THE INTERDISCIPLINARY JOURNEY OF AN ETHICAL ISSUE – HOMOSEXUALITY (Călătoria interdisciplinară a unei chestiuni etice – homosexualitatea)


Rezumat: Articolul examinează, pe scurt, o serie de elemente din domeniul biomedical şi socio-politic care privesc chestiunea homosexualităţii. Problema principală, aici, nu este dacă homosexualitatea este naturală sau nu, morală sau imorală. Chestiunea homosexualităţii se întâmplă că reprezintă (cel puţin în opinia autoarei) o ilustrare cât se poate de adecvată a observaţiilor conform cărora omenirea se află departe de a atinge un echilibru bazat pe respect reciproc între culturi, că societatea pare a suferi din pricina tendinţei minorităţilor de a-şi impune valorile asupra majorităţii şi tendinţei culturii occidentale de a-şi impune valorile (unele dintre ele nou apărute şi încă neintegrate bine nici măcar în patria lor) asupra altor culturi. O altă preocupare se leagă de amestecarea în mod inadecvat a unor argumente provenind din domenii diferite ale cunoaşterii umane, în încercarea de a susţine sau respinge o teză sau alta privind acest aspect delicat al comportamentului uman care este orientarea sexuală. A aduna date din domenii diferite nu este întotdeauna relevant pentru soluţionarea unor dileme etice. De asemenea, problemele de etică depind prin definiţie de contextul cultural, iar tentativa de a “depăşi” diferenţele [între culturi] şi a produce un cadru global bazat pe noţiuni considerate a avea potenţialul universalităţii, precum cea de drepturi ale omului s-ar putea să nu conducă la obţinerea de paradigme funcţionale la nivel practic.

Introductory tour

Same-sex relations moved gradually from the zone of ‘not at all recommended’ to that of ‘very highly recommended’. Homosexuality used to be regarded as a spiritual problem till it became a medical problem then no problem at all and voices could be heard lately claiming it to be the best option for our species.

Homosexuality used to be and it still is regarded as a spiritual problem by Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Once upon a time this attitude was commonplace for Christian Europe which is no longer valid, enabling comments about some gradual change such as those above. If it is well known that “Abrahamic” religions consider homosexual relations to be sinful, it is less acknowledged that homosexuality was not at all popular in most cultures being often associated with the unnatural and the dark side of the world. It is also less acknowledged by non-believers advocating against the religious stand is that a believer is asked not to equate the sin or the vice with the sinner and by no means provoke psychological or physical pain to a person in spiritual trouble.

Unfortunately the misplaced enthusiasm of some ‘Christian’ factions helps those accusing religion of blind intolerance to strengthen their position. For both sides it seems to be equally hard to realize that hatred is not at all Christian. What is totally unpleasant is the fact that adhering to the basic norms of one’s religion is nowadays equated to ‘religious fundamentalism’. Those who reject certain types of behavior as being contrary to traditional moral norms are labeled as fundamentalists, which has become a kind of classy insult. A society very much liking to speak about tolerance and accusing ‘fundamentalists’ of intolerance does not realize that it is actually being intolerant to them.

At some point homosexuality turned into a medical problem. The religious would say that points out the decay of spiritual awareness in the ‘illuminated’ Europe, being one of the multiple effects of science trying to explain everything and of the programmatic exclusion of any metaphysic accounts. Anyway, that was perhaps the shortest phase in the evolution of the concept. Today homosexuality is no longer considered a medical problem. Scientists investigate its alleged biological basis but the expected outcome is entirely different – not to show that it is something wrong with the organisms of homosexuals but on the contrary that their condition is part of the wide range of completely natural variants our species might exhibit. Homosexuality is no more regarded as a matter of choice nor as innate though pathological but as innate and perfectly normal. The fact that science is working to provide arguments in defense of something customarily rejected not on scientific but on metaphysical basis is odd enough but it should not perhaps come as a too big surprise at a time when science and metaphysics experiment a multitude of unsuitable interferences.

ethics of homosexualityThe most extreme position on the topic of homosexuality recommends it as the best option for our species in the context of the growth of human population causing environmental damage, a theme that is most dear to many propagandists or naives. No matter how common sensed and statistically provable would be the observation that natural resources are exploited (the environment degrading accordingly) not for the benefit of the countries with high population growth rates, the poor ones,  but to the profit of rich developed countries with low rates of population growth, this type of comment is not often encountered in literature. Either way, some say homosexuality might save us from extinction – “Indeed, it would be desirable if most people became homosexual and only a small, selected proportion of humans of every recognizable subgroup attended to the modest reproductive needs of the species…Prejudice against homosexual marriage will diminish as soon as people realize that that newly established institution is a guarantor of ‘natural’  population policy.”(Loefler, 2004).

