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Saturday, 31 July 2010

Bisexual Snails

There is a widespread myth out there that homoeroticism is somehow "against nature" because "animals don't do it".  The argument is deeply flawed on numerous counts:  Are we to model our behaviour on the animal kingdom? If so, why was the church for so long opposed to the male -behind heterosexual sexual position as ("animal like"), insisting instead on the completely unnatural missionary position? Why argue  that animals "Don't" do it", and simultaneously that it should be avoided because animals (the hare, the weasel, the hyena) DO "do it"?
The whole idea of "against nature" is a key part of the Christian church's development of opposition to same sex relationships, but is full of weaknesses in logic as well as empirically verifiable evidence.

Argentina: The Weddings Begin

The first gay weddings under Argentina's new family equality law have begun. (These are not the first gay marriages- a handful of couples were able to sneak in by earlier court challenges and sympathetic magistrates, but these at the first to be arranged routinely under national marriage laws.  As you see, this was neither a traditional white wedding, nor a quiet affair in the registry office - there were too many reporters and photographers for that description. The couple are an actor and his agent - they will be used to the press, and won’t object to the publicity.
CNN reports:
Buenos Aires, Argentina (CNN) -- Two men who have been together for 34 years have become the first couple to obtain a same-sex marriage since it became legal in Argentina on July 15. Artistic representative Alejandro Vanelli and actor Ernesto Larrese were married in a civil ceremony Friday morning in Buenos Aires, Argentina's capital. They wore dark suits and striped blue ties and were surrounded by well-wishers and a throng of reporters, photographers and videographers. Larrese spoke to his partner -- but also to the nation at large. "To all those who are afraid ... those who are homophobic ... I tell them, don't worry; this doesn't affect you," Larrese said. "You have nothing to fear. Fear is the opposite of love. Any phobia can be cured with love. There is nothing love cannot cure.
However, the BBC says a different couple got in first, just an hour earlier, in a northern town.  Who cares? There will be many, many more.
An architect and a retired office administrator have become the first gay couple to marry in Argentina under a new law legalising same-sex marriages. Miguel Angel Calefato, 65, and Jose Luis Navarro, 54, have lived together for 27 years. Argentina is the first Latin American country to legalise same-sex marriage. The law was passed after a long and often bitter campaign and it still faces opposition, most notably from the Roman Catholic Church. After the early-morning ceremony in the northern town of Frias, Mr Calefato and Mr Navarro promised to hold a big party to thank all who had supported the passage of the law.
The couple have been together for 27 years

Thursday, 29 July 2010

"Lesbians Make Better Parents" - Research Finding

Yet again, there is new research, this time tracking children of lesbian parents from birth to adolescence, which shows clearly that children of lesbian parents do not just as well as other children in their development patterns, but in some respects, do even better. The researchers expected their results to demonstrate again that children of lesbian parents would do as well as other kids on measures of development and social behaviour, and so they did. What they had not anticipated, was that these children would do even better on some specific measures. They scored higher than kids in straight families on some psychological measures of self-esteem and confidence, did better academically and were less likely to have behavioral problems, such as rule-breaking and aggression.
"We simply expected to find no difference in psychological adjustment between adolescents reared in lesbian families and the normative sample of age-matched controls," says Gartrell. "I was surprised to find that on some measures we found higher levels of [psychological] competency and lower levels of behavioral problems. It wasn't something I anticipated."
This was emphatically not because their lives were in any way easier than others: over 40% of them had experienced teasing or other difficulties from their peers on account of their family backgrounds, and in the early years they expressed higher than normal levels of stress. As they grew older, however, they learned to overcome this, and by later adolescence, their stress levels were pretty standard for the age group.
This is based on a new analysis, published today in Pediatrics, of data from the the U.S. National Longitudinal Lesbian Family Study (NLLFS), begun in 1986. This looked at families with two moms who had deliberately chosen to raise families by artificial insemination. The families were interviewed at discreet intervals over a twenty year period, giving an insight into how well the children were developing across a range of social and physical development indicators, and compared with  national norms. 

-(Read more at Time)

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Same-Sex Parents, Furred and Feathered.

There have been an increasing number of research studies which show that as parents,  same sex couples are at least as good as opposite sex- couples. As a gay father and grandfather myself, I don’t really need to be told this by modern research: I first learnt of the evidence decades ago, from a family friend who was then a child welfare social worker, and is today a top authority on the subject. I also have the best of all possible authority, the experience of my own family. My daughter is very clear on the subject: she is on record as saying “Gay Parents? I recommend them”. She has told me that when she says a young child with two dads, her immediate response is - “Lucky child”. Still, it’s good to see the evidence getting a more public hearing. and reaching the mainstream.

I was interested though, to find that in this, as in so many other areas, of human sexuality, the same pattern is found in many species of animals and birds.

Two Dads, with Kids

one please think of the kiddies?

Hello all. This is Robynn, Terence's daughter, responding to his invitation to comment for myself on the terrible, terrible hardship I suffered growing up with a gay father. Wait, that's not quite right...

I feel a little out of place writing here, as I am not Catholic; indeed, not a believer at all. Normally I am happy to stick to what I know and keep my opinions on Church policies to myself, but then, the Church doesn't seem to follow the same principle, insisting as it does on telling us all that gay couples make terrible parents. Not only do the bishops not have any special knowledge on the subject, they seem to be denying what evidence and experience is in fact out there. And they're certainly not keeping their prejudices opinions to themselves.

