Same-Sex Unions — Is legalizing the solution or opening the pandora’s box?

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The whole topic of alternate seхual behaviour is often clouded by jargon and complicated explanations. This has caused more confusion than understanding of the agenda of the rainbow community of LGBTQ (Lesbian-Gay-Biseхual-Transgender-Queer) as each sub community has its own agenda that are sometimes conflicting but often common.

The heat generated by mild to severe condemnation by religious and moral bigots have only caused people to either clam up or begin quoting standard politically right cliches without believing them. This article therefore seeks to consider the whole debate within in a secular framework with the hope that it would clarify various viewpoints and thus help readers to arrive at their own conclusions.


While the focus of the discussion is to understanding homoseхuality and their current demand for formalizing such unions by way of same seх marriages, other alternate seхual behaviour (like incest, bestiality, sadism, and certain forms of paraphillia) would also get discussed. This discussion will not consider region specific topics (like relevance/ applicability of Sec 370 in India) or seek to promote specific religious/ culture norms.

Understanding Gender Identity/ Gender Orientation

Every person has both male and female characteristics (some say in 80:20 proportion) which could explain why some men develop breasts and some women develop facial hair should those proportions vary for any reason. While these are largely the result of physiology and thus can be addressed by medical intervention, there are other aspects of human identity, orientation and practice that are largely in the psycho-social domain. It is therefore most important to first understand the general terms used in discussion since some of them are used loosely and without understanding the confusion they are causing in communication

GENDER was once a grammatical term used to identify objects by classifying them into male/ female and neuter genders. Now gender has often replaced ‘seх’ and is used in application forms to help identify the seхual identity of an applicant as male, female or neutral.

SEXUAL IDENTITY is the biological seх of a human. It could be male, female, eunuch/ interseх/ hermaphrodite. This is determined by the shape of seхual organs. It is similar to the term “gender” and often used within the LGBTQ community to mean gender. This term should not be confused with gender orientation (like being man one day and interseх the other) or seхual orientation (like homoseхuality, paedophilia, sodomy, paraphilia, sadism, masochism, incest, etc).

GENDER IDENTITY is a person’s personal/ private sense of and subjective experience of, their own gender. This is generally described as one’s private sense of being a man or a woman, consisting primarily of the acceptance of membership into a category of people: male or female or androgyne (or interseх though I think the Indian term ‘hijra’ is inclusive though now used as a pejorative term).

GENDER/ SEXUAL ORIENTATION is personal quality that inclines or orients people to feel romantic and/or seхual attraction to persons of the opposite seх, the same seх, or to both seхes. These attractions are generally labelled as heteroseхuality, homoseхuality, biseхuality and even aseхuality (i.e. the lack of romantic or seхual attraction to others).

SEXUAL PRACTICES relates to the manner in which humans experience and/ or express their seхuality resulting in some form of seхual activity. Such seхual activity can be classified in a number of ways such as:
  • By Participant Numbers – May involve one or more persons… resulting in self satisfaction, seх between couple and group seх.
  • By gender/ seхual orientation – heteroseхuality, homoseхuality, biseхuality, and even aseхuality
  • By Relationship – marriage, friendship, casual seх partners, anonymous, adult-child (pedophilia), blood/ near blood relationship (incest) and animals (bestiality)
  • By Method – conventional (peníle-vagínal or masturbatíon) or alternative (e.g. fetishism, paraphílía, sadism, masochism, sodomy, and/or BDSM activities)
  • By social norms – with our without force/ duress (consensual or rape), with or without payment (prostitution or devadasi system)
The difference between orientation and practice is that orientation does not necessarily mean acting out on the attraction. Practice implies the act taking place.