Attitudes tend to move to the extreme not only in the scientific field but also with regard to the socio-political issues surrounding non-heterosexuals. One can hardly escape of an impression of the minority little by little getting in the position to ‘oppress’ the majority. The European Union asks its member states to adopt an uniform attitude of tolerance based upon human rights and a dignity it fails to define both with respect to its content and roots. Pressure put upon states to eliminate articles of law regarding homosexuality can sometimes become quite unpleasant. The point is not that homosexuality should be declared illegal and/or punishable by law but that some of the attempts to ‘democratize’ European countries’ legislation might be regarded as inconsiderate both towards states’ sovereignty and cultural diversity.

Things move further and further as tolerance seems not to be enough anymore, full acceptance being perhaps the ultimate and the only satisfactory scope of  the militant wing of the gay subculture. The shift from tolerance to full acceptance is forced upon people, cultures, institutions that should make serious efforts – whether they like it or not – to convince they deserve the label of  ‘heterosexist’ to be removed from their forehead.

Traveling through Biology

Scientists tried to discover the biological basis (or in a more prudent formulation ‘biological concomitants’ (McFadden and Pasanen, 1998) of homosexuality.

Various brain structures have been examined in homosexual and heterosexual men and women in order to establish whether homosexuals can be placed on the basis of their anatomy somewhere between the two sexes. Some differences have been described between homosexuals and heterosexuals but it is still unclear if they are really connected to sexual orientation.

For example, a difference observed at the level of the anterior commisure (with the midsagittal plane larger in homosexual men both than in women and heterosexual men) (Allen and Gorski, 1992), is not too informative on the alleged connection between sexual orientation and biological traits of the person. The anterior commisure is involved in cognitive-information processing between the emispheres of the brain. If homosexual men tend to develop a ‘feminine’ cognitive structure then the fact that their anterior commisures are larger than in BOTH sexes makes no sense with respect to the connection between sexual orientation and brain structure.

As for the differences recorded in aspects such as play behavior in childhood or cognitive abilities (that should resemble those of women) data in literature are contradictory as some authors have previously noticed (Allen and Gorski, 1992). Sometimes the chosen ‘traits’ are puzzling- e.g. “an increase in the frequency of left-handedness” (same reference).

The overall impression generated by the references vehiculated in this area is of confusion and incongruence. Subsequent studies cast doubt on previous work, alternative interpretations are proposed, deconstructing the link between sexual preferences and certain anatomical or physiological traits.

For example, a finding that has been referred to many times in a positive way consists in the differences at the level of interstitial nuclei of the anterior hypothalamus (INAH) which seem to be smaller both in homosexual men and in women than it is in heterosexual men. Those differences can very well be the result of the influence of the environment, namely of the differences in social stimulation of boys and girls or people assuming the identity of the opposite gender. (Morris et al., 2004). Any hypothesis can be advanced as long as the connections between human psychology and human neurobiology are still unclear. Functioning of the brain, dynamics of the cognitive processes, personality are notions still waiting to be substantiated in terms of research and clear cut answers.

Some authors draw attention over the fact that structures involved in aspects of cognition and sexual behavior show differences co-related to other factors than sexual orientation e.g. endocrine status, their characteristics being gender related, irrespective to sexual orientation for the same gender. Androgen receptors in mamillary body (a hypothalamic structure) are more numerous in men (hetero- and homosexual) than in women. (Kruijver et al., 2001).

