“Homosexuality is unnatural” is the first line of defense of gay marriage opponents. I used to think so too, just because I’m straight. But what does “unnatural” mean? “Unnatural” is the opposite of “natural”. Depending on the context, “natural” can mean a number of things.
“Natural” can refer to something occurring in nature, without human participation. “Unnatural” in this context means something man-made, something that can be seen only when humans are involved, something that would never develop without human participation. If homosexuality is unnatural in this context, one would not observe it in wild animals. A simple search on Wikipedia on “homosexual behavior in animals” reveals this. Oh, My God! Just a short list of “homosexual offenders” in the animal world:
- 4 Some selected species and groups
- 4.1 Birds
- 4.2 Mammals
- 4.3 Others
Not the bed bugs! I was particularly impressed by the documented case of homosexual necrophilia in mallards. Here is the link to the original paper PDF. The author, Kees Moeliker, also made a TED talk about this interesting case with a few additional details, such as an example of a frog engaging in an oral sex with a live goldfish. This paper and this video come to my mind each time someone uses the word “unnatural”.
Bed bugs, dragonflies, and lizards having homosexual affairs also destroy the myth that homosexual behavior is a choice unless we want to claim that dragonflies have consciousness and can choose what they do. If God created dragonflies, he must have created homosexuality too. Can dragonflies sin?
This video in Russian called “Homo sapiens – homosexuality in humans and animals” (you can turn on English subtitles) mentions that homosexual behavior is observed in over 1500 species! It also shows many interesting examples of the contexts and reasons of it showing that the function of sex is not only reproduction, even in the animal world.
So, it’s not just a “fluke” of nature. A random event with a negligible probability of observing. Homosexuality in nature is very common. So, one cannot use “not observed in nature” definition to claim that homosexuality is unnatural.
But there are other meanings of “natural” and “unnatural”. For example, people may say that “it is natural for the sun to rise in the morning and set in the evening”. This simply means something commonly observed. It’s a synonym of “normal”. So, something not commonly observed or regularly done is identified as “unnatural” or “abnormal”. “It is unnatural for me to wake up at 3 am” simply means that I normally do not do it. Perhaps, this is what most straight people mean when they say that homosexuality is unnatural. First of all, other people can regularly do things that I would never do and it would be natural for them. What is commonly observed in one area or culture can be very uncommon in another. Even the sun does not rise and set every day in summer or in winter in areas close to the poles. “Water boils at 100C” is only true at the sea level and on Earth. On Mars, water does not normally boil at all. It’s too cold. This means, we only call homosexuality “unnatural” or “abnormal” because we don’t observe it too often. But is it a good reason to oppose homosexual marriages? We don’t see redheads too often as well. Shall we call red hair a “genetic abnormality” and ban them from marriage also? Claiming that homosexuality is “abnormal”, that it’s a “genetic deviation”, a “disease” of some sort, seems bogus. When “unnatural” is used in the sense of an uncommon behavior, opposition to gay marriage is based in mere tradition. “It has always been this way” (followed by the quotes from Genesis).
Sometimes, “unnatural” means “immoral”. E.g. “It is unnatural to steal and kill.” But declaring homosexuality unnatural because it is immoral and immoral because it is unnatural does not make a lot of sense. One of the two has to be defined using different terms to avoid circular reasoning.
Sometimes, “unnatural” means “disgusting” or “repulsive”. In this sense, “unnatural” means something a person would not normally do (see notes about “normal” – “abnormal” above).
Bottom line. Some definitions of “unnatural” do not hold water with respect to homosexuality. Others lead to circular reasoning. Those that cannot be refuted, are reduced to 1) physical disgust or 2) tradition, often based in religion.
What other meanings of “natural” and “unnatural” have you seen? My advice: avoid using words “natural” and “unnatural” in any debates. In my experience, the most common source of misunderstanding in discussions comes from using different, unclear, or too broad contexts for common words. Some people claim all we see around us is nature, therefore everything is natural. Some people believe in supernatural. If the supernatural is not natural, i.e. unnatural, then God is unnatural too. “Careful the things you say, children will listen.“