whether one’s sexual orientation comes naturally (Barry 2002). The queer theory rejects the notion that sexuality is an essentialist category. It views sexuality as a complex fusion of social forces and codes whose interface shapes the notion of deviant or queer behavior.
The controversial nature of homosexuality has attracted heated debates from political, religious, ethical, as well as philosophical circles. For example, various scholars hold different views on whether homosexuality should be regarded as a natural or unnatural act. A number of natural law theorists argue that our sexual organs are only meant for procreation and that since acts of homosexuality do not contribute towards procreation, such an activity contravenes the natural laws theory by misusing body parts.
Although this is a noble argument, it not valid because some heterosexual couples are unable to have children but, nonetheless, engage in sexual activities. Seeing as homosexuality does not tell us much about someone’s sexual behavior, it would not be fair to call someone defective on account of their sexual orientation.
Barry, P. (2002). Beginning theory: an introduction to literary and cultural theory. Manchester: Manchester University Press.
Gauntlett, D. (2008). Media, gender and identity: an introduction. London: Routledge.
Kraft, C., Robinson, B.E., Bauer, G., Rosser, B.R.S., & Bockting, W.O. (2006). Obesity, body image and unsafe sex among men who have sex with men. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 35(5),589-595.
Levin, M. (2002). “Why Homosexuality is Abnormal.” Ethics in Practice. Maldon: Blackwell Publishing.
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McGhee, D. (2002). Homosexuality, Law and Resistance. New York: Taylor & Francis.
Palen, J.J. (2001). Social problems for the 21st Century. New York: McGraw Hill.
Soble, A. (2006). Sex from Plato to Paglia: A-L. Old Lyme, CT.: Greenwich Publishing Group.