Sometimes the authors oscillate themselves between advancing the idea of a connection between sexual orientation and the examined anatomical or physiological trait. Mc Fadden and Pasanen (1998) speak about click-evoked otoacoustic emissions (CEOAEs) which are echo-like waveforms emitted by cochleas in response to a stimulus. CEOAEs have been examined for heterosexuals and non-heterosexuals and determined to be related to sexual orientation in non-heterosexual women but not in non-heterosexual men. That was supposed to result from a masculinization effect exerted by prenatal exposure to high levels of androgens. But…“Females from opposite-sex dizygotic (OSDZ) twin pairs have both CEOAEs and SOAEs that are more like those of males than those of other females.” (McFadden and Pasanen, 1998). ALLfemale twins in dyzigotic pairs exhibit this characteristic and not all of them are homosexual or bisexual which leads to the conclusion that the correlation between androgen exposure (a biological factor) and homosexuality might be artificial. The finding that the CEOAEs of homosexual men are similar to those of heterosexual men in spite of the androgen exposure theory that would have reserved to heterosexuals men the last score with respect to CEOAEs also points to the same conclusion. To the first objection the authors reply that homosexuality might result from a different pattern of exposure to androgens than the differences in CEOAEs. Still, the second observation keeps its relevance. And the authors admit that  it may be that something in the life styles of homosexual and bisexual females leads them to be exposed to one or more agents that have reduced their CEOAEs, either temporarily or permanently.” (such as drugs or other factors).

Even though many of the publications dealing with the issue warn about the low statistical power of the employed methods and/or other methodological drawbacks, they are being published and they sometimes end up being quoted as providing solid evidence in favor of the connection homosexuality- anatomy- physiology. Following a study performed on mono- and dizygotic twins, Kendler et al. speak about ‘familial factors, which are at least partly genetic’ that influence sexual orientation while warning that their results ‘should be interpreted in the context of low statistical power and the use of a single item to assess the complex phenotype of sexual orientation’ (Kendler et al., 2000). The very low incidence of non-heterosexual behavior in the general population (less than 3.5 % in males, less than 2% in females, respectively) also hampers the analysis in its statistical aspects. Kendler et al. also observed that it was a more accurate method to use national probability samples than to work with volunteers recruited via ads as it has been done by some homophilic publications in the past since the fact that twins sharing their sexual orientation would be more likely to respond to that type of ads was a reasonable assumption. So, some previous studies might prove to be not too relevant.

Also, in spite of the fact that it is still unclear how can a specific sexual orientation be co-related to genetic markers some authors already debate the possibility to use PGD in order for the parents to choose the sexual orientation of their children. (Dahl, 2003). In his attempt to justify such an eugenic procedure, Dahl speaks about the classical parent/grandparent myth – the desire of people to see their children getting married and producing grandsons that should be enough to substantiate the elimination of potential homosexual from the womb. The author agrees with the ruling power of the inner desire to see one’s children settled but not with the idea that human life should be protected at any stage of development which draws a quite particular ethics system.

Independently from the scientific traffic jam briefly described above some logical questions can still be asked and some observations be made.

It is very well known that there are conditions that really lead, biologically speaking, to masculinization in women or feminization in men, respectively. But these people do not inevitably become homosexual.

Then, again, if there really is a connection between a “feminine” type of biology to be found in homosexual men then why some homosexual men still assume a masculine identity? It might sound crude but if homosexuality was biologically determined, driven by an inextricably feminine structures of one’s brain then there should have existed only passive homosexual men with no other chance to engage in sexual intercourse than with lesbian women. This comment is not intended to offend anyone, it is just a logical observation elicited by the issue of the alleged biological determinism of homosexuality. Lesbian women also assume female identities and sexual roles. If the structure of lesbian women brain is masculine, if they have a biological problem with being masculinized then why some of them still have a need for sexual intercourse similar to the classical penis- vagina contact (using substitutes of the male copulative organ)? They should have all exhibited masculine desires and therefore in the impossibility to engage in sexual relations with any other potential partners than passive homosexual men. It is very interesting that the same sex couples somehow preserve a reflection of heterosexual couples in the way they dress, and also in the way they behave socially and sexually. Paradoxically, in spite of the programmatic rejection of heterosexism, the ‘man’ & ‘woman’ ideation remains present.

Some do not need a recourse to biology in explaining this, provide constructivist explanations and put their hope into the extension of the ‘categories’ of masculinity and feminity that might bring some change into the society. “Masculinity and femininity are unavoidable. This is not due to an essential core of femininity and an essential masculine nature. This is caused by the force of construction. The fact is that, as far back as historical information  goes, this binary has existed. Given the enormous force and impact of these constructions, it is more effective to stretch the categories of femininity and masculinity than to try to subvert them.“ (Van Lenning, 2004)

Mixing arguments from different fields is not a good idea, in general. Rejection of homosexuality relies upon cultural (mainly spiritual), not scientific elements. It is simply unfair to try and develop a scientifically based argumentation for or against homosexuality. The risk of misinterpretations of  scientific data according to prejudice is considerable.