I can of course only speak from my own experience, and from common sense. I was not adopted; my parents divorced when I was around 7 years old and, like most children after divorce, I was raised mainly by my mother. However, I spent a lot of time (including one full year as a teenager) with my father and his then partner, Bruce, with whom he shared an 18-year relationship. I consider myself entirely unscarred by the experience. In fact, to confirm Dad's report, I do feel that I was privileged to be part of this unusual family.

It's hard to explain why, without sounding terribly patronising - not my intention. But in high school, particularly, I was very aware of having a different perspective to my peers. I enjoyed this and I believe it was very valuable in forming my worldview, a view perhaps less limited than that of many suburban kids. My family was unusual, but stable, and very supportive. Gay parents: I recommend them.

Of course not every couple will be stable; not every couple will make supportive, loving parents. That's terribly unfortunate, isn't it? If only there were some way to screen for the suitability of prospective parents... if only couples wishing to adopt had to undergo some sort of screening, be interviewed by social workers for instance, convince the authorities of their commitment to and suitability for raising children... OH WAIT A MINUTE.

Really it's ridiculous. Anybody at all can have a baby (I should know, I just did). But not anybody can adopt. A gay couple who want to raise a family will certainly have to work hard to get those kids; it won't be undertaken lightly and no one will simply hand a baby over, no questions asked. That's the case for adoption by straight couples, and I expect that, fairly or not, the authorities will look even more closely at gay would-be parents. So common sense tells me, as strongly as my own experience, that the bishops are... well... not firing on all cylinders here. What on earth are they afraid of? I really can't understand.

Monday, 26 July 2010

Queer Bonobos: Sex As Conflict Resolution

In trying to understand "natural" sexuality, a look at the world of the bonobo is intriguing. Often loosely described as "chimps", bonobos are in fact a quite distinct species, closely allied to both chimps and to humans, and may in fact be the closest of all primates to humans in evolutionary development. In addition to physiological and genetic similarities, they also show some features of sexual behaviour that are unusual in animals - but familiar to humans. For example, females remain sexually receptive for far longer than other species. Instead of being physically ready for sex for just a few days in her cycle, the female bonobo is almost continuously sexually attractive and willing for sex. Intercourse is more frequent than in other primates, although the reproduction rate is similar: there is a partial separation between sex and reproduction. Mating is more often face to face, like humans, than in other animals, where the dog-like position is almost universal. Both males and females become sexually aroused remarkably easily. Oh, and there's a great deal of same sex activity. Frans De Waal, on whose research I base my notes,  says that the most typical sexual pattern is genital rubbing between females:
One female facing another clings with arms and legs to a partner that, standing on both hands and feet, lifts her off the ground. The two females then rub their genital swellings laterally together, emitting grins and squeals that probably reflect orgasmic experiences.
Males also engage in genital contact, including "penis- fencing", and rubbing the scrotum of one against the buttocks of another.

NJ Gay Marriage Court Initiative Failed.

In New Jersey, the recent focus for news on marriage equality was the unsuccessful political process which aimed to slip legislation in during the dying days of the last legislature, before the new anti-marriage Governor took office. Later, there was a much less well-publicized attempt to pursue a litigation route. Some years ago, the state Supreme Court had ruled that the state had an obligation to provide equal treatment to all its citizens. IT was on the strength of this judgement that the state legislature then introduced civil unions as an alternative.

Experience since then has shown that in NJ, as elsewhere, separate is not equal. After the failure of the political process, six same-sex couples initiated court proceedings to secure the equality which had been promised, but not provided by the political process. That application today hit a road block: the court declined to hear the case.

This looks though, like a temporary delay. The reason given was that the suit must first make its way through the lower courts. Even so, the decision was close - a 3-3 split. Equality could still come to New Jersey. (Marriage opponents probably have more reason to be disappointed than equality supporters do over this decision: they were hoping for a total rejection:
Len Deo, president of the New Jersey Family Policy Council, which supports the traditional view of marriage as between one man and one woman, said, “We were hoping the Supreme Court would just reject the application outright.”
From Washington Post:

NJ Supreme Court rejects gay marriage case

Those Evangelical Allies, Again

The word "evangelical" is a troublesome one in religious discourse, as it can mean so many different things, and is used indifferent ways.   Polling firms reporting on social policy issues routinely use it as a contrast to Protestants, as in Catholics, Protestants and Evangelicals - by which they really men Mainline Protestants and Other Protestants. Press releases though have never been given to verbal precision, and we have become accustomed to the usage. To complicate matters further, some of the "Mainline" churches, especially the UK Church of England, are described in news reports in terms of their "evangelical" or "liberal wing. In more theological, less politicized terms, there are many in the Mainline churches who would insist that they too are inherently "evangelical",  in its true sense.

Further complicating the issue is the repeated research finding that it is the "evangelical" wing of Christianity, in the sense of non-mainline Protestant, that is the most implacably opposed to LGBT equality or inclusion in church, which leads to the assumption that one leads necessarily from the other. There is growing evidence though that even in this sense, some evangelical leaders, like many Catholic theologians, are now recognising the fallacies and mistaken assumptions in the Christian opposition of the past few centuries. I have reported on some of these in the past - there are many more.

However, it is the more theological meaning of "evangelical" that Janet Edwards is using when she argues at "Religion Dispatches " that gay rights  are an "evangelical thing".

“We need to out-evangelize the evangelists!”

Sunday, 25 July 2010

Animals Use Sex Toys, Too

The more I explore the nature of sexuality in the animal world, the more amazed I am at the extraordinary number of ways in which animals show all the diversity of human sexuality, and more. Male dolphins and whales have an extra orifice to penetrate (their partners' blowholes); some primate male couples can indulge in "penis fencing" while hanging from a tree branch (I bet you've never tried that); and female spotted hyenas have a pseudo- phallus that they can (and do) use for penetration. More familiar activities are the usual mounting and penetration, either vaginal or anal, usually from the rear but sometimes from the front, or even the side; masturbation, using hands if they have them, but also flippers or just the ground; oral sex - forms of both fellatio and cunnilingus are known; and just plain cuddling and caressing.

