Animal Behavior as a Basis for Human Morality

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Laurence Thomas has an excellent post Are There Gay Animals? On Justifying Gay Behavior in Humans. [If you have trouble accessing the post, see the comments below for how to get it to load properly.] Laurence doesn't think there's anything at all wrong with being gay, but he points out some severe flaws with one argument for the opposite conclusion. Some people, in order to support the view that Laurence holds, point out same-sex sexual interaction in non-human animals. I've observed such behavior myself, so I know it's out there. Several things are wrong with this argument, but I'll summarize two of his points here, and you can read his post for a fuller treatment.

One is that lots of things animals do could be wrong for humans to do. Laurence gives the example of promiscuity. Just because animals don't settle down with long-term partners doesn't mean we shouldn't. There are in fact good reasons for thinking that we should have long-term partners, and these have nothing to do with religion but arise simply from thinking about the nature of human sexuality and psychology.

Another problem with the argument is that it would be thoroughly inaccurate to describe animals as being gay. Being gay is not engaging in certain behavior. It's all wrapped up in having a sexual identity defined in terms of sexual or romantic relations with someone of the same sex. Animals don't do that. They have nothing like the kind of developed sexual identity that humans have (and Laurence gives several examples having nothing to do with gay to show the level of difference between animals and humans in terms of sexual identity).

See also his previous post Gay Marriage and the Argument from Consenting Adults for a criticism of another bad argument on a related issue. Laurence's position on record on gay marriage is the same as mine, i.e. that the government shouldn't be endorsing any marriage but leaving it to religion, while allowing same-sex couples to have inheritance, hospital visitation, health insurance, and other couple benefits. But the mere fact that couples consent to gay sex doesn't at all justify it.

4 Comments

They are blocking your referral link! I guess someone does not like criticism. You can still visit the link via copy and paste.

I don't think that's by design. For some reason his site has been doing this with me, but I can't imagine him doing it deliberately. Laurence and I have always been on very good terms, and he seems to be glad when I comment on his posts.

You don't have to copy and paste, by the way. All you have to do is click on the link, and then when it gives the error message you can click in the box with the URL and hit enter. It will reload with the page displaying.

Is this a straw man? As you point out, this is a terrible argument:

Some animals exhibit homosexual behavior.
Therefore, it's cool to be gay.

Does anything endorse anything like that argument? I've always thought that the gay rights folks like the gay behavior in animals because it serves against the favorite anti-gay refrain that "homosexuality is unnatural".

Some people do use same-sex animal behavior to defeat a pretty lame version of a natural law argument that says that animals don't do it and so we shouldn't. I think James Rachels says something like that, in fact.

But I've seen people argue that because dogs do it it must be ok for humans to do it. I've also seen people argue the same thing about promiscuity, to the point of saying that we are resisting our evolutionary obligation if we resist promiscuity with our socially conditioned moral code.

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