Understanding Same-Seх

The agenda for the promotion of alternate seхual orientation and practice was mainly led by the ‘LG’ part of the community (as homoseхuals were far more vocal than the ‘BT’ community but now the ‘Q’ community also has decided to join the bandwagon.) One can, of late, observe increased sound-bites by the ‘BTQ’ community who are equally (if not more) marginalised on account of perceived seхual deviation from social norms. The usual arguments for decriminalizing Same-Seх relations center around the following lines of reasoning:

■ It is natural

Often expressed by those coming out of the closet with statements like:
~ I have never been attracted to members of the opposite seх
~ I have always felt attracted to members of my own seх.
~ It is the only way I can express or experience my seхuality with another.
~ That is my seхual orientation.

■ It exists in nature

Homoseхuality behaviour has been noticed and documented by animal researchers despite the fact animal seхuality and motivating factors have been and still remain poorly understood. E.g. they have estimated one-quarter of all black swans pairings are between homoseхual males. Similar paring have been observed among monkeys, mallard ducks, goats, etc.

■ It is consensual and between adults

Implying and/ or questioning the society’s right to interfere with the seхual practices of consenting adults who use their critical faculties to understand and make reasoned decisions.

■ Its a lifestyle and not just a seхual practice

Meaning that, like heteroseхuals, seх is just one part of the lives for homoseхual couples. It is not the be all and end all of their lives though. Homoseхual couples may come home, ask each other about their day, cuddle on the couch, listen to music, socialize, etc. There is much more to their relationship than just seх.

Arguments against same-seх unions

Some arguments that seek to demolish the arguments put up by defenders of same-seх are presented here:

■ It is natural

Those who argue that human behaviour is genetic or defined by instinct do not know that the only behaviour that is instinctual is the sucking and the grasping reflex. Every baby comes equipped with these two reflexes from birth. All other human behaviours/ habits are learned – right from doing potty, eating and speaking are all entirely learnt that over time is converted to a habit. Once it become a habit it feels natural. Homoseхuality is natural is yet to be proven.

■ It exists in nature

The ‘it exists in nature’ argument has only one meaning for the entirety of nature is geared towards the propagation of species and its survival. If homoseхual behavior exists in nature then there is a ‘survival of the species’ behind it. E.g. in the earlier section it was mentioned that 25% of all black swans pairings are between homoseхual males. They steal nests, or form temporary threesomes with females to obtain eggs, driving away the female after she lays the eggs. Animal researchers noticed that more cygnets (baby swans) survive to adulthood than those born to hetero-seх pairs. It was theorized that this may be due to the homoseхual pair’s superior ability to defend larger portions of land. This was also noticed in male flamingo pairs which raised chicks. However humans do not conceive and bring up the their children in this manner or for this purpose.

Another line of thinking is that there are many animal behaviours which nature uses to promote unusual ways of procreation like virgin birth (a.k.a. parthenogenesis), hermaphroditism and both polygyny and polyandry. That does not imply that nature want humans to use these as alternates methods for procreation.

Among the alternate seхual behaviors found in nature, none of them ensure that the female of the species experience seхual pleasure. Seхual pleasure or orgasm is present only in human females. So those suggesting the ‘it exists in nature’ would also have to support their argument by explaining why the non-human female has not developed orgasmic capability. If it cannot be done then their argument is flawed.

■ It is consensual and between adults

While the argument that society has no right to interfere in the seхual preferences of consenting adults appears legitimate yet it is the same society that we turn to to makes laws that ban/ restrict the consumption of drugs, tobacco and alcohol even by adults. Should society then allow the free sale and consumption of drugs, tobacco and alcohol to such consenting adults who can take matured reasoned judgement. Also there are no objective tests to judge if consent is free and knowledge is available hence the age of maturity & consent is based on some irrational and arbitrary number decided in law.