Squirrel Threesome
Relationships are equally diverse, including long term pair bonds, in both between-sex and same-sex couples, one-off copulation, strictly monogamous and non-monogamous relationships, polygamy, polyandry and group orgies.

Saturday, 24 July 2010

Court reinstates Arizona partner benefits ?

Judge Blocks Arizona’s Termination of Domestic Partner Benefits

Among the first policy changes pushed by Arizona’s legislature as soon as Republican Janet Brewer succeeded Janet Napolitano (D) as governor was to pass House Bill 2013, which changed the definition of “dependent” to specifically exclude domestic partners and adopted children of gay individuals, effectively ending insurance coverage for the families of gay state employees. This move came despite denials from Arizona’s Prop 102 promoters that the state would not remove domestic partner benefits if the amendment banning same-sex marriage was added to the constitution. Prop 102 was approved by Arizona voters in 2008.

This week, U.S. District Judge John Sedwick granted a temporary injunction against the state of Arizona from implementing the new law:
“Because employees involved in same-sex partnerships do not have the same right to marry as their heterosexual counterparts, Section O has the effect of completely barring lesbians and gays from receiving family benefits,” Sedwick wrote. “Consequently, the spousal limitation in Section O burdens state employees with same-sex domestic partners more than state employees with opposite-sex domestic partners.”

- Full report at Box Turtle Bulletin 

Some Irish Sense On Gay Relationships: Another Bishop Speaking Out.

Willie Walsh, the retiring Bishop of Killaloe, has some unremarkable but encouraging words on homosexual relationships. Unremarkable, that is, for anybody outside of the Catholic episcopate. Encouraging, given that he is of it. Speaking informally at a civic reception to mark his retirement, he was asked for his views on the Irish Civil Partnership legislation, which was signed into law earlier this week. While making clear his unwavering belief in the traditional support for "family" and marriage, he made two important statements which should give encouragement to all gay and lesbian Catholics.

Referring directly to the civil partnership law, he said he had always been "hesitant" about asking the state to support a particular teaching of the Church. This is a clear distancing from his fellow Irish bishops, who were forthright in their attempts to do just that, with strenuous attempts to derail the bill.

Friday, 23 July 2010

The Road To Equality: How Long, How Long!

After I placed a report this week on the UN accreditation for an LGBT Human Rights Group, I noted in a comment that it is important as we celebrate each landmark (as with gay marriage success), we should also look back and recognise how far we have come.

Sadly, I was reminded this week that we also need to look ahead and consider just how far we still have to go. At one end of the scale, there are still five countries that impose the death penalty for homosexual acts. On the other, not even the most progressive countries have year reached  full equality: there are still only a handful of countries with full protection against all discrimination on grounds of both orientation and gender identity. None of those has a full slate of legal protections.

My interest today was triggered by a report from Canada, concerning the possibly imminent execution of an Iranian man, urging the Canadian government to "intervene". The difficulty in these countries, which are generally pretty hostile to the West in the first place, is knowing how to intervene without aggravating the situation.  The death penalty also still applies in four other states (Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Mauritania and Sudan), as well as in some parts of Nigeria and Somalia.

In search of fuller information I went to ILGA (International Lesbian Gay Association), and downloaded their report  on "State Sponsored Homophobia". This is dated May 2010, so its pretty up to date - but beware. The listing for marriage gives only three countries, omitting Portugal, Iceland Argentina. This a sharp (and encouraging) sign of just how quickly things can sometimes change.

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Why Catholics Support Gay Marriage.

Research results have consistently shown that US Catholics nationally are more supportive of gay rights (including gay marriage), and do not agree with the Vatican teaching that homosexual relationships are morally wrong. What has not been clear from research is why this should be, when the formal Vatican doctrine, and the publicly stated position of the bishops, is so different. The same conundrum was posed even more sharply this month in Argentina, where polls showed that in this overwhelmingly Catholic country, where the bishops very publicly opposed it, 70% of the population supported the introduction of full family equality.

In California, two separate polls released within days, by Field and by PRRI, confirm the patterns we have become accustomed to: over the longer term view, support for equality has grown steadily; Democrats and independents are supportive, Republicans are not; younger voters are strongly supportive - and Californian Catholics narrowly support marriage equality.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Irish Civil Partnership Bill Signed.

Irish President Mary McAleese has signed into law the provision of Civil Partnerships, which will provide Irish gay and lesbian couples with a legal status almost identical to that of heterosexual married couples - but not adoption rights. This is very similar to the UK Civil Partnership legislation. That too does not cover adoption, which was provided for separately.

In this deeply Catholic country, the legislation was strongly opposed by the Catholic bishops - who lost badly, It is notable that this legislation was not just passed, but warmly welcomed by the Justice Minster as "one of the most important pieces of civil rights legislation ...  since independence"  

Signing into law of new civil Bill welcomed

THE SIGNING into law yesterday of the Civil Partnership Bill was welcomed across the political spectrum and also by groups that have campaigned for legal recognition for same-sex couples in Ireland.
The Bill was signed into law by President Mary McAleese at Áras an Uachtaráin yesterday morning.
Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern said it was “one of the most important pieces of civil rights legislation to be enacted since independence”.
The Green Party’s justice spokesman Trevor Sargent also warmly welcomed the development, describing it as a significant step forward and a stepping stone towards greater equality in society.
While the Bill has now been enacted, it cannot fully commence until commensurate changes take place in social welfare, tax and pensions legislation.
Those changes are likely to be made in the Finance Bill and Social Welfare Bill drafted following December’s budget.
The changes will pave the way for the first civil partnership registrations to take place in January next year.