Still, things got to be mixed up and resulted in the past in medicalization of homosexuality. In the attempts to treat it abuses emerged, ranging from various methods of treatment expected to help people to get rid of their deviant sexual preferences (Smith et al., 2004 in conjunction with King et al., 2004; Dhikav, 2004) even to gender reassignment operations thought “to allow people fulfill their projected role in the opposite sex” (Kaplan, 2004).

The same tendency of blending incompatible ingredients and inappropriately opposing arguments from one field with arguments from another area of human knowledge can be detected in the following examples, the most celebrated being, perhaps, Freud’s: “Homosexuality is assuredly no advantage, but it is nothing tobe ashamed of, no vice…”The concept of vice primarily derives from moral theology so it might be out of the range of a psychoanalyst to classify vices, as it is in general illogical to try and find scientific arguments for or against moral establishments even though some authors do so: “In spite of every mental health and medical association in the US stating unequivocally that there is no scientific evidence that homosexuality is a disorder, many religious organizations continue to declare homosexuality or homosexual behavior as sinful and immoral.”(Forstein, 2004). Sin is not a disorder and being immoral does not mean that you are ill.

Some specialists claim that “There are no data from scientific studies to justify the unequal treatment of homosexual people or their exclusion from any group.”(Friedman and Downey, 1994) ommiting the fact that the exclusion has a cultural basis biomedical sciences cannot pass judgment upon.

False arguments may sometimes be brought up in the same space, e.g. the ethical one when people do not realize they adhere to different moral doctrines. When in 2002 the Asociation of American Pediatricians published a material favorable to adoption of children by same-sex couples some opponents argued on cultural basis that same-sex marriage was not appropriate for a country like the USA because of the contradiction between homosexual life style and religious morals. A false argument was also raised namely that children living in same-sex parent household might be more inclined to relate to same-sex partners, too. Why is this a false argument? Because once homosexuality is considered not to represent a problem then why would it be a problem when the child of a same-sex couple becomes a homosexual himself.

Wandering through Psychology

In 1973 homosexuality was deleted from the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders no longer being considered a mental disorder. In 1992 homosexuality was removed from the International Classification of Diseases. Nowadays the American Psychiatrists’ Association consider that homosexuality “is understood to be a normal variationin the continuum of human sexual behaviors” (Hicks,2001), neutral with respect to a person’s mental health status (Throckmorton, 1998).

It has been advanced that the higher rates of stress-related disorders among non-heterosexuals is related to sociological factors (Mathy and Lehmann, 2004; Adams et al.,2004). It would be reasonable to advance the hypothesis that not homosexuality in itself but the societal factors homosexuals have to cope with might represent the real problem. It would be reasonable, at least in the secular context. When a spiritual perspective is added the problems homosexuals experience share their source with homosexuality in malefic influence on one hand and spiritual distress on the other hand, besides the social factors. Nowadays, just a few dare to ask  what if homosexuality is not a disease in the medical sense but a disorder of some other extraction, namely of a spiritual one? Spiritual distress has been acknowledged to exist and be something different from psychiatric conditions (see for example Dein, 2003). What if more complex conditions might be observed and recognized as out of the range of psychiatry but still troubling, placing the human being into an out of the equilibrium state?

Homosexuality is recognised as a risk factor in psychiatric disorders and suicidal behavior. (Jorm et al., 2002; Edgardh, 2002; Mathy and Lehmann, 2004; Skegg et al., 2003;Garofalo et al, 1998). Self- harm is also more likely to occur in non-heterosexuals and it is even pretended that the risk of self- inflicting harm shows a linear co-variance with the degree of same-sex attraction (Skegg et al., 2003). Non-heterosexual youthis more likely to engage invarious types ofrisk behavior(Garofalo et al, 1998).

