Thursday, June 25, 2009

Animal Planet

Human usually want to distance themselves from nature and distinguish themselves from animals. Interestingly enough, when it comes to LGBT civil rights, opponents are suddenly in a rush to get back to our roots in the jungles and on the savannahs, arguing that we should not grant equal rights to gays and lesbians because homosexuality is “unnatural” or “against nature.” (Ironically, many of these same people will argue that we have no roots in nature when it comes to the issue of teaching evolution in public school science classes…but that’s another story.)

For example, the American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property – a nonprofit organization with its national headquarters in Spring Grove, PA (a mere 12 miles from the site of the aforementioned “other story”) – lists as number 2 in its “Top Ten Reasons Why Homosexual Marriage Is Harmful and Must Be Opposed” that “It Violates Natural Law.” “Marriage is not just any relationship between human beings,” their flyer states. “It is a relationship rooted in human nature and thus governed by natural law…A man and a woman wanting to marry may be different in their characteristics: one may be black, the other white; one rich, the other poor; or one tall, the other short. None of these differences are insurmountable obstacles to marriage. The two individuals are still man and woman, and thus the requirements of nature are respected. Same-sex ‘marriage’ opposes nature.”

Wrong again.

The Associated Press recently reported on a male-male penguin couple that are raising an abandoned chick as their own at the Bremerhaven Zoo in Germany. This pair is one of three male-male pairs of penguins at that zoo alone that have attempted to mate with each other.

This is not the first story I have heard about homosexual behavior in animals, so I clicked on a few of the related stories to find out more. Turns out that in 2006, the Natural History Museum in Oslo, Norway, opened a year-long exhibit entitled “Against Nature?” that focused on this subject.

According to an exhibition statement, “Homosexuality is a common and widespread phenomenon in the animal world. Not only short-lived sexual relationships, but even long lasting partnerships; partnerships that may last a lifetime.” Homosexual behavior has been observed in 1,500 species and is well document in 500 of these, including giraffes, various types of apes, right whales, flamingos, black swans, walruses, dolphins, and many others. The exhibit said that although this phenomenon has often been dismissed because it does not lead directly to species continuation, homosexuality may be evolutionarily adaptive in some instances – for example, ape species that use homosexual contact to form vital bonds within the tribe that are necessary if they are later to find a reproductive partner, or flamingo pairs that are able to defend a much larger territory with two adult males than a male-female pair could, making more resources available to the chicks they are raising and allowing them to support a larger number of young.

So why haven’t most people ever heard of this? Apparently researchers are reluctant to engage in focused study or publicize research on this topic because of the negative reactions they know will be forthcoming from anti-gay groups. Linda Wolfe, chair of the Department of Anthropology at East Carolina University, told LifeScience that she has even been offered data by other researchers who didn’t want to publish it under their own names.

Of course, human beings have civil rights that do not apply to the animal kingdom (how can you have freedom of speech if you do not have a spoken language?), and the LGBT community is every bit as entitled to them as the rest of us…but if you insist on bringing up the animal kingdom, well, you’re barking up the wrong tree.

Becca in Harrisburg

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