-(Full report from the Irish Times)

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Bighorn Rams: Macho Homos, Wimpish Heteros

To look at them, bighorn rams are the very image of hypermasculinity. They live on the rugged mountain slopes of Montana and Canada, in an environment that demands strengh, athleticism and stamina. Their appearance is impressive, with large thick horns curling back behind the ear, and they’re big, weighing up to 300 pounds. They exude so much machismo, that their image has been appropriated by numerous as a symbol for many  male athletic teams. And they like their sex – with other males. Those few who don’t, are described by researchers as “effeminate” .

Lovers, maybe?

For bighorn sheep (and also for thinhorns), "natural" sex is same-sex, including elaborate courtship rituals, genital licking, and anal penetration. (Many rams also find a way to "masturbate" - not with their hooves, but by rubbing on the ground.)  In this "homosexual society", almost all rams routinely participate year-round in sexual activity with each other, but heterosexual intercourse is limiting to the rutting season. Even then, not all rams, especially the younger ones, get to participate.

For Bighorn and Thinhorn Sheep, heterosexuality is definitely not "normal".

From “Evolution's Rainbow: Diversity, Gender, and Sexuality in Nature and People ” (Joan Roughgarden):
“The females live separately from the males. The sexes associate only during the breeding season, from mid fall to early winter. A female is receptive for about three days, and will not allow herself outside of these three days.”
This emphatically does not mean that the males endure sexual abstinence for the rest of the year.
The males have been described as `homosexual societies`. Almost all males participate in homosexual courting and copulation. Male-male courtship begins with a stylized approach, followed by genital licking and nuzzling, and often leads to anal intercourse in which one male, usually the larger, mounts the other. The mounted male arches his back, which is identical to how a female arches her back during heterosexual intercourse. The mounting male ahs an erect penis, makes anal penetration, and performs pelvic thrusts leading to ejaculation. 
The few males who do not participate in male sex are described as “effeminate”,. These males are identical tin appearance to other males but behave quite differently. They differ from “normal males” by living with the ewes rather than joining the all-male groups. These males do not dominate females, are less aggressive overall, and adopt a crouching, female urination posture. These males refuse mouning by other males. These nonhomosexual males are considerd “aberrant”, with speculation that that some hormone deficiency must underlie their behaviour. Even though in physical appearance, including body size and horn development, these males are indistinguishable from other males, scientists urge further study of their endocrinological profile.
This case turns the meanings of normal and aberrant upside down. The “normal” macho bighorn has full-fledged anal sex with other males. The “aberrant” male is the one who is straight – the lack of interest in homosexuality is considered pathological. Now, why would being straight be a pathology, requiring a hormonal checkup? According to the researchers, what’s aberrant is that a macho-looking bighorn ram acts feminine! He pees like a female – even worse than being gay.
(Same sex mountings have also been described in several other species of sheep and goats in North America and Europe, and in farm animals).

Also See Previous QTC Posts:

The Wildlife Rainbow

Queer Bonobos: Sex As Conflict Resolution

Lesbian Lizards

Bisexual Snails

Gay (Wild)-Life

Natural Law and Laysan's Albatross

Also The effeminate sheep and other problems with natural selection (at "Seed Magazine")


Bagemihl, Bruce: Biological Exuberance: Animal Homosexuality and Natural Diversity (Stonewall Inn Editions)

Roughgarden, Joan: Evolution's Rainbow: Diversity, Gender, and Sexuality in Nature and People Sommer,

Volker and Vasey, Paul: Homosexual Behaviour in Animals: An Evolutionary Perspective

Monday, 19 July 2010

Full Marriage Equality for the UK?

When the UK first implemented civil partnerships, it was commonly reported as gay "marriage", and widely viewed as marriage in everything but name. With the passing of time and greater familiarity, the feeling has grown that "everything but name" doesn't cut it, that separate isn't equal, and that names matter. There has been increasing public pressure to upgrade to full marriage, and increasing support for the idea from leading politicians - without any firm commitments from the ones with the clout to implement it.

Today, a prediction (not a promise) from Liberal Democrat deputy leader Simon Hughes is the clearest indication that the change will indeed come. The difficulty is the time scale. Mr Hughes has not said anything more than that it will be "before the next general election" - that is within the next five years. That's all very well, but with the gay marriage train accelerating worldwide, five years from now, gay marriage will be routine across much of the world. I certainly agree that the UK will have full marriage equality by 2015 - but I hope it can be somewhat earlier than that.

This is from the Telegraph:

'Gay couples will get equal right to marry'

The Coalition will give homosexual couples the same legal rights to marriage as heterosexuals, a senior Liberal Democrat has said.