■ Its a lifestyle and not just a seхual practice

Defenders of same-seх unions while passionate about supporting homoseхual unions often become critical and defensive in extending the same enthusiastic support to alternate seхual behaviour like paedophilia, incest, sadism, masochism, bondage, etc.:

Double standards by those promoting same-seх

Lines of reasoning often change depending on the type of alternate seхual orientation and practice that is being discussed. Hence the arguments are being presented by classification of seхual orientation and practice:

Pedophilia:

It is not consensual or based on informed consent. It is not a social norm. Prepubescent children don’t know what is seх. Children are incapable of deriving any pleasure from the seхual act since pleasure is one of the main reasons why people have seх. Consent without knowledge of what children get into does not count. The State should protect children with very stringent laws and their entitlements are sacrosanct.

Let us get real. I am sorry to be the one to break ‘romantic’ notions about children. Children, even as young as one year, are capable of activities that appear seхual. Normally such activities are displayed by way of self stimulation and NOT by way of seхual stimulation of another. Such self stimulation behavior, is actively discouraged by parents and relatives. Thus to assume children are incapable of deriving seхual pleasure is an unfounded notion.

Children may not know understand why girls and boys look different or what the final purposes of those body parts are. Generally by the age of three parents and relatives have completely brainwashed the children into believing that their groin and buttocks are a cause for shame and scandal. The fact is that children continue to explore their bodies but also derive pleasure from such exploration – though part of the pleasure is from discovery and part is from of overcoming the fear of touching parts that are deemed as shameful another part of their pleasure does come from realizing that such touch leads to ‘seхual pleasure’ not leading to orgasm.

While ‘societal norms’ as a basis for outlawing homoseхuality is considered as unacceptable line of reasoning, this same argument is often strongly used for deciding age of consent and maturity.

Moreover in a secular discussion often an appeal is made to our sacred duty to a child which is no more than an appeal to god and religion and hence irrelevant. If we wish to use religion as a valid point, then indeed there are certain religious/ cultural groups that show no moral qualms in promoting pedophilia for their god/s and culture permits seх e.g. with pre-pubescent girls.

Bestiality:

Beasts are not citizens claim some. Some condemn bestiality as they are not satisfied about the response to the issue of obtaining consent from a beast. There argue that beasts cannot verbally tell if their consent was forced. Still other argue that to train beasts would involve initial resistance from the animal and such seх would be non consensual at least the first few times. And if the consent is dubious in the beginning itself, then there is no reason continue the seхual act.

If beasts are not citizens then why do States frame laws on ethical treatment of animals. It is known that animals will not do something that do not wish to do. E.g. a cow or a goat will not eat meat even if they are starving and near death. Then who can judge if the animal having seх with a woman has not consented or the animal is being forced into seх by a man.

Since animals can be trained to do that which is not their normal behavior (as often seen in circus)… including having seх with people. It is fundamentally a question of motivation (and not fear as some people are led to believe.) Displayed behavior could be considered as a form of non-verbal consent. E.g. if it eats what is offered, then it amounts to consent for the food offered likewise for seх.

Let us for a moment assume that overcoming initial resistence is forced concent and extend that logic to people. In almost every case people initially have resistance to seх before they accept seхual enjoyment as a source of pleasure. Hence to then say that all subsequent person-to-person seхual activity is non-consensual just because the person did not initially ‘agree to seх’ or ‘initially found seх to be painful’ or found seх ‘enjoyable’ only subsequently is false logic.

Other Sexual Practices:

● If sadism, masochism, use of seх toys and sodomy are sought to be criminalized then they cannot be accepted as legitmate seхual practice between couples in homoseхual lifestyles.

● If sadism, masochism, use of seх toys and sodomy are sought to be decriminalized then seхual incompatibility could never be the grounds of cruelty in heteroseхual marriage.

Polygamy / Polyandry:

Today, the State accepts marriage as being a union only between two persons. Why should not the State go beyond the two-some arrangement and legitimize relationships to include three-some and beyond in defining legitimate seхual lifestyle?

Incest:

If same seх relationships should be decriminalised then why not extend the same benefit to incest? Why should incest be seen as a crime?

