What do Ben Franklin, the Utah state bird, and the Supreme Court all have in common? And what does any of that have to do with gay rights? It's only natural that you should ask. Over 250 years ago, Franklin invented the lightning rod. Back then, some people objected strongly to its use as being presumptuous and against the will of God. Downright unnatural, one might say.
Franklin retorted in the classic prose of his time. "[Nollet (who had opposed lightning rods)] seems to apply to the superstitious Prejudices of the Populace. . . He speaks as if he thought it Presumption in Man, to propose guarding himself against the Thunders of Heaven! Surely the Thunder of Heaven is no more supernatural than the Rain, Hail or Sunshine of Heaven, against the Inconveniencies of which we guard by Roofs and Shades without Scruple" (read)
Agreed: Lightning rods are unnatural. So too are houses, umbrellas, and clothes.
But homosexuality is not.
From a scientific perspective, all homosexual behavior is biological. That's a truism, of course. Same-sex attraction, like all behaviors and cognition, requires a functioning nervous system. There are no homosexual umbrellas. Furthermore, much but not all same-same sex attraction is probably based in genetics or epigenetics, with predispositions established before birth.
Far from being a "sin against nature," homosexuality is more natural than the sexual abstinence imposed by many human cultures, and more natural than their many artifacts.
The TV show has it wrong, but not in the ways some folks think. Homosexuality is not a "new normal." It's an old one.
Homosexual behavior is ubiquitous throughout the animal kingdom. It occurs in numerous species from worms to primates, including the Utah state bird, the seagull (Read). Bonobos (previously called pygmy chimpanzees) are one of human's closest cousins, sharing nearly 99 percent of our DNA. Nearly all bonobos are bisexual, and some engage in homosexual behavior almost hourly (Read).
It seems unlikely that's the result of a bonobo ACLU, or a bonobo militant homosexual "agenda."
So, new rule: Folks can't rightly complain against "unnatural" homosexual behaviors unless they themselves are living outdoors 24-7-365 and walking around buck naked.
Legally, such natural homosexual behaviors in animals were noted as part of the defense in Lawrence v. Texas (Read). That's the Supreme Court case that struck down the Texas law banning gay sex.
By extension, the ruling also effectively invalidated anti-sodomy laws in other states, including Utah (Read). Not surprisingly, but incorrectly, Utah had advised the Court that sex between homosexuals was harmful in ways that the identical sexual behavior between heterosexuals was not.
Negating popular misperceptions, the U.S. Supreme Court further noted that, "[f]ar from possessing 'ancient roots,' . . . American laws targeting same-sex couples did not develop until the last third of the 20th century."
And, poignantly, "this Court's obligation is to define the liberty of all, not to mandate its own moral code."
In considering gay marriage, let's remember that interracial marriage also was once considered unnatural, and was illegal in Utah until 1963 (Read).
And it was the US Supreme Court that finally overruled state laws on interracial marriage, too, in 1967. A time that seems so long ago to those who did not experience that era. They almost cannot imagine such an attitude, never mind such a law.
But that's in my lifetime. And as a partner in a long-term (heterosexual) interracial marriage, I'm happy and fortunate that such bans are a form of legal discrimination that has disappeared. I'm happy and fortunate that social attitudes have changed somewhat, too. And I'm even happier for my interracial children. And for whomever they may marry, straight or gay.
I don't know of any same-race marriages that fell apart because of my mixed-race marriage. And I don't reckon any mixed-sex marriages will fall apart because of others' same-sex marriages either.
The center moves. Slowly, sometimes. But it does move. What was once unimaginable becomes commonplace. And what was commonplace becomes unimaginable.
And, now, this Tuesday and Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court is poised to take the next step: to consider whether gays, too, will be allowed marriage equality throughout the land.
Homosexuality is biologically natural, not deviant.
But at an even deeper level, equal rights for homosexuals don't depend on the genetic and biological mechanisms underlying sexuality--any more than do equal rights for heterosexuals. Or equal rights for people of different races.
"Gay rights" are not "special" rights. They are human rights.
"Gay rights" are not now being "granted." Instead, they are no longer -- or should no longer be -- being taken away.
Homosexuals are humans. So, naturally, they deserve all the same human rights that heterosexuals do, including the rights to employment, housing, marriage, hospital visits, and inheritance. Without discrimination.
And, as Ben Franklin said, "without Scruple."
Gregory A. Clark is an associate professor of bioengineering at the University of Utah.