Ted Haggard, The National Review, and Homosexuality

Over at the National Review, David Klinghoffer tries to argue that the Haggard affair "confirms some truths of the worldview he defended." (If so, it's hard to imagine what an evangelical preacher would have to do to not confirm the truths he preaches. Murder? Rape? Incest? Apparently, buying meth from a male prostitute isn't enough.) But here's Klinghoffer:

Gay advocates reason that because a man has a temptation to homosexuality, he has little moral choice other than to obey it. This view of morality goes back to Darwin, who reduced behavior to biologically determined instincts. In The Descent of Man he wrote, "At the moment of action, man will no doubt be apt to follow the stronger impulse; and though this may occasionally prompt him to the noblest deeds, it will far more commonly lead him to gratify his own desires at the expense of other men."

In other words, Klinghoffer sees homosexuality as just another temptation to be denied, like chocolate or pornography. (He actually compares gay sex to alcoholism.) Being attracted to men is really a moral test, and Haggard failed.

I'll just focus on one particular error in this argument. Klinghoffer assumes that homosexuality is an innately negative trait: like alcoholism, it will destroy you unless you muster the will to resist it. I guess Klinghoffer didn't read my article on Joan Roughgarden, in which I described some new biological theories that focus on the biological benefits of homosexuality:

Given the pervasive presence of homosexuality throughout the animal kingdom, same-sex partnering must be an adaptive trait that's been carefully preserved by natural selection. As Roughgarden points out, "a 'common genetic disease' is a contradiction in terms, and homosexuality is three to four orders of magnitude more common than true genetic diseases such as Huntington's disease."

So how might homosexuality be good for us? Any concept of sexual selection that emphasizes the selfish propagation of genes and sperm won't be able to account for the abundance of non-heterosexual sex. All those gay penguins and persons will remain inexplicable. However, if one looks at homosexuality from the perspective of a community, one can begin to see why nature might foster a variety of sexual interactions.

According to Roughgarden, gayness is a necessary side effect of getting along. Homosexuality evolved in tandem with vertebrate societies, in which a motley group of individuals has to either live together or die alone. In fact, Roughgarden even argues that homosexuality is a defining feature of advanced animal communities, which require communal bonds in order to function. "The more complex and sophisticated a social system is," she writes, "the more likely it is to have homosexuality intermixed with heterosexuality."

Japanese macaques, an old world primate, illustrate this principle perfectly. Macaque society revolves around females, who form intricate dominance hierarchies within a given group. Males are transient. To help maintain the necessary social networks, female macaques engage in rampant lesbianism. These friendly copulations, which can last up to four days, form the bedrock of macaque society, preventing unnecessary violence and aggression. Females that sleep together will even defend each other from the unwanted advances of male macaques. In fact, behavioral scientist Paul Vasey has found that females will choose to mate with another female, as opposed to a horny male, 92.5% of the time. While this lesbianism probably decreases reproductive success for macaques in the short term, in the long run it is clearly beneficial for the species, since it fosters social stability. "Same-sex sexuality is just another way of maintaining physical intimacy," Roughgarden says. "It's like grooming, except we have lots of pleasure neurons in our genitals. When animals exhibit homosexual behavior, they are just using their genitals for a socially significant purpose."

Of course, Klinghoffer probably isn't interested in evolutionary models. But it is telling that he simply assumes homosexuality is a negative trait, without ever feeling the need to justify his assumptions. For the National Review, the evil of gayness is an a priori fact.

Needless to say, the real tragedy with this world view is that it creates closeted individuals like Haggard, and we all know how that drama turns out. One can only deny the facts of human nature for so long. As one of Andrew Sullivan's readers aptly observed:

It's ridiculous [of Klinghoffer] to describe sexuality itself as a "temptation."

Ice cream is a temptation. Hunger is a condition. If you think hunger itself is a temptation, you just bought yourself a one-way ticket to an eating disorder.


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I really enjoyed the Roughgarden article. It's just sad that so many people deny the facts of life. Humans do many evil things, but homosexuality isn't among them.

Certainly plenty to tear apart in Klinghoffer's piece, even without succumbing to my personal temptation to get all rabbinic and start quoting Rabbi Luzzatto. However, all the rhetoric is clearly designed to obscure a central point:

Granted that -- in Klinghoffer and Haggard's world view -- homosexuality is a temptation to be avoided, shouldn't the prospect of losing one's family, job, prestige and career have been sufficient deterrent? Given that he is writing in a political review, I suppose the implicit message is that to save Haggard and other self-hating homosexuals from their sexual desire, the U.S. government should be imposing... what? the death penalty?

Gay advocates reason that because a man has a temptation to homosexuality, he has little moral choice other than to obey it.

That's funny. Most of the gay advocates I've every heard maintain that choice doesn't come into it, moral or otherwise--one can't choose to be, or not be, homosexual. Perhaps David Klinghoffer means "same-sex sex" by "homosexuality", but even then he's whaling on a strawman; I don't think I've ever heard a gay activist call celibacy immoral. Unhealthy, sure. But not immoral.

By Andrew Wade (not verified) on 10 Nov 2006 #permalink