One of the arguments used against incest is that it could lead to birth of children with defective genes and social problems related to the upkeep and development. However homoseхual votaries feel offended when they are presented with the reality that prevalence of AIDS/ HIV is higher among homoseхual couples.

Homoseхual couples also use the argument that today medical science has improved to curtail/ cure AIDS/ HIV. But this is true for detection of gene defects and incestuous couples could use this medical technology to detect and prevent such births.

Logic Surrounding Same-Seх Marriage

Till now we have considered the topic of same-seх relationship and considered arguments for and against decriminalizing such practice. However, votaries of homoseхuality are not satisfied with that and want to push the social envelope and promote legal marriage as one between same-seх also. Their main argument is that the State provides financial and tax benefits for heteroseхual couples and the same should be extended to homoseхual couples.

If we accept the financial/ tax argument as a legitimate, then by the same logic the State should consider granting marital status to people whose seхual lifestyles include bestiality, paedophilia, incest, as also polygamous and polyandrous marriages.

Homoseхuals refuse to accept that post death financial support for their partner could be done by written will or nomination or other well defined conditional legal documents.

Seх and Secular Morality

The topic of homoseхuality and same-seх marriage is not just a decadent western cultural concept/ issue of developed countries but in the last 20 years has become a point of discussion across all cultures especially among liberal/ neo-liberal social groups.

Such discussions has come home to roost in the developing world too and is an oft commented topic in newspapers, magazines and prime time TV. There was a time, in the west, when homoseхuality was frowned upon and to even consider it was not just a sin but a criminal offence and hence was not open for legislation to marriage. The times have/ are changing. Hence to imagine that this door will not open to other ‘laxman rekhas’ of alternate seхual behaviour like paedophilia etc. is to ignoring what’s happening in society and the future it portends for our children.

Before some readers feel upset, do not even for a moment imagine to think I am being alarmist. My request to the reader is to understand that the logic of legitimising that which was once illegitimate and whether such logic could also be used to promote and legitimatize other alternate seхual behaviours/ relationships.

While some may argue that such thought should be left to future generations I think it is important for the current generation to understand its contribution in securing the value systems for subsequent generation to live by. To imagine that our generation does not owe future generations a better plant appears narrow, selfish and self-serving. When people use this argument to avoid a debate on a volatile topic I’m often reminded of this provocative poem attributed to pastor Martin Niemoller
  • First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out– Because I was not a Socialist.
  • Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out– Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
  • Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out– Because I was not a Jew.
  • Then they came for me–and there was no one left to speak for me.
Agreed that the world of our parents was different as is life today both by the overload of information and the time available to digest it. Hence the same methods of the past would not suffice in the present/ future. As parents, elders and in positions of leadership, we need to take a stand and have clear cogent reasons for it. Our children or their children will not accept “god said so” or “I said so” as a reasonable justification.

Since humans are not pre-programed by way of instinct like animals, children necessarily have to be taught what constitutes civilized behaviour. The basis of such teaching is available in the secular principles of the Golden Rules which are:
  • One should treat others as one would like others to treat oneself; and its converse
  • One should not treat others in ways that one would not like to be treated.
These Golden Rules were known across human civilization from ancient Greeks & Egyptians in the West to Indians and Chinese in the East. Even age old religions such as the Hinduism, Judaism, Taoism right up to modern faiths of Humanism and Scientology use it.

The Golden Rules do not command us to worship a god or many gods or none at all. The Golden Rules are not based on fear or greed. Just because we find that certain religions and cultures incorporate it as their standard does not make the golden rules the domain of religion. In fact all human laws governing behaviour can be defined using these Golden Rules without reference to any religion, god or culture.

Hence first and foremost let us understand that while religion defines worship, it does not define morality. Religious morality, if any, is based on fear and greed. The motivation is either reward (place in heaven/ reborn as a higher life form) or punishment (place in hell/ reborn as a lower form of life). We can’t call this ethos morality.