Because of keeping non-heterosexuals away from marriage as a protective factor against suicidality and other types of  psychopathology the US Defense of Marriage Act and the related ban on same sex marriage were classified as dangerous for the mental health of that group. (Mathy and Lehmann, 2004).  Same sex marriage was endorsed by the American Psychiatric Association as an element with the potential to increase the well-being of non-heterosexuals. APA’s president expressed its belief that “APA’s endorsement of same-sex marriage is arecognition that science can forge a path toward a more decentsociety.”(Sharfstein, 2005). (Is science called to define decency?) APA also endorsed adoption by same sex couples, together with the The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), and the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP). Yet, it has been shown that political conquests do not exhibit a significant positive impact on non-heterosexuals’ psychological state. (Mathy, 2002). Married homosexuals continue to live in the same unfriendly environment.

There might be some inadvertences in the way homosexuality gets to be approached, medically speaking. Homosexuality left the list of diseases but another concept is still there and specialists seem to agree that it has not been misplaced. The concept of ‘gender identity’ refers to “A complex system of beliefs about oneself: a sense of one’s masculinity and femininity. It implies nothing about the origins of that sense (e.g. whether the person is male or female). It has, then, psychological connotations only: one’s subjective state.” (Stoller, 1992, apud Di Ceglie, 2000). In this context, gender identity disorders comprise the various types of incongruity between one’s biological sex and his/her psycho-behavioral manifestations. A few case studies quoted by the same author refer to gender identity disorders developed following or enforced by various events in the patients’ childhood. The outcome of treatment was very diverse ranging from the complete reversal of the condition to almost no modification and opening the option for a sex- change operation.

Treatment of gender identity disorders in children and adolescents is recommended to gradually include therapeutic exploration, suppression of sex hormones with the aim of putting the body into a state of ‘biological neutrality’, hormonal treatment that masculinises or feminises the body, and finally irreversible interventions that should by no means be considered prior to adulthood. The Royal College of Psychiatrists recommends that surgery should not be taken prior to adulthood or “a real life experience for the young person of living in the gender role of the sex with which they identify at least for two years.” (Royal College of Psychiatrists, 1998, Gender Identity Disorders in Children and Adolescents – Guidance for Management. Council Report CR63. London: Royal College of Psychiatrists, apud Di Ceglie, 2000).

What is striking in relation to the topic of non-heterosexuality and how it is approached in medicine – a day prior to his/her eighteenth anniversary a person is still a teenager suffering from a gender identity disorder that might be treated. Once he/she is of age he/she becomes free to develop a non-heterosexual personality. He/she might also do that after a life experience confirming the assumed gender role. BUT in some cases the gender identity disorder aggravates precisely after such experiences- e.g. boys being treated sexually as if they were girls.

Should underage people be helped to overcome their non-heterosexual drives or rather helped to affirm the non-heterosexual crystallizing personality? It is a bit unclear. Some specialists stand for the latter: “If adolescents are certain of homosexual or bisexual orientation, discuss advantages and potential risks of disclosure to family and peers, and support families in accepting children who identify themselves as gay, lesbian, or bisexual.”(Committee on Psychosocial Aspects of Child and Family Health and Committee on Adolescence, 2001)

As for adults, even if some might not be comfortable with their non-heterosexual self they can be helped to cope with the situation and become peaceful minded gay or lesbians: “Gay-affirmative therapies have been developed to help people adjust to their internal awareness of being same-sex oriented.” (Forstein, 2004). Specialists should also be careful if they carry any biases against homosexuality: Awareness of personal beliefs and biases is fundamental and must be examined and when necessary, modified. Family therapists should be intolerant of antigay language and be willing to speak out when it is encountered. They should be careful to use inclusive language and materials in their practices and not those that reflect heterosexism.” (Adams et al.,2004).

Then again, what about people that want to get rid of their homosexuality?

Dr. Spitzer, the key-person in the 1973 decision on demedicalization of homosexuality got very bad press in 2001 when he ‘betrayed’ his legendary position by publishing a study showing that non-heterosexuals may change their sexual orientation following therapy (Spitzer,

2003). The problem was intensely debated and Spitzer finished by getting pushed into corrections and apologies. (Hausman, 2001-a, Hausman, 2001-b).Dr. Spitzer’s misconduct led to the reiteration of APA’s position on the so-called reparative therapies. (APA Reiterates Position On Reparative Therapies, 2001). Besides totally rejecting the concept, APA’s declaration says that “APA should respond quickly and appropriatelyas a scientific organization when claims that homosexualityis a curable illness are made by political or religious groups.”Still, the claim was not made by a religious and/or political groups but by a professional namely dr. Spitzer.

