It’s embarrassing to live in North Carolina these days. The wacky bathroom law our legislature recently passed means that the woman in the picture on the right will be forced to use men’s restrooms. That's because her birth certificate says she is a male. The law also legalizes discrimination against LGBTQ individuals, and the results have been predictable. The growing list of national celebrities boycotting the Tar Heel State includes Bruce Springsteen, Ringo Starr, Cyndi Lauper, and even Jimmy Buffett. Worse, in a state which is basketball-crazy, Michael Jordan has threatened to take his team out of the state unless the legislature repeals the law. On the other hand, our nutty bathroom law seems to be contagious. The legislatures in several other states are now considering similar legislation.
Polls show that North Carolinians are roughly evenly divided over the law, and even psychologists in the state disagree about it. For example, Dr. Carl Mumpower, a clinical psychologist and conservative activist, recently defended the law in a column he writes for the Asheville Citizen-Times (here). Mumpower wrote, “Those reveling in the LGBTQ game plan are at odds with nature and the faith that formed our world."
I am also a North Carolina psychologist. But my experiences teaching courses in human sexuality, the evolution of behavior, and the psychology of religion have given me a different perspective on what the Bible and the natural world say about sex and gender.
Homosexuality: The Biblical View
Mumpower states that the Bible does not stipulate where homosexuality fits on “the sin scale.” Wrong. Leviticus 20:13 clearly spells it out—homosexuals should be killed. Similarly, the Bible dictates that adulterers, women who are not virgins when they marry, and urban rape victims are to be stoned to death. Animal rights activists will disagree with the Biblical injunction that in cases of bestiality, both the human and the animal should be put to death. Oddly, however, the Bible is surprisingly lenient when it comes to having sex with your slave girl; the penalty just required the payment of a ram to atone for your sins. So Mumpower is quite right when he states that the North Carolina LGBTQ community is at odds with Biblical sexual morality. And for this, we should be grateful.
The Evolution of Kinky Sex: What Exactly Is “Natural?”
The NC bathroom bill’s advocates argue that homosexuality and transsexuality violate the laws of nature. But when it comes to sex and gender, the natural world provides a plethora of kinky role models. Here are a few of them.
Indeed, as described in this post, the only human variant of sexual expression I can think of that does not seem to be found in nature is sadomasochism. In short, neither the natural world nor a literal interpretation of the Bible offers realistic guidance on matter of sex and gender in the 21st century.
Born That Way?
As psychologists, Mumpower and I agree on some things. For example, for different reasons, we both think that “being born that way” is a poor reason for granting equal rights to LGBTQ individuals. Scientists have found that biological factors including genes and prenatal hormones play a role in sexual orientation. And researchers have linked homosexuality to several loci on the human genome. Recent studies, however, indicate that somewhere between 30% and 70% of individual differences in sexual orientation are attributable to non-genetic influences. (See, for example, here.) These include family environment, cultural trends, unique individual experiences, and perhaps even a degree of personal choice in matters of sexual attraction and gender identity.
But I disagree with the bathroom bill’s supporters on the central issue. By erroneously equating what is “natural” with what is “good” and by selectively interpreting the Bible, they think it makes perfect sense to deny equal rights to non-gender conforming individuals. In contrast, I hold that gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people in our country deserve the same rights as any other citizen. Not because they are born that way, but because they are Americans.
I hope the North Carolina legislature comes to its senses quickly. I want The Boss to come back to my state.
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And for PT blogger Marc Bekoff's take on kinky sex in the animal world, click here.
Hal Herzog is professor of psychology at Western Carolina University. He is the author of Some We Love, Some We Hate, and Some We Eat: Why It Is So Hard To Think Straight About Animals.