Moral values based on fear, cannot be moral. A moral person is one who has inner control. If you put a gun on someone’s head you can ask for his wallet and he’ll hand it to you. Can you then conclude that this person is a generous person? Of course not! A person who gives you money under threats cannot be called generous, moral or virtuous. Higher qualities that define humanity are made relevant through freedom – freedom of choice and action.

Need for Moral values in Seхual Unions

Since all human behavior is based on the Golden Rules it thus follows that human seхual practice also needs to be based on the Golden Rules. But first let us understand how does one have seхual relations with with people of the same seх? The only logical way possible is to use those body parts of the partner which are not designed for seх or use certain non-body parts as tools (like dildos or inflatable dolls) to achieve orgasm. And in so achieving that goal of orgasm, there is not much by way of giving since the focus remains largely on getting orgasm.

Let me explain that last sentence. In the heteroseхual act of seх both parties can experience orgasm purely by the seхual tools nature has provided. If it does not happen then it could be the result of some physiological anomaly and/ or some psycho-social conditioning. However in case of homoseхual act, only one person at a time can experience orgasm since the other person has to to use a tool not meant for the act of seх (could be tongue, fingers or other man-made tool).

Here are some questions that needs response at this point of our exploration:
  • Why did nature ensure that only specific body parts feel seхual pleasure?
  • Why does the human female get orgasmic pleasure but this capability is denied to every other spieces in the animal kingdom
  • Is there is a larger purpose for these body parts apart from the obvious purpose of ensuring the continuation of the species?
  • If there is a larger purpose, how does alternate seх relationships serve that larger purpose?
  • Can one can still achieve the larger purpose on one’s own by self satisfaction and without the support or help of another?
Promoters of same-seх often do not answer or wish to answer these questions since it is inconvenient and puts them in a spot. However it is possible to answer questions on seхual relationships using the Golden Rules. If the response are reasoned well then one can go to the next logical step of morally accepting and then legitimising such relationships.

Bypassing and/ or refusing to answers these questions lands us in moral morass. Mind you moral trouble does not imply religious quandary. All human relationships when guided by the golden rules (including what goes on in the bedroom) ultimately leads to healthy long term stable relationships.

The Morality surrounding Orgasm

This section attempts to answer the above questions from an anthropological angle to ensure understanding at multiple levels . Keep in mind following two facts during the discussion of this section:

[a] Among all the currently available species in nature, no female in the animal kingdom experiences orgasm except for the human female.
[b] The duration of development of the human child from conception to birth to maturity is between 15-20 years. This is the longest among all animals.

Consider point [a] again. The human female is capable of not just one orgasm per session but multiple orgasms in one session which may be felt in multifarious ways (fleeting, fluttering, deep, with or without ejaculatíon and in various combinations thereof). Not only that, the stimulation required to bring a woman into orgasm could be located at various parts and not just what is available between her legs. E.g. women are recorded as having orgasms by stimulation of their eyebrows, elbows, shoulders, neck, earlobes, toes and even a man’s voice. This is by far impossible for a man who is both incapable of multiple orgasms and can hope to get only one kind of orgasm from only one part of the body.

So the relevant question is why did nature (whether through the act of supreme creative delight OR the dull accident of mutation OR by way of natural selection of the fittest) provide the human female such singular advantages of seхual pleasure (from a man’s viewpoint) if her main job was to produce babies? Readers please keep in mind this capability is not present even among our closest relatives in the animal kingdom – the apes/ monkeys. Among the apes the female would just mate (a session not lasting beyond a minute) and then wanders off to forage.

So why has creation/ mutation/ evolution provided multiple orgasms from multiple sources to the human female? Unfortunately, misogyny prevents most men (including preachers of various religion and upholders of religious morality), to comprehend this or let alone answer it. Sadly cultural and seхual inhibition prevents most women to figure this out for surely they would demand better seхual service from their mates. (This is an un-explored dimension of misogyny but that is completely another topic).

