Category Archives: 70 Sexuality and gender

Same-Sex Parents, Furred and Feathered.

There have been an increasing number of research studies which show that as parents,  same sex couples are at least as good as opposite sex- couples. As a gay father and grandfather myself, I don’t really need to be told this by modern research: I first learnt of the evidence decades ago, from a family friend who was then a child welfare social worker, and is today a top authority on the subject. I also have the best of all possible authority, the experience of my own family. My daughter is very clear on the subject: she is on record as saying “Gay Parents? I recommend them”. She has told me that when she says a young child with two dads, her immediate response is – “Lucky child”. Still, it’s good to see the evidence getting a more public hearing. and reaching the mainstream.
I was interested though, to find that in this, as in so many other areas, of human sexuality, the same pattern is found in many species of animals and birds.
Two Dads, with Kids

Homosexuality in animals has been known since ancient times, but still fails to penetrate the public consciousness. Nevertheless, researchers are now starting to publicize the abundant evidence for same sex coupling, pair bonding, and parenting. (And contrary to the protestations of Focus on the Family, NOM, et al, these do not always go together, not in humans, not in animals.) The nature and variety of the forms that animal parenting can take is breathtaking, with all the variations found in human society, and more (some of the animal practices would land humans in jail. “Nature” is not all sweet and lovable).
How do same sex couples find their next generation? In many of the same ways humans do, but excluding the turkey baster and in vitro fertilization. Quite often, they were in the same position I was – offspring resulted from an earlier, opposite-sex partnership. For females, Laysan’s Albatross and many other birds may use sperm donors, finding an obliging male to copulate with, for the sole purpose of fertilizing their eggs. Male couples may find surrogate mothers: Black Swan male couples may hook up with a female in a menage a trois – then boot her out after the eggs have been laid. Adoption is also common: many species have same sex couples that take on orphaned or lost youngsters. Some couples are rather more cavalier though, and simply kidnap their youngsters – quite literally, in this case. (Don’t try this if you’re human, though.) Just as in human society, some youngsters biological parents who either can’t or won’t raise them themselves – and they may dump them on same sex couples to raise, in nest parasitism.
Are they good parents? Quite often, not only as good, but better. There are many reasons for this. In birds, quite often it is not true that children “need” a mom and a pop. Many species (such as Warthogs, Red foxes and Sage Grouse) are raised by just one parent. When they get two parents, even of the same sex, that is immediately a bonus – they get double the parenting right off. Often, they get better, more spacious homes. Some female bird couples (Greater Rheas, Canada Geese) build what amount to double nests to hold two clutches – but where only one clutch has been fertilized, bingo: a double size home for a standard size family. Some male couples get bigger nests because only the male does the nest-building. Two males = two builders, and again, a bigger home. Other male couples get not so much a bigger home, as a bigger lot. Black Swans use their superior combined size and strength as two males to grab bigger or better territories – and thus better feeding grounds. Mammal youngsters sometimes get better feeding, simply by having to moms to nurse them: some females will suckle their partners’ young – grizzly bear mamma pairs may both nurse and protect each other’s young. Then there are the family variations not usually seen in humans. If two parents are better than one, how about three, or even four? Grizzly bears are often raised by female pairs – and sometimes by female trio (The familiar term “gay bears” takes on a whole new meaning).
When sexual activity between males, or between females has been professionally observed, it has too frequently been dismissed or explained away as “deviant”, or the result of “accident”, or even as “immoral” behaviour (as in “A Note on an Apparent Lowering of Moral Standards in Lepidoptera”, the title of a published scientific paper. I kid you not.) In many parts of modern Western culture, there has arisen a deeply held assumption, in spite of all the evidence to the contrary, that the only “natural” form of sexuality and family is “one man, one woman”. Even when faced with evidence to the contrary,from the animal world or from human anthropology and history, these people dismiss such evidence as “freakish”, or unnatural. In their own observations, their hetero normative assumptions distort the evidence. When one animal is observed mounting another, it is simply assumed that the one on top is male, the other female. And so the myth is perpetuated that only opposite sex mounting occurs.
The plain truth is that in nature, sexual diversity is the norm. (It may well be that what is truly “unnatural” is exclusive heterosexuality . Fortunately, several writers over the last decade have begun to expose the way in which these biases have been distorting scientific research and its dissemination. We will be hearing a lot more about animal same sex relationships and parenting in future – which will help to counter the lies and ignorance propagated by the sexual morality brigade.
Also See:
Previous Posts at “Queering the Church”