Simon Hughes, the Lib Dem deputy leader, said that the Government will allow same-sex couples to have “civil marriage” with same legal status as marriage between a man and a woman.
His comments follow moves by a Lib Dem minister to allow homosexual couples to have religious elements to their civil partnership ceremonies.
Under current rules, same-sex couples can contract a civil partnership, which is recognised in law but not given the same status as marriage for a heterosexual couple.
Mr Hughes predicted that before the next general election, the law will be changed to give an equal right to full marriage.
“It would be appropriate in Britain in 2010 to have civil marriage for straight people and gay people equally,” he said.
“The state ought to give equality. We’re halfway there. I think we ought to be able to get there in this Parliament.”
Earlier this month, Lynne Featherstone, the equalities minister, said the Coalition was considering allowing same-sex couples to include key religious elements in civil partnership ceremonies.
The full equality that Mr Hughes advocated would go further than that, although he insisted any change would be limited to civil marriage and would not place any obligations on religious groups to marry same-sex couples.
Mr Hughes, regarded as being on the left of the Lib Dems, has been critical of some Coalition policies and has threatened to reject parts of the Government’s Budget package.
But, in comments in an internet-based interview, he backed the Coalition and said it was increasingly following a Lib Dem agenda.
“All the time, we are making Tories, at least Tories in government, more enlightened and that must be good for the country,” he said.
During the election campaign, the Conservatives were the only main party to suggest that they would consider allowing full homosexual marriage. Some lawyers say that would be easier to legislate for than altering existing laws on civil partnership and civil marriage.

A Queer Presence at the UN

In a most welcome development, an LGBT human rights group has just won accreditation for observer status at the UN - over strenuous opposition from some GOP politicians.  Among other benefits, this has huge symbolic value - and will enable LGBT lobbyists to directly counter Vatican lobbying efforts lesbigaytrans issues.

From Huffpost:

US gay rights group gets UN accreditation

UNITED NATIONS — The U.N. Economic and Social Council has voted to accredit the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission after strong lobbying by the U.S. administration.

The 54-member council approved the U.S.-based group's application for consultative status by a vote of 23-13 with 13 abstentions.

The organization, which has offices in South Africa, Argentina and the Philippines, has been trying since 2007 to get consultative status with the council so it can work at the United Nations. The council serves as the main U.N. forum for discussing international economic and social issues.

The U.S. government and 14 members of Congress supporting the application believe the group's application was not approved because it promotes gay rights.

Sunday, 18 July 2010

Gay Marriage: Where Next?

In the first six months of the year, three countries have already approved legal recognition for same sex marriage, up from just two last year, and an average of less than one a year during the previous eight years. The pace is clearly accelerating. We could well ask, where next? There are several candidates, some of which could see change quite soon.
The state of Marriage, Europe July 2010
Luxembourg is closely associated with its neighbours Netherlands and Belgium (hence the term "Benelux" countries), which were the first to introduce full marriage equality. At present, the Grand Duchy's legal provision is based on the French PACS, but the government has announced plans to upgrade that to full marriage. In January, the minister of Justice announced  promised that legislation would be passed before the summer recess this year. The  bill was accepted for the session which began last week, and could be passed within weeks.
Slovenia announced its intention to provide legal recognition in July 2009, and passed the first reading of the required bill in March this year. There have been no reports since.

Saturday, 17 July 2010

The Global Growth of Marriage Equality

I wish I had thought of doing it this way! I have often reported on the global growth in gay marriage, and looked for ways to present it in a simple graphic. Nate Silver at fivethirtyeight has found the simple key - convert the jurisdictions, whether countries, provinces or cities, to the populations living under them, and treat all of Europe as a single entity.
This is the colourful chart that resulted:

That's 250 million people who now live in locations where legal recognition for gay marriage has been agreed. (More are on the way. Finland this week was just the latest to declare an intention to change the law.) Please note the rather prominent band of yellow - South Africa. I have only two quibbles with this. Nate refers to the "slow" growth to equality. But going from roughly one million at the start of 2007 to two and a half million now, I would describe as rapid. I would also stress that this applies to full marriage only: it would be interesting to see a similar chart which included civil unions.

Thursday, 15 July 2010

Argentina Approves Family Equality.

It's been a long night waiting for confirmation, but Argentina has just become the latest country, and the fourth strongly Catholic country, to approve family equality, even in the face of vigorous, highly visible,  opposition by the Catholic  Church. (Note that I do not describe this as "gay marriage". The legislation which has been approved includes much more than just provision for same -sex marriage.)

What is particularly pleasing to me was that while the political argument in favour was based on human rights grounds, many of the supportive politicians made clear that their support was because of their Catholic faith, which emphasized the importance of respect for those human rights.
In their marathon debate, a number of senators in the 72-member upper house referred to their Catholic beliefs in presenting their reasons for opposing or supporting the bill.

The Wildlife Rainbow

Last November, I carried a link to a post at Jesus in Love blog, featuring this delightful, fun take on a gay Noah's Ark. (If you didn't do so at the time, go across now to read some useful commentary on the artist, Paul Richmond, and on  the wonderful detail incorporated into the image.)

Today, I want to explore some of the more serious message behind the image.  Although "wildlife diversity" has become something of a buzzword in any modern discussion of environmental conservation, and we routinely accept that species diversity is one useful measure of the health of an ecosystem, and its protection a valid goal for its management, we usually fail to recognise that sexual and gender diversity is as much a feature of the animal world as it is of human societies. In recent years, lesbian and gay historians have begun to uncover much of our hidden history, and to show how often simple binary and heteronormative assumptions in looking at the past, or at non-Western societies, have ensured that observers saw only what they expected to see. Now biologists are showing how those same assumptions have led to some flawed beliefs about animal sexuality. These  assumptions about sexual behaviour have led to the abundant contrary evidence from the natural world being either simply ignored, or explained away as "exceptions", exactly as the widespread evidence for human homoerotic attraction has been ignored by historians or explained away as "deviance", and so not "natural".

