Ethics: December 2007 Archives

What Could This Mean?

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Consider the following words from Rudy Giuliani (hat tip: DaveG):
Giuliani, who appeared on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” said in response to a question that he did not believe homosexuality was aberrant.

“The way somebody leads their life isn’t sinful. It’s the acts,” said Giuliani, who supports gay rights and lived with an openly gay couple after separating from his second wife while mayor. “It’s the various acts that people perform that are sinful, not the orientation that they have.”

What could that possibly mean? Here are the three main views on this issue:

View A: There's nothing wrong remotely in the area of homosexuality.
View B: Homosexuality (as a sexual orientation) is involuntary (or largely involuntary), but homosexual acts are immoral.
View C: It's morally wrong to be gay, even if you're celibate.

Now I think Giuliani has ruled out all three views. There are acts that he thinks are wrong that are remotely related to homosexuality. So it's not A. It's clearly not C, since he says a homosexual orientation isn't a sin. B might seem the most plausible, and it does seem to follow from his denial of the other two, but he does say that "the way somebody leads their life isn't sinful". Unless he means that in a way that isn't its most natural meaning, I think he's just contradicted his statement that various acts are wrong.

I have two overly charitable interpretations that might make sense of this.

1. View B is his view, and when he refers to the way somebody leads their life he's not talking about acts but orientation. In favor of this is the parallel between his contrast between how you lead your life and your acts and his second contrast between orientation and your acts. But it's extremely strange to talk about orientation as equivalent with how you lead your life. How you lead your life seems more akin to acts than it does to orientation.

2. DaveG's interpretation is correct, and View A is what Giuliani meant to say, which means the acts he refers to have nothing to do with homosexuality. He's making a general claim that sins are acts, and homosexuality isn't an act, so it can't be a sin. The problem with this is that there are acts associated with homosexuality, and his point doesn't say anything against View B, which is an extremely common view. Also, his contrast between acts and orientation does seem to be parallel to the contrast between the way you lead your life and your acts, which would suggest some connection between the acts and the orientation.

I also have a somewhat uncharitable interpretation that might make some sense of it:

3. View A is his view, and the acts he has in mind are ones that don't actually have to do with homosexuality but are commonly associated with it anyway, e.g. male-male incest, paedophilia/pederasty, male-male rape, etc. Homosexuality entails none of those, but they are male-male, and thus they are technically homosexual. What's somewhat uncharitable about interpreting him this way is that it makes him out to connect homosexuality with such acts even when he's trying to defend it. It wouldn't be my first choice to attribute such a view to someone just to try to make sense of what seems to be a contradiction. But I'm not happy with any of the above options, either.

A recent update from the Family Research Council takes an interesting tactic from the point of view of bad rhetorical moves. What do you do if you want to convince people that you're on the side of families? Probably not word things in such a way that you sound as if parents of adopted children aren't parents. Not a good idea. Yet this is exactly what the FRC has done (and I must say it's not the first time I've seen this from mainstream opposition to gay marriage).

It is outrageous that courts in some states have become complicit in this denial of biological reality by allowing homosexual couples to have custody of newborns and birth certificates that mislead about the true parentage of the child. 

So what counts as true parentage? I accept that birth certificates of adopted kids ideally ought to list the biological parents, for a lot of reasons. But I would never in my right mind suggest that this is the same thing as saying birth certificates ought to list the true parents, as if adoptive parents aren't the true parents of the child. So here's a hint to the FRC. If you're going to argue against adoption by gay people, it's not going to endear people toward thinking of you as a legitimate family advocate if you also in effect include adoption by straight married couples as part of your target by speaking of them as if they're not real parents.

It turns out divorce is bad for the environment. So is breaking up any cohabitation. I guess marriage and cohabitation are good for the environment, then. It's interesting that they worded the headline to emphasize the negative rather than the positive, though. [hat tip: Jonathan Adler]



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