Books:

Queer Bonobos: Sex As Conflict Resolution

In trying to understand “natural” sexuality, a look at the world of the bonobo is intriguing. Often loosely described as “chimps”, bonobos are in fact a quite distinct species, closely allied to both chimps and to humans, and may in fact be the closest of all primates to humans in evolutionary development. In addition to physiological and genetic similarities, they also show some features of sexual behaviour that are unusual in animals – but familiar to humans. For example, females remain sexually receptive for far longer than other species. Instead of being physically ready for sex for just a few days in her cycle, the female bonobo is almost continuously sexually attractive and willing for sex. Intercourse is more frequent than in other primates, although the reproduction rate is similar: there is a partial separation between sex and reproduction. Mating is more often face to face, like humans, than in other animals, where the dog-like position is almost universal. Both males and females become sexually aroused remarkably easily. Oh, and there’s a great deal of same sex activity. Frans De Waal, on whose research I base my notes,  says that the most typical sexual pattern is genital rubbing between females:
One female facing another clings with arms and legs to a partner that, standing on both hands and feet, lifts her off the ground. The two females then rub their genital swellings laterally together, emitting grins and squeals that probably reflect orgasmic experiences.
Males also engage in genital contact, including “penis- fencing”, and rubbing the scrotum of one against the buttocks of another.
De Waal first became interested in bonobo behaviour not for its sexual component, but as part of a study into primate aggression. In continuous observations of bonobos in a zoo, he found that a standard feature of the behaviour was sexual arousal and intercourse immediately before feeding. As soon as a caretaker approached with food, the males would develop erections, and the animals would invite each other for sex. (This is not just an aberration of captivity. Other researchers have observed the same association between food and sex in the wild: after a group had entered trees with ripe fruit, or after they had killed a young prey animal, there would be a flurry of sexual contacts before settling down to eat.)

De Waal later found that it is not just food that leads to sexual arousal, but anything that gets the interest of more than one animal at a time – in other words, anything that could lead to competition. In the zoo environment, when two bonobos share an interest in a cardboard box thrown into the enclosure, they briefly mount each other before playing with the box.
In some aggressive contexts related to conflicts between animals, there will often be genital contact to follow. Where one male drives another away from a female, the two males may later reunite for some mutual genital rubbing. Or if one female strikes a juvenile, its mother may lunge at the other female – but as with the males, this brief conflict will be followed by the two rubbing their genitals together.
De Waal thus concludes that sexual behaviour among bonobos is a mechanism to reduce conflict:

During reconciliations, bonobos use the same sexual repertoire as they do during feeding time. Based on an analysis of many such incidents, my study yielded the first solid evidence for sexual behavior as a mechanism to overcome aggression. Not that this function is absent in other animals–or in humans, for that matter–but the art of sexual reconciliation may well have reached its evolutionary peak in the bonobo. For these animals, sexual behavior is indistinguishable from social behaviour.

Sexual relationships are also used in a more positive way, to forge social bonds, particularly between the females. As with many animal species, bonobos live in clan groups. In their case, the males remain for life in their birth clans, so they will know all the other individuals. It is the female bonobos who leave, and start a new life as adults in a new clan, where they are strangers. They routinely approach one or two senior females, and attempt to establish a sexual relationship. If this is reciprocated, the association becomes permanent, with the older females acting as guardians to the younger. Later, as the newcomers themselves become established seniors within the clan, they may likewise accept sexual approaches from new female arrivals, and take on their guardianship.
Here we can point out that this use of sexual relationships to promote social bonding and avoid conflict has clear parallels in human society.  At the domestic level, the “kiss and make-up scenario” is well known, in which a quarrel between partners may be followed by particularly intense love-making. At a grander level, for many centuries of European history, formal marriage was usual only for the wealthy classes, to protect property and inheritance rights. At the highest social levels, dynastic marriages were frequently arranged to ensure political alliances between royal houses – and to reduce the risk of war. Elsewhere, other societies have used homosexual relationships between men in the same dynastic way, to promote cordial relationships between clans. This has been noted in medieval Egypt, and in China.
There is one other feature of bonobo sexuality that I found has a remarkable resemblance to some human practice. Freed from the tight connection between intercourse and reproduction,young and attractive bonobo females are able to use their charms for material gain.   Some females have been observed to approach males with an enticing food supply with clear a clearly sexual offer. After intercourse, the male will share his food with the female, who then leaves.
Females offering males sexual favours for profit: sound familiar?
Source:
de Waal, Frans B.M. : Bonobo Sex & Society, Scientific American, arch 1995, which I found on-line here
Books:

