All the same arguments that apply to making homosexuality a norm apply to incest… What argument can be given to outlaw incest that cannot be given with even more logic to outlaw homosexuality?
And he later added:
Give me an argument justifying homosexual relations on grounds which do not answer as well or better for justifying incest?
I’ve seen this claim — that there are no moral arguments for accepting homosexuality that don’t also apply to incest — fairly frequently. The claim seems flatly wrong.
What follows is what I wrote in John’s comments. This isn’t meant to be a complete catalog of the differences between incest and homosexuality; there are many essential arguments I didn’t touch on. I just outlined a few arguments that I thought might appeal to at least some of John’s readers. (Hence, these arguments are all rather social conservative in their approach.)
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I think there are a number of compelling differences.
1) Accepting the legitimacy of homosexual relationships doesn’t fundamentally alter relationships between child and sibling, or child and parent.
In contrast, if incest is legitimate, that socially recognized potential for sexuality will alter (and in some cases poison) the relationships between children and their siblings, and between children and parents. And this will be true for all families, not just those families that practice incest.
(Some might object that if homosexuality is accepted, then same-sex parent-child incest will be accepted with it. Not true. Parents don’t need social condemnation of homosexuality to avoid sex with their same-sex kids, any more than they need social condemnation of heterosexuality to avoid sex with their opposite-sex kids.)
2) Gays (including women and men) are a significant portion of society. probably between 1% and 4% of Americans are gay, and most will be gay for virtually their entire lives. There are tens of thousands of children being raised by same-sex couples.
It’s to society’s benefit that gays be integrated into society’s stabilizing institutions to as great an extent as possible. It’s beneficial to society that couples form commitments of caring and responsibility; it’s beneficial to society that children have the stability and security of married parents.
Furthermore, there are high costs to society if 1%-4% of the society is made into outcasts. Higher suicide rates, economic costs (non-outcasts form businesses and employ people), public health (non-outcasts take better care of themselves), and riots are just some of the costs society pays.
Sometimes treating people as outcasts has clear benefits which outweigh the costs (for instance, treating violent criminals as outcasts), but homosexuality is not such a case.
This provides us with some clear distinctions between homosexuality and incest. There is no incest equivalent to the Stonewall riot; there are not tens of thousands of children being raised by openly incestuous parents. There is no large population of “incestists” who it would benefit society to integrate into norms of mutual care and responsibility, and maintaining the ban on incest incurs virtually no costs on society (and has some benefits).
3) Sexual orientation is significantly different from an attraction to a particular inappropriate individual (such as a sibling). Forbidding someone the chance to pursue an inappropriate attraction is an ordinary part of life; but forbidding someone their entire sexual orientation is cruel and lifelong.
If Albert feels an attraction to an inappropriate person — for example, an already married woman — it’s not particularly cruel to tell Albert that he must forget that particular attraction. The same thing would be true if Albert feels an attraction to his sister. In both cases, Albert isn’t really being told to give up on love; he’s just being told to put it off until he meets someone who’s available.
I think that most of us, if we were honest, would admit to having at some point in our lives had an attraction to someone who it would be wrong to pursue. And (I hope) most of us did the right thing — we didn’t pursue the attraction and hoped to meet someone else.
But what if Albert is gay? The large majority of gay people, are gay for life, and won’t ever be genuinely attracted to people of the opposite sex. So if we forbid homosexuality, we’re not just telling Albert to put off love until he’s attracted to someone who is willing and available. We’re telling Albert that he must accept an entire life without even the hope of romantic, sexual love.
In that way, forbidding homosexuality is cruel in a way that forbidding incest is not.
Now, sometimes we should be cruel in the service of more important social goals — for instance, protecting children from adult sexual predators is laudable, and we rightly don’t care if this is in some sense cruel to the predators. However, the same reasoning cannot support needless cruelty towards consenting adults.
- Coincidentally, Wright is married to Ms. Lamplighter, who Karnythia has recently been blogging responses to. I didn’t realize that until after I had put this post online. Small internet. [↩]