The opponents of reparative therapies seemed to roll in circles as the main argument invoked was that since homosexuality is not considered to be a disease then it should not be treated. On the other hand, those sustaining reparative therapies bring some logical arguments. Patients asking for help with their sexual orientation found themselves in the category of people manifesting „persistent and marked distress about sexual orientation.” (DSM-IV,  American Psychiatric Association, 1996, p. 538, apud Throckmorton, 1998) and refusing to  assist them would constitute (as Throckmorton cleverly argues) discrimination based upon their sexual orientation.

There is evidence from the past (1962, 1970, 1979, 1994, 1998) about people that changed their sexual orientation following a psychoanalytical approach. The rate of change from homosexual to heterosexual behavior ranged from 19% to 44%. Behavior therapy approaches were also reported to have led to change of sexual preferences in some patients (results from 1935, 1964, 1970, 1972, 1973, 1976). Other ways of trying to modify one’s sexual orientation is cognitive therapy as well as group psychotherapy. In 1995, when APA tried for the first time to put off conversion therapies, a group of specialists protested against the resolution as being ‘illegal, unethical, unscientific and totalitarian’ (The Council of Concerned Psychiatrists, CCP, 1995, p. 4, apud Throckmorton, 1998). Another powerful argument is that “If professional associations discredit efforts to modify sexual orientation, they may be implying that sexual arousal is more vital than any conflicting personality variables or moral convictions.”

Throckmorton also speaks about religiously oriented approaches, a type of advance that does not meet the sympathy of too many professionals in medical sciences. It is perhaps self-explanatory that a reference from 1980 (Pattison and Pattison, 1980) speaking about  people that changed their sexual orientation due not to religiously oriented psychotherapy but to plain religious counseling has been quoted only once since being published.

Socio-political explorations

An explanation was proposed for the evolution of the attitude towards homosexuality in Western society: “If our moral instinct is self-defining, how can it change?” Ithink the answer is clear, although perhaps surprising: we applylogic to it. Our non-acceptance of  homosexuality was abandoned,it seems to me, because it was progressively seen to be inconsistent with other, even more central, aspects of our sense of right and wrong, such as the right to do what one likes when it does not harm others.”(de Grey,2005). The evolution of the attitude towards homosexuality is therefore part of a larger process affirming a new type of individual freedom that knows no other limits than the other individual freedoms occupying the same social corner. A main problem remains – defining harm and ITS limits.

Some state that “the American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from their Diagnostic and Statistical Manual as psychopathology, for lack of any replicable scientific evidence that same-sex orientation, as such, met criteria for a mental disorder” (Forstein, 2004) while others claim that exclusion of homosexuality from the category of mental disorders was not the result of scientific investigation but of political pressure exerted by the gay community that protested for three years (1970-1971) till the Spitzer definition of mental disorders was issued (Cooper, 2004).

Non-heterosexual militant groups often have as a purpose “to educate the uninformed about LGBT (lesbian- gay- bisexual- transsexual) people in attempts to change attitudes toward same-sex sexuality…stories are dependent on the assumption of a prejudicial audience in need of education and political enlightenment.”(Crawley and Broad, 2004). A few questions arise – why should the public be compelled to change its attitude towards same-sex sexuality? In the beginning it was about homosexuals, about not treating people badly regardless one’s own conceptions about sexuality. Is it fair to label cultural norms as ‘prejudice’? Can someone that rejects same-sex sexuality (e.g. on religious basis) be considered ‘uneducated’? Does being ‘educated’ and ‘enlightened’ mean to renounce to traditional moral concepts?

The same source speaks about how emotions are “used strategically, when they emerged”. The author comments upon the use of emotions, e.g. pain: “In short, our pain was legitimate; hence, it rendered our argument about LGBT people legitimate.” And about herself bursting into tears in front of the audience when asked about her (ex-)husband’s attitude towards her being a lesbian. “I got involved with my first girlfriend when I was still married. And he found out because he walked in on us kissing. (My voice cracks. I feel myself starting to cry again but I tried hard to control it.) …I don’t know how he feels about it now. He doesn’t talk to me now. It’s very painful.” Whose legitimate pain can we talk about here? For the ‘heterosexist’ majority the victim is the man that found out (that ‘special’ way) his wife was a lesbian. For the non- heterosexual subculture the victim is the lesbian wife. Of course each person will sympathize with his/her own kind.