Animals Use Sex Toys, Too

The more I explore the nature of sexuality in the animal world, the more amazed I am at the extraordinary number of ways in which animals show all the diversity of human sexuality, and more. Male dolphins and whales have an extra orifice to penetrate (their partners’ blowholes); some primate male couples can indulge in “penis fencing” while hanging from a tree branch (I bet you’ve never tried that); and female spotted hyenas have a pseudo- phallus that they can (and do) use for penetration. More familiar activities are the usual mounting and penetration, either vaginal or anal, usually from the rear but sometimes from the front, or even the side; masturbation, using hands if they have them, but also flippers or just the ground; oral sex – forms of both fellatio and cunnilingus are known; and just plain cuddling and caressing.
Squirrel Threesome

Relationships are equally diverse, including long term pair bonds, in both between-sex and same-sex couples, one-off copulation, strictly monogamous and non-monogamous relationships, polygamy, polyandry and group orgies.

Families and child rearing are diverse. There’s male and female pederasty, incest, and likewise butch/femme female relationships. There are single parents, between- sex parent couples, and same-sex parent couples, who may acquire kids by finding sperm donors (if female), surrogate mothers (if male), or by adoption. (In some species, male couples turn out to be more successful parents than between-sex parents, just like research suggests for humans).

As in humans, there are a range of “purposes” of sex, from the obvious one of simple pleasure, to asserting domination and status, to procreation. Bonobos even use it as a form of social peacekeeping. There’s also a negative side: rape and sexual violence also occur. I confess I’ve not yet come across the wildlife equivalent of consensual S/M, but I wouldn’t be surprised if I did. Just about everything else is there, including transgender (routine in some species), transvestism, and the use of sex toys.

Yes, sex toys, as in dildos and masturbation aids, but instead of visiting a sex store or going on-line, they just make their requirements themselves. Bruce Bagemihl, in “Biological Exuberance” describes numerous examples among the primates, including female Orang-utans and Bonnet Macaques who manufacture their own dildos from plant materials, males who make masturbation aids by forcing a hole in a leaf, and others who simply use natural materials as they find them, twigs, stones, or fruit, for rubbing against their genitals or for inserting into a vagina. (There are not yet reports of male use of dildos, but no doubt that too will be observed some day.)

The use and manufacture of tools by primates is considered an important example of cultural behaviour in animals, and a forerunner of the activities that are so widespread among human beings.although many different forms and functions are evident in animal tool use, these examples show that nonreproductive sexual activities are part of the overall behavioral pattern: the primate capacity for object manipulation extends seamlessly into the sexual sphere.

Similar types of activities occur among people too, of course, and sexual implements of various sorts have a long and distinguished history in human culture. …Examples have been found from as far back as the Palaeolithic through to medieval times – including some Biblical references – as well as in the ongoing traditions of many indigenous peoples throughout the world.
-Bagemihl, Bruce, Biological Exuberance.

Related Posts:

Related Posts on Animal Sexuality:

Gay (Wild) -Life

 

At Seed Magazine:

Sex At Dawn The effeminate sheep and other problems with natural selection


Books:

Bagemihl, Bruce: Biological Exuberance: Animal Homosexuality and Natural Diversity (Stonewall Inn Editions)

Long, John A: Hung Like an Argentine Duck: A Journey Back in Time to the Origins of Sexual Intimacy

Roughgarden, Joan: Evolution’s Rainbow: Diversity, Gender, and Sexuality in Nature and People

Sommer, Volker and Vasey, Paul: Homosexual Behaviour in Animals: An Evolutionary Perspective

Bighorn Rams: Macho Homos, Wimpish Heteros

To look at them, bighorn rams are the very image of hypermasculinity. They live on the rugged mountain slopes of Montana and Canada, in an environment that demands strengh, athleticism and stamina. Their appearance is impressive, with large thick horns curling back behind the ear, and they’re big, weighing up to 300 pounds. They exude so much machismo, that their image has been appropriated by numerous as a symbol for many  male athletic teams. And they like their sex – with other males. Those few who don’t, are described by researchers as “effeminate” .
Lovers, maybe?

