Carol Hunt: 'Natural' isn't always 'best' when it comes to parenting
Those who support 'family values' should drop their logical fallacies
THE always entertaining Kerry County Council was in the news again last week. And strangely enough, there may have been a Healy-Rae mentioned. This time the topic was not drinking and driving, but sex and marriage; specifically same-sex marriage. The council voted, by an 18-7 majority, in favour (to support it), but Danny Healy-Rae, making the usual noises about having nothing against gay or lesbian people per se, demurred.
His reason? He's quoted as saying that homosexual marriage is "not natural".
Danny boy is in good company here. Benedict XVI used his Christmas address last December to argue that the reasons to oppose gay marriage are "inscribed in human nature itself". He said that people were manipulating their God-given identities to suit their sexual choices and destroying the very "essence of the human creature" in the process. "Good Lord, really?" seems the only appropriate response to that assumption.
But Benny is not the only one.
Worldwide, the dominant, persuasive argument against allowing gay marriage is that, as Cardinal Francis George of Chicago put it: "Marriage comes to us from nature. That's based on the complementarity of the two sexes in such a way that the love of a man and a woman joined in a marital union is open to life, and that's how families are created and society goes along ... it's a matter of reason and understanding the way nature operates."
See? It's not because of out-dated religious dogma or bigotry or even just good old fashioned queer-bashing. Gay marriage or homosexuality isn't bad for society just because the Pope says it is (although he does), along with a great many other religious leaders from different faith groups. No, no, no, listen up Liberals, homosexuality – and by extension, gay marriage – is evil because it goes against nature. End of discussion.
The argument that something is morally wrong or undesirable because it is "not natural" is called – as any first-year philosophy student will tell you – the "appeal to nature".
What many of them will also add (that is, if they have been listening and not spending their time drinking or having sex – or doing both while driving) is that it is a logical fallacy.
This is because the "appeal to nature" argument contains a hidden assumption – the assumption that nature's way is always the best. The terms "natural" and "unnatural" are loaded – we are meant to conflate them with "normal" and "abnormal" respectively and come to the conclusion that "abnormal" equals bad.
This, if we bother to think for a moment, is nonsense.
Cholera, influenza, cancer, typhoid; all these occur naturally. Nature has at its disposal a thousand ways of making our lives miserable or ending them completely.
How to get from Dublin to Kerry the way nature intended – by foot? I'd rather take the "unnatural" train, thank you very much.
Expose myself to the Feb-ruary cold in my birthday suit? I'll go for a nice, warm "unnatural" set of man-made clothes in case I end up with pneumonia.
And if I do come down with some "natural" illness? Then please make sure I get a good dose of a very effective "unnatural" antibiotic.
"But it's natural," is what I often hear from well-meaning friends trying to persuade me to ingest some awful-looking substance that's meant therefore to be "good" for me – "yeah, so is hemlock" is my response.
Yet we still persist with the "if it's natural it must be good" fallacy. (It sounds intelligent and it's easier than actually having to think.) And from there we can concoct arguments that deny people we deem "unnatural" equal rights; such as marriage.
Or as Tom Loughton, Tory MP, put it in the recent British House of Commons debate, "Who are we, this government or this country, to redefine the term marriage that has meant one man and one woman across cultures, across ages, across geographical barriers since before state and religion themselves?"
This is the "appeal to tradition" which is just as fallacious as the "appeal to nature". Have a look at the Bible; polygamy was the norm. That's not one man, one woman; that's one man and a lot of women – and in King Solomon's case, it's a whopping 700 wives with 300 concubines added for good measure in case he got lonely. Today, in many cultures, polygamy is still practised.
And, as historian John Boswell has pointed out, same-sex marriage was recognised in ancient Rome – and this extended into the Christian period. There is evidence for Church-sanctioned same-sex unions in ancient times, including a liturgy.
So, why the insistence that same sex marriage is an abomination in nature?
Well, because of the children of course!
Or, as Bill O'Reilly of Fox News so eloquently put it while bluntly dismissing scientific evidence that demonstrated children suffer no psychological deficit from same-sex parenting: "Nature dictates that a dad and a mom is the optimum form of child-rearing; why, if there's no psychological deficit, wouldn't nature then make it that anyone could get pregnant by eating a cupcake?"
But just because nature dictates that it takes a man and a woman to make a baby, this doesn't necessarily mean that they are the best combination to rear to child. In many cultures and traditions, extended families, neighbours, communities all pitch in to rear the children. The nuclear family, of mom, dad and children in one house is essentially a Victorian invention.
This is not to say that marriage and family life is unimportant; on the contrary, it's the vital component of a good society. It's essentially a civilising, economically fruitful, social institution. This is why it needs to be supported and strengthened. (Particularly when financial hardship puts it under such strain – attacking family benefits would seem to be at odds with this.)
Those who support "family values" would be well advised to drop their logical fallacies and instead understand that expanding family units to include as many individuals (be they gay or straight) as possible, is the "natural", moral, and most beneficial thing to do.