Anthropology answers this question. The combination of ‘in vivo fertilization’ and the evolution of human species to bipedalism demanded that women remained supine which could happen only post a soul satisfying session of seх. Such need to remain supine would automatically ensure an exponentially higher chance of conceptual success than if she were to take any other position or go about wandering conducting her various tasks immediately after some singularly lack luster seхual encounter. Hence nature (or if you prefer the good Lord in His wisdom) designed the human female to enjoy seх as much if not more than her mate.

From an evolutionary/ creation angle orgasm in women ensured improved chance for conception and thus the continuation of the human species. But it still does not satisfy another question viz.

Why do human females across cultures have an overwhelming preference for monogamous relationship as compared to human males? And what part does biology address that need?

Once again the ability of ‘multi-orgasmic seх’ by a woman provides a clue. Since conception, birth and ensuring maturity of a human child largely falls within the responsibility of a woman she is predominantly invested in this activity of ensuring the furtherance of the human race. No woman, in her right mind would want to take up this responsibility of her free will if she knew in advance that her mate would wander off with another should he lose interest in her nor be available to support her in the bringing up of their progeny. A woman thus uses a man’s ability to help her achieve one or more orgasms as her measure of the attachment her mate to her and to gauge her mate’s sensitivity to her needs.

Conversely from a man’s point of view a woman who is sufficiently attached/ devoted/ loyal to him would ensure that their joint progeny’s greater chance of survival and development. This also explains why men have a preference for multiple females as mates since it ensures greater chance of success for the survival of his genes.

So in the context of a heteroseхual relationship the Golden Rules work as follows: a man treats a woman as he would like her to ensure the birth to maturity of his offspring. Conversely a man knows an ill-treated women could very well cheat behind his back and it would be too late if he discovers that the child that he helped take care of did not further his genes. The 15-20 years of his effort in the birth to maturity of the child were wasted on what is not his.

Hence the focus of a heteroseхual relationship which is to ensure that the partner is not just a baby producing robot but is sufficiently seхually satisfied to be able to overlook her mate’s many shortcomings (pun intended) and thus ensure the continuation of his genes. Thus a woman’s capability for multiple orgasms gives rise to healthy long term heteroseхual relationships which are based on the Golden Rules and so ensuring that children’s development and societal growth also take place.

Interestingly this overwhelming but mutual biological need that is based on the Golden Rules is just not present in same-seх couples because their need for investment on a comon genetic offspring is neither present nor available. The focus for homoseхual couples thus remains only on getting seхual pleasure. To put it crudely – the need to undermine deep seated insecurity and expand on trust remains biologically unaddressed among same-seх couples.

Societal Acceptance & Legitimacy

‘Societal acceptance and legitimacy’ granted to same-seх relationships/ unions does not ensure support of the Golden Rules. This is true for all other forms of alternate seхual behaviour. While this could be used to argue against granting ‘marriage rights’ to same seх-couples I would not go so far as to judge that all alternate seхual orientation and practice as being immoral or unnatural or wrong. It would be similar to judging people on their orientation/ behaviour on their pathological need to lie or cheat or steal.

Also the focus on ‘societal acceptance’ is a red herring. Till about 1000 years back people readily accepted notions like the earth is flat or the earth was at the centre of the universe. Now people would scoff at those who still believe in these ideas. However this does not mean that those who have a preference for or indulge in the practice alternate seхual behavior should be condemned. Just as we notice that nature uses homoseхual behavior to the advancement of the species, humans to can find creative ways to ensure that rainbow people to find a place in society and help in the advancement of societal goals.

Written by JP Sundharam >> 

J P Sundharam is traditional but a non-conformist (may be even viewed as an iconoclast) who strongly believes the power history, religion and culture play in our lives.

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Indian Exponent: Same-Sex Unions — Is legalizing the solution or opening the pandora’s box?
Same-Sex Unions — Is legalizing the solution or opening the pandora’s box?
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