LGBT: Beyond stereotypes
By Ezinwanne Onwuka
Miracle and Kelechi, a young couple who have been dating for two years, are driving home after an enjoyable evening at a bar. As they are crossing a bridge, the traffic comes to a standstill. Ten minutes after, then twenty and still there is no movement. So Miracle and Kelechi do what any young lovebirds might do in such a situation: they start “making out” in the car. And despite the stalled traffic, they each think to themselves, “this is beautiful”. And so, for nearly an hour, they snuggle and kiss and each silently concludes, “life is good”.
Most of us have experiences that warrant the claim “life is good”. Not all of these are romantic, though many are. We are touched by Miracle and Kelechi’s story because it is familiar. We dream about finding “that special someone” and we typically hope that incidents like the above will not be an isolated phenomena, but part of a larger picture. Perhaps, Miracle and Kelechi will eventually marry and spend the rest of their lives together occasionally reminiscing about that sweet and tender moment on the bridge.
The above is based on a true story. Sadly, the real life Miracle and Kelechi split up few days after New Year’s Day. But the more salient feature of the real life counterparts to my story is that they were both ladies – on their way from celebrating Kelechi’s birthday at a bar last year. The only detail I altered was their names.
Suddenly, what at first appeared to be a charming little story will now strike many as controversial, even revolting. “But that’s just wrong”, they counter, and they are not alone in that sentiment. Indeed, no matter how right, good and beautiful the experience felt to Miracle and Kelechi at the time, there are countless others who will object that the two of them are simply deceiving themselves.
I think, however, that there is more to be said on their behalf. Recall the story as I initially described it. Most readers probably assumed that Miracle and Kelechi were a man and a woman, even though both names are gender-ambiguous. And under that assumption, most readers probably shared a positive reaction to the story, or at least experienced no negative one.
What was it about the behaviour that made it seem good? There are several relevant features, I think. First, as noted above, the behaviour was pleasurable. This fact is not sufficient to justify it, but all things being equal, it is certainly a point in its favour. Pleasure is in itself a good thing, although sometimes (as with drug addiction and overeating), it can have long term bad effects.
Secondly, the behaviour opened an avenue of communication, allowing them to express affection in a manner for which mere words would have been inadequate. Thirdly and related, the behaviour facilitated a kind of connection between the two parties; their physical intimacy both manifested and enhanced their emotional intimacy. Finally, there were no relevant negative features mentioned: the activity was not coerced, nor did it seem – at least under the initial description – to put them at any risk (it would have been quite different, for instance, if they had been engaging in the activity while one of them was attempting to drive).
Let us generalize from these reactions to the assumed heterosexual Miracle and Kelechi and consider the moral value of heterosexual activity more broadly. One might want to claim that heterosexual activity is valuable because of its role in the production of children. This is one of its values, no doubt, but it certainly not the whole of it. Indeed, to view heterosexual activity as valuable solely as a means to producing children would be to reduce sexual partners to mere baby making machines. Rather, heterosexual activity is additionally valuable for many of the reasons mentioned in connection with Miracle and Kelechi: it is pleasurable, it is a form of communication, it manifests and enhances intimacy between persons.
These are reasons why activities such as kissing, cuddling and caressing can be morally valuable even when they do not lead to intercourse. And they are reasons why heterosexual intercourse is valuable (even when as in the vast majority cases) it does not lead to reproduction. There are variety of concrete human goods that can be realized in sexual activity even between couples who cannot have children or choose not to do so. The Miracle and Kelechi story (under the heterosexual assumption, at least) strikes a familiar chord precisely because these goods are so evident.
The analogy between the assumed heterosexual Miracle and Kelechi and the actual homosexual Miracle and Kelechi suggests a prima facie argument in favour of homosexuality. To put it simply, homosexual activity can realize all the goods that non-procreative heterosexual activity does. It can be an avenue for intimacy, of pleasure and of lasting interpersonal fulfilment. Over the long haul, it can play a role in building relationships that can be an important source of growth.
Anyone who has been in a long-term relationship will understand how physical intimacy not only expresses but also facilitates deep emotional bonds. These bonds enrich human life and can make us better people; happier, more secure, more sensitive and more generous. They are the kind of things that makes us want to shout, “life is good”.
From the foregoing, my thesis is that whatever sort of activity is permissible for heterosexuals is permissible for homosexuals. Thus, if heterosexual kissing is permissible, then (all things being equal), homosexual kissing is permissible. If heterosexual oral sex is permissible, then homosexual oral sex is permissible – and so on. The reason is that the very same goods can be realized in the homosexual case as in the (non-procreative) heterosexual case. Why, despite the apparently identical concrete goods realized in each case, is one morally right and the other morally wrong?