For bighorn sheep (and also for thinhorns), “natural” sex is same-sex, including elaborate courtship rituals, genital licking, and anal penetration. (Many rams also find a way to “masturbate” – not with their hooves, but by rubbing on the ground.)  In this “homosexual society”, almost all rams routinely participate year-round in sexual activity with each other, but heterosexual intercourse is limiting to the rutting season. Even then, not all rams, especially the younger ones, get to participate.

For Bighorn and Thinhorn Sheep, heterosexuality is definitely not “normal”.

From “Evolution’s Rainbow: Diversity, Gender, and Sexuality in Nature and People ” (Joan Roughgarden):

“The females live separately from the males. The sexes associate only during the breeding season, from mid fall to early winter. A female is receptive for about three days, and will not allow herself outside of these three days.”

This emphatically does not mean that the males endure sexual abstinence for the rest of the year.

The males have been described as `homosexual societies`. Almost all males participate in homosexual courting and copulation. Male-male courtship begins with a stylized approach, followed by genital licking and nuzzling, and often leads to anal intercourse in which one male, usually the larger, mounts the other. The mounted male arches his back, which is identical to how a female arches her back during heterosexual intercourse. The mounting male ahs an erect penis, makes anal penetration, and performs pelvic thrusts leading to ejaculation.
The few males who do not participate in male sex are described as “effeminate”,. These males are identical tin appearance to other males but behave quite differently. They differ from “normal males” by living with the ewes rather than joining the all-male groups. These males do not dominate females, are less aggressive overall, and adopt a crouching, female urination posture. These males refuse mouning by other males. These nonhomosexual males are considerd “aberrant”, with speculation that that some hormone deficiency must underlie their behaviour. Even though in physical appearance, including body size and horn development, these males are indistinguishable from other males, scientists urge further study of their endocrinological profile.
This case turns the meanings of normal and aberrant upside down. The “normal” macho bighorn has full-fledged anal sex with other males. The “aberrant” male is the one who is straight – the lack of interest in homosexuality is considered pathological. Now, why would being straight be a pathology, requiring a hormonal checkup? According to the researchers, what’s aberrant is that a macho-looking bighorn ram acts feminine! He pees like a female – even worse than being gay.
(Same sex mountings have also been described in several other species of sheep and goats in North America and Europe, and in farm animals).

Related Posts on Animal Sexuality:

Also The effeminate sheep and other problems with natural selection (at “Seed Magazine”)


Books:

Bagemihl, Bruce: Biological Exuberance: Animal Homosexuality and Natural Diversity (Stonewall Inn Editions)

Roughgarden, Joan: Evolution’s Rainbow: Diversity, Gender, and Sexuality in Nature and People Sommer,

Volker and Vasey, Paul: Homosexual Behaviour in Animals: An Evolutionary Perspective

Lesbian Lizards

This is another for your wildlife rainbow collection: lesbian lizards. For a fun take on this from a lesbian site, have a look at “Leapin’ Lesbian Lizards“, at Wish You Were Queer, Girls

In the deepest darkest depths of Vietnam, two new herpetological (reptile and amphibian) species have been discovered. These creatures – dubbed ‘lesbian lizards’ and ‘psychedelic geckos’ – were found by expert Lee Grismer and his son, Jesse on a 2 week expedition to Southeast Asia. The lesbian lizards are asexual and arouse each other by mock mating. This in turn causes them to ovulate and lay eggs – and produce clones of themselves.

Or, for a more orthodox, formal news report, try Seattle Times – but the link, which was working fine this morning, is down right now. Perhaps it will be  up again later.
These are by no means the only lesbian  lizards, as this report from Time also shows:

So far biologists have identified 27 kinds of parthenogenetic lizards—all-female species that lay eggs to produce exact genetic copies of the mother. On field trips in Arizona and Colorado, a team of researchers headed by Psychobiologist David Crews found that four of these species engage in mock male-female sex. An active female mounts a passive one, curves the tail under the other’s body, strokes the partner’s back and neck, joins genital regions, and rides on top for one to five minutes. The active female lizard always has small undeveloped eggs, while the passive female has large pre-ovulatory eggs. But there are cyclic variations in behavior and egg size in these reptiles, and roles reverse; the passive female of one encounter can be the active partner of the next. Says Crews: “We are now trying to determine whether this malelike behavior facilitates reproductive function.” Translation: the psychobiologist does not yet know why the females mock the male-female behavior of related two-sex species. The eggs hatch with or without the lesbian courtship.