The movement is trying to find models from the past that would make it easier for the public to become aware of its prejudice and then tolerant. “comparisons to African Americans’ struggle against racism were commonly used.” It is not the only case of drawing such a parallel (Friedman and Downey, 1994; Mathy and Lehmann, 2004).

In the European context a certain trend has been established pushing the states to accept homosexuality as an alternative life-style in its full rights. The hunt for ‘heterosexist’ or even worse – ‘homophobic’ attitudes is in progress on the old continent, sometimes with hilarious outcomes. A small but relevant example: Swedish sexual education materials for migrants are criticized as being based on ‘heteronormative’ assumptions (Bredström, 2005). What if the culture they came from is ‘homophobic’ itself and those migrants would not be thrilled to read sexual education materials speaking about non-heterosexual attitudes as being normal?

Provisions of the Amsterdam treaty were greeted by non- heterosexual groups: “Without prejudice to the other provisions of this Treaty and within the limits of the powers conferred by it upon the Community, the Council, acting unanimously on a proposal from the Commission and after consulting the European Parliament, may take appropriate action to combat discrimination based on sex, racial or ethnic origin, religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation.” (Article 13 of the EC Treaty- a.k.a. the Amsterdam Treaty).

The tricky thing is that some elements in the European Union law can prove to be very delicate to deal with in practice. In the EU, discrimination on the ground of one’s sexuality is not acceptable (EC Treaty, Article 13). But what does discrimination mean? The European Court of Justice operates with the following definition: „the application of different rules to comparable situations or the application of the same rule to different situations” (see Loutridou and Butt, 2000).

Is the situation of a homosexual couple the same as that of a heterosexual couple? What are the similarities? What are the differences? Which are more significant? A puzzling question, not answered at the European level: “…differing views continue to prevail in the Member States as to what discrimination means and whether or not they can tolerate it. For example, some Member States legally recognise and protect cohabitation between couples of the same sex while in others an awareness and acceptance of the problem are not very well developed” (same reference). Are this type of developments mandatory? They might get into conflict with some other principles acknowledged by the European legislation such as those listed in the following: “the Member States are left to decide on numerous unavoidable exceptions in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity. This takes account of the various legal traditions in the individual Member States and of social and economic conditions and cultural differences, thereby guaranteeing wide acceptance of the measures.” (same reference).

Still, cultural differences or any other invoked reasons might not be convincing and the states might experience the bitter taste of undue influence. A representative example of intrusion into a state’s own business is that of the European Court of Human Rights ruling that in not recognizing transsexuals’ novel sexual identity for the purposes of marriage the United Kingdom violates two articles from the Convention on Human Rights, the one about the right to respect for one’s private life and the one about the right to marry and found a family (Auchmuty, 2004). That happened on the sudden after a few years of ruling in favor of the state in a few other similar cases on the basis that UK had the power to define its own working definition of marriage. It has even been proposed that the formulation in the Convention on Human Rights about the right to marry being guaranteed to ‘men and women of marriageable age’ to be understood as not implying that marriage should necessarily take place between two partners of the opposite sex. In this reading men should be able to marry women but also other men, women can marry men but also other women. Such an innovative reading – in fact a logical trick – is called ‘gender-free equality reading’ (Auchmuty, 2004).

Another example of intrusion is that of the European Union asking Romania to abrogate, as a symbolic gesture, Art. 200 (Common Law) that established a penalty of 1 to 5 years in prison for homosexual intercourse when performed in public places or having as a result the disturbance of public order. In 2001 article 200 was abrogated. It might seem odd to abrogate a law paragraph that places interdiction upon exhibitionism. Why abolish something that has to do with public morals and order? That does not make sense. Indeed but the aim was not legalization of exhibitionism but eliminating from the law a text that was further quoted in a context that might have offended non- heterosexuals. The problem was the link between article 200 and the subsequent 201. When reading the texts together it became clear that homosexuality was regarded as unnatural. Art. 201 on perversions used to be connected to art. 200: “it represents perversion any unnatural conduct with respect to sexual life, other than those art. 200 is concerned with” (i.e. homosexual acts).

