A few weeks ago, the Toronto Star ran a story about a gay woman, Anne Tesluk, of Bowmanville, Ontario. She sent her daughter to the local Catholic School because she was herself a Catholic. Tesluk was also thrilled that her school, St. Joseph’s Elementary, distributed the blueprint for a plan to help teachers tackle discrimination of all kinds, from racial to religious to discrimination based on disability or sexual orientation.
That is, she was thrilled until she read in the fine print of the school document that homosexual people are “objectively disordered.” Tesluk was so shocked and offended that she decided to go to the local Catholic school board to ask that the offending phrase from the blueprint be removed. In a way, the story is surprising—what Catholic person, after all, doesn’t know that the Catholic Church takes this stand? Perhaps especially, what gay Catholic mother? Be that as it may, I wish Ann the best of luck, because her concerns for how such statements demean and marginalize gay people are right on.
In my denomination, the Christian Reformed Church, things are about the same, unfortunately. We’d say that homosexuality is “against nature,” or “against creational norms.” People who argue that homosexuality is against nature believe that God reveals his intention for sexuality, at least in part, by divine norms or laws that can be deduced from the natural order. In my tradition there is actually a very deep philosophical well of reflection on whether or not such norms actually exist, and if they do, to what extent can we know them? The last question is really important. It is hard enough to interpret Biblical texts. But how does one interpret nature with a view to arriving at appropriate ethical conclusions? It can’t be easy.
For example, I’m reminded of a person who once said to me, “Homosexuality is wrong. Anyone can see that God didn’t create two men or two women to fit together. The body parts just don’t align.” This person is saying, in effect, that what seems to be our “natural design,” should be the rule for how body parts get used. The argument, right or wrong, is an important one.
However, it is worth noting here that not only is nature hard to interpret if you are reading it for ethical norms, but it would also be very hard to develop a consistent application of such an ethic. Human activity, after all, is replete with actions that seem “against nature,” that few of us therefore regard as being against God’s will. In the area of sexual practice, for example, masturbation, oral sex and even kissing are actions that involve the use of the body in novel and not necessarily “normative” ways, at least given the primary uses of the plumbing and appendages involved. But beyond sexuality, the list of things humans do that they were not “designed” to do is endless. If God had meant for us to fly, he would have given us wings. If we are supposed to bear children in pain we dare not use epidurals. The list goes on: in vitro fertilization and/or surrogate pregnancies, birth control, transplanted hearts, heart valves made of pig flesh, genetic engineering, artificial (not natural!) hips or knees or even facelifts . . . all of these technologies involve leaps of the imagination and use of the body in ways that are novel and imaginative.
Meanwhile, one supposes that if a behavior really is against nature, you would not find it in nature. Suffice it to say, however, that homosexual behavior has been widely documented in nature, including among chimpanzees. Homosexuality, like having red hair or an IQ of 170, isn’t so much against nature as it is just not that common in nature.
Naturally, the ethics of homosexual behavior—like the ethics of heterosexual behavior—are complicated and deserve more reflection than I can give it in a short blog post. But arguing that homosexuality is against nature just isn’t going to work for me--or Anne Tesluk.