Now, here’s the thing: Lee Grismer’s finds are recent, but the report in Time is from 1980 – thirty years ago! So how come people still don’t get it that same sex interactions are not in any way “unnatural”?
File it alongside those Bisexual Snails, and those peace -loving bonobos.
Also see additional QTC posts:

The Wildlife Rainbow Queer Bonobos: Sex As Conflict Resolution Bisexual Snails Exclusive Heterosexuality Unnatural? Natural Law and Laysan’s Albatross

Exclusive Heterosexuality Unnatural?

“I don’t know of any species that is exclusively heterosexual”
– Zurich Zoo tour guide, Myriam Schärz.
The argument that same -sex relationships are supposedly “unnatural” is so fundamental to the homophobes’ case, that it needs to be countered at every opportunity. At Bilerico Project, Jesses Monteagudo has a good rundown of just how widespread same sex behaviour is in the animal kingdom. Here are some extracts:

 

In 1999 the standard work on the topic, Biological Exuberance: Animal Homosexuality and Natural Diversity (Stonewall Inn Editions) by Bruce Bagemihl, was published.

“On every continent, animals of the same sex seek each other out and have probably been doing it for millions of years,” Bagemihl wrote. …….According to Bagemihl, “Homosexual behavior occurs in more than 450 different kinds of animals worldwide, and is found in every major geographic region and every major animal group.”
But we don’t need Bagemihl for anecdotal evidence. Hardly a week goes by that we don’t hear stories about same-sex oriented otters or rabbits. You don’t have to go to the Zurich Zoo to learn about “the indiscriminate and almost insatiable sexuality of bonobo apes” or “how gay male dolphins use their lovers’ blowholes for sexual gratification.” Just last year a review paper by Nathan Bailey and Marlene Zuk of the Department of Biology at the University of California in Riverside concluded that “same-sex behavior is a nearly universal phenomenon in the animal kingdom, common across species, from worms to frogs to birds.”
“Female western gulls sometimes pair off for several years and mount each other while incubating eggs,” Steve Hogan and Lee Hudson wrote in Completely Queer: The Gay and Lesbian Encyclopedia. “Similar behaviors have been documented among female sage grouse, male mallard ducks, and female and male greylag geese and turkeys.” According to the authors of Out in All Directions: The Almanac of Gay and Lesbian America, same-sex behavior has been documented in all kinds of animal species, including antelope, bugs, butterflies, cats, cattle, cockroaches, crickets, dogs, donkeys, elephants, flies, geckos, guinea pigs, hamsters, horses, hyenas, lions, martens, mice, moths, octopuses, orcas, porcupines, raccoons, rats and wasps.

Gay animal behavior seems to alarm religious conservatives almost as much as the human variety, and they have tried their best to deny it. Those who do admit that same-sex behavior exists in the animal kingdom try to explain it away as being playful antics or dominance behavior to assert hierarchy.

“Some conservatives and religious groups now admit that homosexuality is common in the animal kingdom, but many of them have also put forward theories to explain the phenomenon,” said Myriam Schärz of the Zurich Zoo. “Some argue that homosexuality only occurs when animal populations become too large, or that animals only turn to homosexuality when they have no other alternative, but there is no evidence to back up the population theory, and there is plenty of proof against the harem argument. Dominant silver-back gorillas, for instance, have frequently been seen engaging in homosexual activity and deliberately shunning available females.”
“Humans seem to be the only species where homosexuals are not readily accepted in society,” Schärz said
I have just one problem with Ms Schärz’s conclusion: it is not true that among humans as a species homosexuals are not accepted. The evidence from history and anthropology is that across all periods, and in all major regions of the world, many humans societies (possibly most) have been tolerant or even encouraging of same sex relationships. (In some societies, homosexual activity has even been compulsory for boys or young men.) Compulsory, exclusive heterosexuality for humans, as demanded by the religious right, may be just as unnatural for humans as it is for animals.

Books:

Related articles
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Natural Families: Africa's Female Kings and Husbands.