The law changed. What about public perception? The results of a questionnaire distributed in 2003 by the author of this paper in two of the best high schools in Bucharest show that 77 out of 84 of the ninth grade pupils (fourteen- fifteen years old) thought that it was normal to have intercourse with partners of the opposite sex only. 46 out of 58 of the seventeen- eighteen years old subjects (twelfth grade) agree to that. As for their parents, 63 out of 66 people having children in the ninth grade considered exclusive heterosexual relations to be ‘normal’. ‘Details on sexual intercourse between partners of the same sex’ were cited by the parents as highly inappropriate elements to be included into a sexual education material for their children, together with ‘incomplete medical information (e.g. on the risks posed by contraceptive means’ and in deep contrast to ‘details on sexual intercourse between partners of the opposite sex’. So it is not about being reluctant to sexual education but about disapproving homosexuality. What shall we do? Educate Romanians against their conceptions? Some might say the right word here would be ‘brainwash’ not ‘educate’. People holding such options used to be and still are called ‘decent’ in Romania, due to some ‘cultural differences’ separating us from other countries that were eager to embrace a certain contemporary perspective over same sex relations. Should we label them as ‘narrow minded’ for the sake of the European Union? Does anybody officially call globalization ‘a pest’ as quite many people think it is invasive and annoying?

A culturally sensitive approach is recommended for improving HIV prevention among men who have sex with menin central and Eastern Europe(Wright, 2005) with special attention to separating homosexuality as well as human rights from gay identity and avoiding East/West stereotypes regarding sexual attitudes as gay subculture is not well represented in Eastern and Central Europe and ‘stereotypes of Central and Eastern Europeans’ are known to be ‘generally more conservative when it comes to values and practices related to sexuality.’ The author assumes that to be the result of the communist policy without acknowledging any other cultural factors. He also refers to UNAIDS Best Practice guidelines regarding HIV prevention that “include support for measures to end the stigmatization and criminalization of homosexual behaviour as an important foundation for prevention.” What if stigmatization of homosexuality (not of homosexuals, this is the key aspect) is due to very powerful cultural elements that cannot be just erased and replaced with some alien transplants badly fitting in? If the references are of religious extraction, for example, such partial deletions are impossible to operate as the frame moral system has a coherency that cannot be disrupted. One adheres to it as a whole or not at all.

Is the situation without hope? Of course not. Nations should not be forced to borrow from the others elements that conflict with their ethos. Tolerance can be asked for, but to request full acceptance might be a very bad idea. People can legitimately be asked to behave, to treat non-heterosexuals in a decent civilized manner but that does not equate and cannot be forced to equate changing their attitude towards non-heterosexuality (same-sex relations).

Arriving to conclusions

The modern story of homosexuality appears to be one of confusion. To what extent is this confusion unintended or the opposite – deliberate – remains to be determined. Even though such research would most probably also develop under the sign of confusion. It would be therefore more constructive, perhaps, to find a reasonable stance and stick with it. Homosexuals cannot be forced to recompose themselves in heterosexual shapes. Neither can heterosexuals be forced to agree from the bottom of their heart to something that often stands not against their incidental, not very important ‘opinions’ but against something more and much deeply enrooted be it their moral self, their cultural identity, their perspective upon the world. The majority should not force the minority to melt into it but neither should the minority try to redraw everything in its particular shapes and colors in spite of the headache that might provoke to the majority.

Things went too far. A long chain of misunderstandings led to current situation, from some not being able to perceive the truth of their own religion (and so the negative attitude was directed against sinners instead of being directed against the sin and the devil that tempts people to sin) to those that had the ambition to provide scientific solutions for things out of the range of science (and so homosexuality was medicalized) and ultimately to those that are no more satisfied with being left alone and live how they please but try to coax out the ‘blessing’ of those that do not agree with their lifestyle (and so same sex relations moved again, from being a moral/medical concern to being a political issue).

Maybe it is time that the long interdisciplinary journey of homosexuality gets to an end the circle being closed and the concept settling again where it belongs, namely in ethics or morals as the stages it has accomplished in other areas were not at all convincing. And this should happen before the situation becomes too (or even more, it depends on whom do you ask) delicate.

[Reprodus integral după: Iftime O. (2006) The interdisciplinary journey of an ethical issue- homosexuality, Rev Rom Bioet, 4(1), 43-56, editat pentru prezenta versiune]



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