Natural Coupling

Of three important books on the topic, Bruce Bagemihl’s “Biological Exuberance”, named in 1999 as one of the New York Public Library’s “Books to Remember”, was the earliest, and has attracted widespread critical attention and commentary. Same sex behaviour has been documented right across the animal kingdom, but in this book, Bagemihl concentrated on mammals and birds, providing extensive evidence of an extraordinary range of sexual behaviours, and specific profiles of 190 species. He shows how animals demonstrate all the forms of physical and emotional homosexual pairing known to man are also found among animals: masturbation, fellatio, mutual rubbing, and mounting on the physical side; male-male and female- female; casual affairs, long-term relationships, and “gay” parenting are all described, as well as non-procreative heterosexual intercourse.  The widespread assumption that “natural” sexual activity is way off-beam.

One feature of human societies for which he does not find any evidence, is that of homophobia- violence or aggression against same sex couples or coupling.  We are all familiar from endless wildlife documentaries with the ferocity of male competition and violence over mating ambitions, but there has not been any documented evidence of similar aggression around or by same sex couples. I am also particularly struck by the emotional dimensions of some of these relationships.  In some cases, male pairs will form enduring long-term pair bonds, while engaging in heterosexual activity “on the side” for procreation. In some species, such as elephants and greylag geese, male pairs are said to endure even longer than heterosexual ones.

Two later books have further developed this theme. Volker Sommer's “Homosexual Behaviour in Animals: An Evolutionary Perspective” examines more closely such behaviour among a range of species which engage in homosexual activity not just occasionally but “routinely”, which include birds, dolphin, deer, bison and cats, as well as several species of primates.

For me, the most exciting of the set is “Evolution's Rainbow: Diversity, Gender, and Sexuality in Nature and People", by Joan Roughgarden, published just last year, because she expands the scope of the two earlier books by incorporating studies of  fish, reptiles and amphibians as well as birds and animals, and also brings the discussion back to humans. Professionally, the author is an acclaimed academic in evolutionary biology, but is also a male to female transsexual, who successfully combines scientific expertise with personal insight to re-examine the evidence in the light of feminist, gay and transgender criticism.

These are some extracts from a useful review by George Williamson, PhD, at Mental

Though her critique is wide-ranging, Roughgarden's targets are easily named.   At broadest, she indicts a number of academic disciplines ranging from biology and evolutionary science to anthropology and theology, for the suppression of diversity.  An example of this suppression is the long-standing difficulty in getting information on animal homosexuality into the academic record.  As she documents, such information has been ignored or 'explained away' to the present day.  Of course, the charge of discrimination has often been leveled at Western culture's concept of sex and gender, and neither this concept nor its critique are any longer unfamiliar.  But Roughgarden's case is refreshing in its particularity and detail.  Conventional assumptions regarding the fixity and generality of gendered behaviors and roles, of their binate structure, of mating strategies, and even of body plan of the sexes very quickly begin to appear naive when faced with examples of fish that change gender and sex in the course of a life, all-female lizard species that clone themselves yet still have (lesbian?) sex, bird couples with 'open' relationships, primate species whose members are completely bisexual, and fish whose reproductive strategy involves the collaboration of three distinct genders.  But such data are routinely discounted through the assumed normality of a male/female genderbinary.  Much as the cultural projection of normative gender roles tends to push divergent sexual expression to the margins of the everyday social world, so has it tended to promote the exclusion of conflicting data in biology, or the pathologizing of expression in medicine and psychology.  And this must have consequences, for such omissions invalidate the theorization of sexuality and gender, for example, in evolutionary theory.  How could one accurately account for the evolution of sexuality, having left aside the data on same-sex relations or tri-gendered families?

Roughgarden recommends eliminating sexual selection from evolutionary theory, and instead proposes her own view, social selection. Courtship, she argues, is not about discerning a male's genetic quality but rather about determining his likelihood of investing in parental care for offspring.  Sex is not merely about spermtransfer, but rather about forming bonds within animal societies and negotiating for access to resources necessary to reproduce.  Further, the evidence adduced suggests this negotiation goes on in within-sex relationships as much as in between-sex relationships, such as in a group of females who share parenting among themselves.  So the picture of sex that emerges is that mating is about building social relationships first, and only secondarily about passing on genes.  This explains why much more sex than reproduction happens, including much non-reproductive sex, and also allows a clear account of homosexual sex.  The real beauty is that it does not require an explanation for homosexuality different from that for heterosexuality: both are about forming social relationships and negotiating access to resources.  Differences in the prevalence of homosexuality in different animal societies can be attributed to differences in the relationships (between-sex, within-sex) which organize and distribute resources within those societies.  Indeed, the prominent secondary sex characteristics, which at face value appear to be the basis of mate choice (the peacock's tail, the predator's size), may not be intended for the opposite sex at all.

A couple more of Roughgarden's targets are worth mentioning. Psychology and medicine have had considerable influence in forming our ideas of normality in behavior and body morphology, and thus in legitimating differential treatment of those who deviate from the norm. Homosexuality, for instance, until recently was listed as a mental disorder in psychiatry; transexuality still is. There still remain groups offering to treat and cure homosexuality. Children born with atypical genitals (penis too small, clitoris too large, some of both sexes) are often subjected to reconstructive surgery to correct their 'ambiguity'. Evidently, diversity is 'not good' in the eyes of the medical and psychological establishment. Having documented some of the disastrous consequences of these procedures, Roughgarden raises the reasonable question, "who really needs a cure?" She challenges some of the dubious bases provided for labeling these traits as diseases or genetic defects, and concludes that our tendency to pathologize difference is really what needs to be cured.

"Homosexuality"  is not in any way unnatural. Homophobia, and exclusive heterosexuality, are.