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Nzinga – misleadingly represented here as “queen”
The standard platitudes about two-called “traditional  families” are full of completely groundless assumptions.  One, that this idea is in any way “traditional”, I have previously shown to be false (“Traditional” Families, Traditional “Family Values”). Another is that love, marriage, sex and child-bearing  “naturally” all belong together.  As part of a more extended investigation into the enormous variety of “natural” families to be found across the world, I have been reading about some of the extraordinary ways in which in some societies, these can be entirely independent. Today, I look at some notable crossing of female gender stereotypes from Africa.
A fascinating story of a female king comes from the country of Angola, which takes its name from the hereditary king, “ngola”, of the Ndongo people.  During the colonial wars of conquest, the Portuguese met the fiercest resistance from a king called Nzinga – who turned out to be biologically female.  Although the monarchy was reserved for men, she had forced her way into office, and so was necessarily regarded as male.  As a man, and as king, it then became important that s/he acquire a harem of wives. As Nzinga was biologically female, her wives then needed to be biologically male, who dressed as women and took female gender roles.
Nzinga was one example from history, but her story is not in any way unique in Africa. In South Africa, one of those recurring stories that crop up from time to time on the inside pages of the newspapers, often on the travel & tourism sections, concerns the remote, near mythical person, the Rain Queen of the Lovedu people. (I have seen a website on African Mythology that describes her as an actual mythical deity. she is not – she is very real, just very reclusive, shunning all publicity).  The Rain Queen is the hereditary ruler of her people by matrilineal succession. From her title, it is clear that one of her duties is to apply her hereditary supernatural skills in rain making. But it is another feature of her tradition that catches the papers’ attention: by tradition, she always marries only women, whom she takes in polygamous marriages. While the Queen gets on with the domestic duties usually associated with a husband, these wives will take on typical female gender roles, including procreation and childrearing. Obviously the Queen cannot pysically father children, so the wives are sent outside of the family unit for sex, and conception. The children thus conceived are raised in the royal family, and have nothing whatsoever to do with their biological fathers.



Female Husbands

Ethnographic studies have documented similar practices in over thirty populations across the continent. I find these fascinating, for the clear way in which they highlight the difference between biological sex and gender, and for the distinctions between sex, marriage, procreation and child rearing.

The records show that in these societies, women who have sufficient wealth to come up with the required bride price may take wives. When they do, they form households in which they take on the traditional roles and duties of husbands, while the other women behave exactly as any other wives, taking on the domestic chores and the child-rearing.

Children? Clearly, all-female marriages are not able to conceive children. Instead, some or all of the wives will have sexual relationships with men outside the marriage, sometimes with men chosen for them by their husbands, specifically for the pusposes of procreation. The biological father’s role though, stops right there. The children are raised in the all female household, by their mothers – and their female stepfather. physical procreation is entirely distinct from the chikl-rearing that follows. Sexual relationships too, may be distinct from both the marriage, and from procreation. In some cases, the marriages will include lesbian sexual relationships, but in others some or all of the women have erotic relationships outside of the family which are not necessarily geared to procreation.

Africa is a large, diverse continent, so it should not be a surpsie that there are many other forms of same sex relationship observed as well. Here, I have only touched on one little-known aspect of some female relationships. Later, I will also look at other unusual forms of relationships that totally contradict the idea that homoerotic relationships are foreign to Africa and introduced by outsiders, either European colonials, or the Arabs.

See also:

Gay Ugandans, Ugandan Martyrs

African Myths about Homosexuality – Guardian

Books:

Naphy, William: Born to be Gay: A History of Homosexuality (Revealing History)

Greenberg, David F:   The Construction of Homosexuality

Ifi Amadiume Male Daughters, Female Husbands: Gender and Sex in an African Society

Murray, Donald O: Boy-Wives and Female Husbands: Studies of African Homosexualities

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LGBT community: The Real Defenders of Traditional Marriage.

I have all along been puzzled by the US MSM acceptance of Maggie Gallagher’s con trick, that her organisation is NOM, the “National OrganiZation for Marriage”. IT quite clearly isn’t – their aim is to restrict marriage. In what way is that supporting marriage? They should rename as “NAM “, National organization Against Marriage. Our side are the ones who are showing real support for marriage, support that demands the opportunity be extended to all. We are the ones who should be saying “Vote yes – yes for marriage”.
Finally, others are beginning to say the obvious – that “traditional” as commonly understood is a load of hokum. Earlier this week I pointed out an Episcopalian bishop had reminded NJ senators that “traditional” marriage was an agreement between two men (the groom and the bride’s father). NOw, this piece from Huff post extends the idea. (Interestingly, this is the second article I have seen that uses the Tiger Woods story to show how bankrupt is the ideal of (straight) traditional marriage. the previous piece used the reported financial negotiations over the couple’ current problems to argue that conventional marriage is just a commercial contract, to which any couple should have access.) Expanding on the idea that monogamous marriage is an anomaly, Jay Michaelson concludes by suggesting that it is the “gay marriage crowd” who most clearly demonstrate enthusiasm for traditional marriage:

