Friday, 8 January 2010

Are Consensual Incestuous Adult & Consensual Gay Relationships Ethically Comparable?

In one of my previous blogs, I stated that
While some Christians and others may feel that same-sex behaviour based on loving, committed and consensual relationships still is a sin, it remains entirely inappropriate, prejudicial and unjust to compare these with abusive, domineering, non-consensual and selfish behaviours.
Is Homosexuality a Simple Choice?
Someone challenged me that not all loving & consensual relationships are ethical, such as consensual incestuous adult relationships, and they argued that consensual incestuous relationships are a valid ethical comparison to loving & consensual gay relationships. To this end, it may be worth taking some time to consider how one establishes something to be right or wrong: ethics.

However, it is not my intention in this blog to discuss the detailed ethics of consensual adult incest ... nor to get drawn into one! Rather, the purpose of this blog is to show that consensual & loving homosexual relationships cannot and should not be compared ethically with consensual incestuous adult relationships.

Please recall from my previous post that I maintain homosexuality is a sexual orientation and the sexual identity part of this is not a simple choice. It is a human characteristic. Some aspects of our sexual orientation, how we behave according to that sexual identity, have elements of choice.

Incest (and specifically for this discussion consensual adult incest) is a sexual behaviour and this behaviour is true for heterosexuals, bisexuals and homosexuals.  The Guardian Newspaper featured two articles in 2002 and 2003 on this subject.

1) Non-Religious Ethics

Let's begin to consider the issue of consensual & loving adult incest using non-Religious ethics:
Ethics (also known as moral philosophy) is a branch of philosophy which seeks to address questions about morality; that is, about concepts like good and bad, right and wrong, justice, virtue, etc.
2010 Wikipedia Ethics
To keep this short I'm going to use the modern branches of ethics as the post-modern forms tend to be more academic: Consequentialism and Deontology. Granted, these are big words like “marmalade”.

1.1) Consequentialism
If we take the perspective of Consequentialism (the end justified the means), we need to look at the third-party consequences of consensual adult incest: high birth defects and low survival rates of the off spring. Using Consequentialism I would therefore conclude that consensual adult incest is wrong. Challenging this view would be modern contraceptive techniques that may prevent children from being conceived. It is also difficult to use Consequentialism when assessing the ethics of same-sex consensual adult incest: it is unlikely that a child will be conceived.

1.2) Deontology
Deontology determines the goodness or rightness from examining acts, rather than third-party consequences of the act as in Consequentialism, or the intentions of the person doing the act as in virtue ethics. In this case,  one would consider the intentions of the consensual adults in moving from existing loving family relationships into a sexual relationship. The existing loving non-sexual family relationships have responsibilities and moving from these into sexual relationships is where I believe the crux of the ethical discussion is.

What is it that causes two people to move from loving each other within the bounds of a family relationship to being “in love” with each other?

However, this discussion is way too complex to go into here.

All the consensual and loving homosexual behaviours that I know of, are similar to the vast majority of heterosexual relationships and do not have the element of an existing loving family relationship. Nor do homosexual relationships risk the birth of a child likely to have abnormalities or a shortened life span. Therefore loving & consensual gay relationships cannot not be compared with consensual adult incestuous relationships. Non-incestuous consensual and loving homosexual relationships are more akin to heterosexual non-incestuous, consensual and loving relationships. Therefore, the ethical comparison remains strictly at this level.

2) Christian Ethics

Personally, I am a Christian and, being a Reformed Evangelical Christian, the doctrine of “Sola Scriptura” governs my arguments on ethics. “Sola Scriptura” maintains that the Bible is the only infallible and inerrant authority for Christian faith, and that it contains all knowledge necessary for salvation and holiness. As a person redeemed by Christ's atonement on the cross, I need to bring all aspects of my thinking and actions, in fact every aspect of my life, under that redemption. This includes ethical decisions. (There are other Christian ethical frameworks but I'm going to use the one I'm familiar with.)

Beginning with the Scriptures then, the following link outlines the Bible verses pertaining to incest and in some of the verses, consensual adult incest:

You will notice however, that there are instances where consensual adult incest occurred and therefore the Bible appears to contradict itself, as it does on polygamy/bigamy (e.g., King David and King Solomon). The New Testament also says extremely little on consensual incestuous relationships (only Herod Antipas and John the Baptist).

As a side, it is interesting that this same issue of marrying your brother's wife was the instigator of the English Reformation when Henry VIII wanted his marriage with Catherine of Aragon, his brother's wife, annulled.
As a person who believes in the infallibility and in-errancy of the Scriptures, I need to consider the anthropology and sociology of the time (as mentioned in one of my previous posts) to explain these apparent contradictions. We have to understand the purpose of Jewish patriarchal social and cleanliness laws in Leviticus & Deuteronomy. We need to understand these in light of the ancient Jewish understanding of property rights and how the family structure was key to these rights. It was after all a Jewish theocracy. We also need to consider the concept of endogamy prevalent at the time (and in some cases still today): “the practice of marrying within a specific ethnic group, class, or social group, rejecting others on such bases as being unsuitable for marriage or other close personal relationships.”

Indeed, the concept of incest as we know it today only came about circa 1200AD and is difficult to compare entirely with the ancient concept of “incest”. Therefore, as a Reformed Evangelical Christian, where the Bible is not clear on modern ethical issues, I need to revert to the overall governing principle: how does one's behaviour (thought and actions) reflect on one's love for God, on one's love for other human beings and on oneself (Matthew 22:37-40). Additionaly we may refer to other principles established elsewhere in Scripture. However, we need to be careful about not being too dogmatic when we need to rely on other related principles.

This overall governing principle includes both the concepts of “consequence” and “intent”, and therefore it is not dissimilar to the non-religious ethical frameworks of Consequentialism and Denotology above.

Therefore, even using my Christian ethical framework I can only justify that the ethical comparison between heterosexual and homosexual loving and consensual relationships. I cannot justify the ethical comparison with adult consensual incest.

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