See also:

National Geographic: Homosexual Activity Among Animals Stirs Debate Youtube: Gay Animals

Homosexual Behaviour in the Animal Kingdom

The Natural "Crime Against Nature"

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Argentina, Gay Marriage: Priest Barred From Celebrating Mass

In Argentina, the Senate is debating a law to approve full equality for all families. A priest who has openly declared support for the law has now been barred by the bishops from celebrating Mass.

I suppose this is not a surprise. The Catholic bishops have been fierce in their opposition to marriage equality in Argentina, encouraging major protests yesterday to protest the proposal, while Fr José Nicolás Alessio hit the news earlier as spokesman for a group of priests declaring public support for it. What is noteable in the latest twist, is Fr Alessio's stated reasoning, and his determination to meet his commitments to the community by defying the bishops, and saying Mass regardless.

I was always taught in Catholic schools that there could be no obligation to obey unjust laws or commands. Catholic teaching is clear that where a decision is determined in good conscience, it must take precedence over external authority. Fr Alessio's position is a sound, very Catholic one - but I don't suppose the bishops will see it quite like that.

Meanwhile, if I have correctly interpreted the somewhat garbled English in a separate report from Momento24, it would appear that the Senate have rejected a compromise proposal for civil unions. This means that the only proposal which will now be debated (probably tomorrow) will be the proposal for full family equality. In that basis, I guess it looks likely to pass.

From Momento24:

Priest José Nicolás Alessio was sanctioned by the Archbishop of Cordoba due to his position in favor of gay marriage.

The sanctions consist of the prohibition on offering Mass and weddings. “I am surprised and very hurt because I never thought that the Bishop of Cordoba (Carlos Náñez), who appeared more open to the position of the Argentine bishop in these prohibitions, cut off heads who think differently,” Alessio said. “I have commitments to my community. I believe more in the Gospel that in these canonical codes, so this weekend I will celebrate Mass, unless they put me prisoner, “the priest added. Alessio works in the parish of San Cayetano and is willing to challenge the sanction even if “he can make another ‘crime’ when it celebrates Mass, because the first was by thinking differently and the second will be for being faithful to my community.”

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

A conservative case for gay marriage (Again).

This is not the first time that a conservative case has been made for gay marriage, but every new presentation of the argument is worth noting. I particularly like this post's use of impeccable conservative credentials - Barry Goldwater - and the standard argument of the opponents turned against them: the interests of the children.

The lack of support for legalizing gay marriage amongst conservatives is surprising because the push to legalize gay marriage serves conservative aims.
The conservative case for gay marriage begins with Barry Goldwater’s landmark book, The Conscience of a Conservative—the manifesto that forms the intellectual foundation of modern American conservatism. As Goldwater put it, “the Conservative looks upon politics as the art of achieving the maximum amount of freedom for individuals that is consistent with the maintenance of the social order.” Legalizing gay marriage would do just that.
The argument that legalizing gay marriage would increase individual freedom is pretty straightforward: government regulation of who can and who cannot marry limits individuals’ control over their own lives, and thus decreases individual freedom. Therefore, the government should turn a blind eye to individuals’ sexual orientations, and extend the right to marry to the estimated 15 million gay Americans.
But for gay marriage to increase individual freedom isn’t enough, given Goldwater’s definition of conservatism. For legalizing gay marriage to qualify as a conservative political act, it must also “be consistent with the maintenance of the social order.”
Gay marriage does this too. For one, marriage benefits society by creating a safe, stable, and healthy environment for parents to raise children. Study after study has shown that children raised in wedlock are healthier, happier, and ultimately more productive members of society than children raised out of wedlock. And according to a study conducted by University of California, Davis professor Gregory Herek, this is as true for families in which both parents are members of the same sex as it is for traditional families.

Read more:

Monday, 5 July 2010

"Wooden" Anniversary for Spain's Gay & Lesbian Married Couples

The first gay & lesbian couples to tie the knot in terms of Spain's same s0x marriage law did so five years ago. If this were their fiftieth wedding anniversary, they could look forward to public celebrations and the traditional golden gifts for a golden anniversary. Instead, for just the fiffh anniversary, celebrations are likely to be more private, and the gifts (if there are any) are traditionally of wood. In the public sphere however, the country's LGBT community deserves to celebrate this minor landmark. When Spain's law took effect, they joined the Netherlands and Belgium as the only three European countries to provide full marriage equality. Today, the number of European countries in the club has more than doubled (seven) with more on the way.   

Spain's gay marriage law turned five on July 3. Passage of the law in the Roman Catholic nation turned Spain into a gay rights leader. Since then, 10,317 male couples and 5,063 female couples have married, 1.55% of the nation's total marriages, Madrid-based daily El Pais reported.
The Socialist government of Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero approved the law over the objections of the Catholic Church. Pope Benedict has called on Spanish Catholics to reject gay marriage.
In 2005, only three nations – the Netherlands, Canada and Belgium – had legalized gay marriage. Five years later, Sweden, Iceland, South Africa, and Portugal have joined in.
Lawmakers in Argentina will consider a gay marriage law on July 14.
Read the full story at "On Top

Lesbian Lizards

This is another for your wildlife rainbow collection: lesbian lizards. For a fun take on this from a lesbian site, have a look at "Leapin' Lesbian Lizards", at Wish You Were Queer, Girls
In the deepest darkest depths of Vietnam, two new herpetological (reptile and amphibian) species have been discovered. These creatures – dubbed ‘lesbian lizards’ and ‘psychedelic geckos’ – were found by expert Lee Grismer and his son, Jesse on a 2 week expedition to Southeast Asia. The lesbian lizards are asexual and arouse each other by mock mating. This in turn causes them to ovulate and lay eggs – and produce clones of themselves.
Or, for a more orthodox, formal news report, try Seattle Times - but the link, which was working fine this morning, is down right now. Perhaps it will be  up again later.
These are by no means the only lesbian  lizards, as this report from Time also shows:

Friday, 2 July 2010

Marriage Equality, Costa Rica: Court Puts Referendum On Hold

In the US, the path to marriage has been bedevilled by tussles between courts, legislatures and citizens' ballot initiatives.  The key question: is it fair or constituionally acceptable to allow a majority to vote  away the rights of a minority? The high profile case here is that of California, with its protracted legal battle over Prop 8.