Ironically, and of course totally unrecognized by defenders of “traditional marriage,” it’s the gay-marriage crowd that is the staunchest proponent of traditional norms. They’re the ones saying that monogamous marriage is so great, let’s extend it to everyone. The real opponents of marriage are the folks who question whether it’s such a good idea in the first place. 


Whatever we think about such normative questions, the facts of the matter are beyond dispute: monogamous marriage as an ideal that’s actually meant to be upheld is a very recent, and not very successful, innovation. Personally, I recognize that as an deal, it plays an important role in creating stable families, stable communities, and stable societies. I am not forgiving the sin of infidelity. But I do wonder if it’s more a peccadillo than some kind of ethical felony.

Read the full article at Monogamous Marriage is an Anomaly, (Huffpost)


Same-Sex, Opposite-Sex, or "Apposite" Sex? : Churches Grappling With Inclusion, Equality

While the Catholic Church has been consumed with issues around clerical abuse, other churches have been getting on with moving into the real world.   There have been steps toward full inclusion in a number of Protestant denominations, in the US and elsewhere, and pressure for further progress continues to grow. Several reports this past week have illustrated this.

“Making it legal: the Bishop of New Hampshire, the Rt Revd Gene Robinson (right) during the civil union with his partner, Mark Andrew, in June 2008 AP”

In the US, the Episcopal church has led the way among the major denominations, with two openly gay or lesbian bishops now confirmed. It has now released a report, Same-Sex Relation­ships in the Life of the Church, by a team of eight leading theologians which was commissioned by the House of Bishops, to consider a range of views on same -sex relationships in the Church. To me, the important feature here is not the conclusions, which diverge sharply, bu the simple fact that the report exists and demonstrates that differences of opinion and interpretation, of Scripture and theology, are possible and valid. The panel was deliberately drawn to reflect a range of views, including those of gay and lesbian people in committed relationships.
I found this passage from the Church Times fascinating, arguing that the issue is not just of “same -sex” or “opposite-sex” relationships, but on of “apposite-sex ” (i.e appropriate) relationships – and that for all of us,, such apposite relationships are a way “to sanctification”. This makes the question of “gay marriage” in church not just a matter of social justice, bu a matter of opening up a sacramental path to spiritual growth for all:
“Marriage cultivates concern for one another; it offers lifelong hos­pitality; it enacts love; and it exposes our faults in order to heal them. It is the marital virtues that the Church needs, not only with respect to the Bridegroom [Christ] but just now, with respect to one another.” The liberal group defined orienta­tion in terms not of gender, but of morality: “A sexually oriented person is someone who develops and is morally improved through a relationship with someone of the apposite sex, typically but not necessarily the opposite sex. Those called to same-sex relationships are those that need them for their own sanctification . . . because neither opposite-sex relationships nor celi­bacy could get deeply enough into their hearts to promote lifelong com­mitment and growth.” It said that same-sex couples should not be denied the moral worth of each putting their body “on the line” for the other “until death us do part”; that was an accountability “far beyond what counselled celibacy can provide”. Nor should they be denied the “delight” they had in each other; for that was necessary for action: Eros did not turn into charity through self-control, but through self aban­donment, and the self-dispossession that led to self-donation. “It is the daily version of finding one’s life by losing it.”
Meanwhile, a rash of other news reports have focussed not on the formal church response to the demands of theology and scripture, but on highly personal responses by individual clergy, struggling to negotiate a path in conscience between sometimes conflicting demands of Church and state in dealing with requests for marriage within their own congregations. I will report on these separately, in a later post.

AMA Condemns the Dangerous Heterosexual Perversion.

Well, not exactly – but they could just as well have done, as I will explain later.  first, what they actually did say:

“The nation’s largest doctors’ group has agreed to join efforts to repeal the military’s ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy.

The American Medical Association also voted to declare that gay marriage bans contribute to health disparities for gay couples and their children.

