Natural Law, Evidence, and Laysan’s Albatross

A key part of the argument against homoerotic relationships, fundamental to the Catholic Magisterium, to the religious opposition more generally, and to the supporters of so-called “traditional” marriage, is that same sex relationships are somehow “unnatural”, “against natural law”. This claim is entirely without foundation. What these groups have in common, apart from their conclusion, is a total disregard for the evidence.  Some research into the Laysan albatross neatly illustrates this.  The disregard of the need for evidence does not only apply to claims for natural law: exactly the same charge can be made against Vatican claims that “homosexuals” are motivated solely by  -indulgence, and that homosexual “acts” lead one away from God – claims that likewise do not stand up to scrutiny. For now, though, I am concerned only about the problem as it applies to the argument from natural law

All albatrosses are large birds nesting in isolated colonies free from natural predators, which makes them easy to study (the birds are trusting and allow researchers to get up real close and personal). Much of their behaviour is well-known. For instance, in one colony at Kaena Point, Hawaii, there are about 120 breeding pairs, who gather for mating every November. They form long-term partnerships, and after copulation, lay a single egg, which they incubate in shifts, taking turns to leave the nests for weeks at a time to feed at sea. They form long-lasting, often life- long pairs, and were praised by former US first lady Laura Bush for their commitment to each other, and the example they offered as icons of monogamy. The obvious assumption that these monogamous pairs represent one male and one female in a neat nuclear family, though, turns out to be false. One third of the pairs are female couples, some of whom had nested together every year since right back to the start of data collection – 19 years.

Ornithologist Lindsay C Young  has been studying this albatross colony since 2003, as part of her doctoral dissertation.  She says that the discovery of so many female pairs forced her to question assumptions she didn’t even know she was making.  This in itself was something of a breakthrough: observations of same sex behaviour or relationships in the animal world are not new, but too often in the past, biologists have simply ignored them, or attempted to explain these observations as aberrations.

Joan Roughgarden quotes one notable scholar who claimed in 2000, at the end of a long and distinguished career,  that  “When animals have access to members of the the opposite sex, homosexuality is virtually unknown in nature, with some rare exceptions in primates”.

But just the previous year, Bruce Bagemihl had published a book reviewing published academic research into over three hundred vertebrate species which engage in same-sex courtship and genital contact. In some of these, homosexual activity is even more frequent than heterosexual intercourse.[ad#In post banner] Read the rest of this entry »

The Social Value of Gay Marriage

The standard pseudo-religious argument against same-sex marriage is that “conventional” marriage between a man and a woman offers value to society that same sex marriage does not. Quite the most impressive counter to that argument, written by a straight woman, is “Why Gay Marriage is Good For Everyone” which I found at “Casaubon’s Book “on Science Blogs.

In Wisconsin last week, a court ruled that a lesbian mother who had been a stay-at-home mom to raise two adopted children with her partner, had no status as parent because only the other mother could be recognised in law as an adoptive parent. (“In Wisconsin, Not All Parents Are Equal“). It is to find ways around complicated legal difficulties such as these that so many queer families are forced into complex, sometimes imaginative, legal solutions of their own.

Introducing her piece, Casaubon writes about two Washington men who fell in love during WWII, and finally wed after a “62 -year engagement”. (“Wow, What A Long Engagement That Was“)But this is not just a cosy, feel-good romantic tale – although it is that, too. Along the way, as these two men aged after decades sharing their lives, they realized that in the absence of  the legal protections offered by marriage, they would need a plan of their own – so they settled on adoption!

When Henry was 69, he legally adopted Bob, who was 70. It gave them legal protections, offered an advantageous inheritance tax rate and made the pair into a family. Read the rest of this entry »

Catholics Support Gay Adoption.

In the US, the struggle over adoption by lesbian or gay families concerns those states which prohibit it, either by state law, or (in Florida) by a complete constitutional ban. In the UK, where discrimination against gay or lesbian prospective parents is prohibited by law, the battle is entirely different. Here, the Catholic Church is seeking an exemption from the terms of the law for one of its agencies.

My friend Celia Gardiner, who as a lawyer and as chair of the Roman Catholic Caucus of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement, is heavily involved in correspondence with the Charities Commission on the Church’s application. I fear I have become totally lost in trying to follow the legal niceties – so don’t ask. However, I have undertaken to assist with passing on links to empirical evidence to contradict the claims on which the bishops base their case, so that I can happily share with you.

I have previously pointed out that in claiming that “Catholics” or “the Catholic Church” oppose gay marriage, the bishops (American or British) are being somewhat economical with the truth. It may be what the bishops oppose, it may be what they want the rest of us to oppose – but we do not simply mould our beliefs to episcopal diktat. Contrary to the Vatican line, most American Catholics do not believe that same sex relationships are morally unacceptable, and overall, are in favour or recognizing same sex marriage (that’s full civil marriage, not just civil unions).

I have now tracked down similar information specifically on adoption, and guess what? the bishops may oppose it, but Catholics as a whole are in favour. Now note, please, that the data are two years old, from 2008 (prior to the US election). All the evidence is that attitudes have moved on since then. For the case of the UK, which prompted my investigation, public attitudes are generally more supportive. Any claim by the bishops that “the Catholic Church” opposes same sex adoption is almost certainly not factually correct. ?

Source: Pew Research, 2008