In my previous 2 articles, I argued that sexual orientation occurs as a result of a range of biological and environmental factors that ultimately coalesce at puberty to produce a person’s sexual attraction to others. In this piece, I go on to suggest that the controversy over homosexuality is a controversy over behavioral control, and I describe two approaches that have been applied to address this controversy.
Given the understanding of sexual orientation I’ve presented previously, the controversy over homosexuality generally occurs over issues of behavior rather than at the level of inherent characteristics or personality. In this context, the few verses in the Bible that specifically address homosexuality uniformly focus on behaviors or practices, as opposed to same sex sexual orientation (e.g., Leviticus 18:22, Leviticus 20:13, I Corinthians 6:9ff, I Timothy 1:10). In this sense, homosexual behavior is a “choice.” In this sense however, practically any behavior that we engage in is a choice, regardless of whether we engage in (any type of) sexual behavior, drug usage (e.g., alcohol, illegal drugs, or caffeine), gossip, exercise, eating, or even writing a blog!
The issue of homosexuality then becomes an issue of behavior or an issue of behavioral control. As for almost any behavior that we humans engage in, societies (including faith communities) have often attempted to regulate or control the behavior of its members. Significant energy is expended by every society to regulate or control behavior, as revealed by the degree to which we pass laws or regulations (i.e., pass written social rules for behavior, such as laws on murder or regulations about pollution of the environment) or enforce customs or mores (i.e., enforce unwritten social rules for behavior, such as colors of mourning or appropriate dress).
Societies commonly take two approaches to controlling behavior. One common approach is outright prohibition of a behavior. This approach is illustrated by societal prohibitions on murder, incest, or alcohol use (e.g., current prohibitions of Islamic societies on alcohol use or the temporary prohibition of alcohol in the United States in the 1920s-1930s). Historically, this was also the approach adopted by many countries to address the issue of homosexual behavior. This approach is still adopted by a number of countries in Africa (recently by Uganda and Nigeria) and the Middle East. This approach is also reflected in the proposal that individuals with a same sex sexual orientation should abstain from same sex sexual behavior – that is, to choose celibacy as a life style. It says something about our human nature that every case of behavioral prohibition that has established by a society has been violated by at least some members of that society, regardless of how harshly the prohibition is enforced.
The second approach adopted by societies to regulate behavior is to allow the behavior but constrain the behavior to occur in particular situations or relationships. As an example, for heterosexual behavior, most societies limit the conditions under which heterosexual behavior is supposed to occur – heterosexual behavior is almost always constrained to occur only within the confines of a socially sanctioned relationship (e.g., a civil union or marriage). There are, for example, many Biblical verses about heterosexual sexual behavior or practices. These verses range from Exodus 20:14 to 1 Corinthians 7:1-40, all of which, taken together, constrain heterosexual behavior to a specific relationship (i.e., marriage).
As part of this second approach, societies often reinforce the constraints they establish by providing benefits to individuals who form socially sanctioned relationships (e.g., by providing tax and legal benefits to families and committed couples). By limiting behavior to sanctioned relationships and strengthening sanctioned relationship, societies stabilize and strengthen their basic fabric.
In this light, the meritorious action by a number of countries to legalize homosexual marriage illustrates this second approach – homosexual behavior, like heterosexual behavior, is allowed in socially sanctioned relationships. Societal recognition of same sex marriage then provides a context within which some members of society may freely choose to engage in particular (i.e., homosexual) behavior without societal condemnation; in addition, the provision of tax and legal benefits to same sex couples has the effect of stabilizing and strengthening the fabric of society.
Guardians of the Truth, '83-'85