Both gay-rights policies were adopted Tuesday at the AMA’s interim policy meeting in Houston.

The AMA says the ‘don’t ask, don’t-tell’ law creates an ethical dilemma for gay service members and the doctors who treat them.

The other measure declares that marriage bans leave gays vulnerable to being excluded from health care benefits, including health insurance and family and medical leave rights. The new AMA policy stops short of opposing the bans.”

American Medical Association

There is a delicious irony in a medical group condemning discriminatory practices against gay and lesbian people, as it is well known that the much abused word “homosexual” was originally coined late in the 19th century as a medical term to denote what was then seen as a pathology.
Time has moved on, and personal orientation is no longer seen as a pathology for medical treatment, no matter what NARTH and the so-called “ex-gay” movement have to say about it.    Even the Catholic Church agrees that the “inclination” in a person is natural and not in itself sinful – they just need to allow their theology to catch up with the implications of this. Unfortunately though, the simple recognition that there is no pathology is not enough:  the damage has been done.

Let us now look at that late 19th century coinage, “heterosexual”. Yes, this too was a word invented in the 19th century, after its counterpart “homosexual”, and was also originally a medical term, used to denote a pathology.  Yes, that’s right – a pathology – specifically,

“a morbid obsession with the opposite sex.”

Now, “homosexuality” is no longer taken seriously as a pathology, but I submit that heterosexuality, as “a morbid obsession with the opposite sex”, is indeed a pathology and requires serious attention.  Let me explain.

In the context of a simple orientation, or as specific sexual acts, I obviously do not suggest that “heterosexuality” is diseased or unnatural, any more than I would make that claim about any other sexual orientation or activity.  However, at the level of society as a whole, the 20th century fixation with heterosexuality as a cultural norm to be imposed on all, fostered by this belief that it was “diseased”, aided and abetted by religious misinterpretations of Scripture and selective extracts from theology purporting to show that it is grievously sinful”, can certainly be called a morbid fascination, which has caused untold damage to the mental and physical health of many millions of people.  It is this insistence that people conform to externally imposed sexual norms, quite contrary to innate orientation and psychological health, that has caused much higher rates of youth suicide among gay and lesbian youth than among their peers; that has led to the bullying that is often the proximate cause of the suicides; that leads people in to lives of duplicity and fear in a closet; that has led to active persecution by many governments, from Nazi Germany to Iran, Sudan and Uganda today – and which lies at the bottom of the bans on gays in the military, or on gay marriage, which are the immediate issues addressed by the AMA.

This obsession is entirely unnatural.  Le t me restate once again, what should by now be well known, but sadly isn’t:

The homoerotic orientation is entirely natural, and has been found in all periods of history, in all parts of the world, and in most animal species.

Scientific research suggests that most people are neither exclusively attracted to the opposite sex, nor exclusively to the same sex. We lean more or less strongly to one or the other, but most of us are capable of responding to at least some degree to either.  Social pressures however, influence how we deal with this.

Societies too are not typically exclusively modelled on the patterned on the modern, misnamed Western idea of “traditional” marriage. This model, a monogamous union of one man and one woman joined in a love relationship consecrated in church to raise children, is unique to the last two centuries in the West. Before that, Western marriage was primarily about protecting property and inheritance rights. In many parts of the world, and among the Hebrew patriarchs, polygamy was commonplace. In classical Greece and Rome, where European culture largely began, men did not expect to find sexual or emotional fulfilment in marriage, but took it from slaves, prostitutes, concubines or male lovers – if they were privileged citizens. If not, chances are their sexual lives were determined by their owners or masters, not by themselves.

Among Christians, marriage in church was not required (and was sometimes not possible) until the 12th century. Indeed, it has been suggested that a church ceremony was obligatory only for priests who chose to marry.

Outside of Europe and North America, the so-called “traditional”, “time-honoured” model was even less typical until it was imposed by Western missionaries and colonial powers.

Even in the animal kingdom, exclusive heterosexuality is rare. Some degree of homosexuality is now known to occur in many, possibly most, animal species.

In short, the evidence from psychology, medicine, anthropology, history and zoology is that whereas homoeroticism is entirely natural if not common, exclusive heterosexuality is both unnatural and rare.  As such, I have no hesitation in labelling the social “morbid obsession with the opposite sex”  orientation as exclusive practice, and the resultant insistence on heterosexist laws and theology not only a social sexual perversion, but an extremely dangerous one.