In Costa Rica, where the country was gearing up for a Prop 8 style referendum on gay marriage, there has been a new twist. Instead of waiting for the outcome and then trying to overturn it, a citizen has succesfully petitioned the constutional court to intervene and prevent the referendum going ahead. This is not a final decision -  this is just a restraining order while the constitutional court deliberates- but there could be promise here.

Costa Rica's Constitutional Court Orders A Stop To Same Sex Marriage Referendum

The Sala Constitucional (Constitutional Court) has ordered the Tribunal Supremo de Elecciones (TSE) to suspend the process of the referendum on same sex marriages that was to have been included in the December 2010 municipal elections.

The court order was based on an appeal filed against the referendum.

The Recurso Amparo (appeal) was presented by an individual identified only by the last names, Quirós Salazar, alleging that the referendum violates the rights and freedoms of individuals.

The referendum was to have let the population decide the fate of a proposal for law that would allow same sexmarriages in Costa Rica

Opponents to the referendum have argued that leaving the allowing the majority of the population (93%) which is heterosexual would be a constitutional violation of the 7% of the homosexual population.

The Quirós Salazar action argues that there are international declarations that make it clear that there be a respect for the rights of minorities.
The Court order orders the TSE to not continue with its efforts for the referendum while the magistrates of the Sala Constitucional consider the appeal.

Marriage Equality, Ireland: Civil Partnerships Approved in Dáil

In Ireland, the Dáil (the parliamentary lower house) has passed the long-expected Civil Partnership Bill, without requiring a vote, and to applause from the public gallery. It is expected that it will pass in the Seanad within a fortnight or so, and is most likely to be signed in the autumn, to come into effect in the new year. The legislation is modelled on the existing British law, which gives couples virtually the same standing in law as married couples, except for the name. In Ireland, the law explicitly does not include adoption rights. There is also provision for a divorce equivalent, on exactly the same terms as existing divorce law.

This will leave Italy and Malta as the only countries in Western Europe with no provision for any form of legal recognition for same sex-partnerships. Resistance in Italy has come on the back of strenuous opposition but the Catholic bishops, but as the Irish example has shown, Church resistance elsewhere has come to nothing. How much longer can Italy hold out?

This will be the state of partnership recognition in Europe after the Irish law takes effect:

(Dark blue - full equality; Light blue - civil unions; Red - constitutional restriction to opposite sex couples only; Yellow - under review)

In the beginning: The Myth of the Modern Family

"Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality" is a new book I am putting directly onto my reading list, based on this fascinating review by Eeric Michael Johnson, a scholar who writes on issues of science, politics, and history at The Primate Diaries. So much hot air in the debates over marriage equality and about Vatican doctrine is wasted over assumptions over "natural law" and "traditional" marriage, that we do not pay enough attention to what truly is natural or traditional.

For the husband and wife team Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jethá in their new book Sex At Dawn, this example is one of many that suggests the human species did not evolve in monogamous, nuclear families but rather in small, intimate groups where “most mature individuals would have had several ongoing sexual relationships at any given time.” We are the descendants of these multimale-multifemale mating groups and, even though we’ve constructed a radically different society from our hunter-gatherer forebears, the behavioral and psychological traits our species evolved in the distant past still manifest themselves today. Ryan, a psychologist, and Jethá, a psychiatrist, argue that understanding human sexual evolution this way helps to explain our species’ unique creativity inside (as well as outside) the marriage bed.

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Exclusive Heterosexuality Unnatural?

"I don't know of any species that is exclusively heterosexual"
- Zurich Zoo tour guide, Myriam Schärz.
The argument that same -sex relationships are supposedly "unnatural" is so fundamental to the homophobes' case, that it needs to be countered at every opportunity. At Bilerico Project, Jesses Monteagudo has a good rundown of just how widespread same sex behaviour is in the animal kingdom. Here are some extracts:

Gay (Wild) Life

The argument that same -sex relationships are supposedly "unnatural" is so fundamental to the homophobes' case, that it needs to be countered at every opportunity. At Bilerico Project, Jesses Monteagudo has a good rundown of just how widespread same sex behaviour is in the animal kingdom. Here are some extracts:

A few years ago the Zurich Zoo in Switzerland conducted guided tours that centered around homosexual behavior among the zoo animals. Unfortunately, the one hour tours were held in the early evenings, at a time when most animals were asleep. But this did not stop the gay zoo tours from being a success. Though there was no same-sex activity in evidence, tour guide Myriam Schärz assured her tourists that same-sex behavior is a common part of animal life: "I don't know of any species that is exclusively heterosexual," Schärz told "swissinfo," Switzerland's news and information platform. "Right here in Zurich we once had a gay flamingo couple who remained partners for life. In Cologne Zoo they have a pair of lesbian penguins who each year steal an egg from one of their neighbors and treat it as their own."' 
In 1999 the standard work on the topic, Biological Exuberance: Animal Homosexuality and Natural Diversity (Stonewall Inn Editions) by Bruce Bagemihl, was published. 

"On every continent, animals of the same sex seek each other out and have probably been doing it for millions of years," Bagemihl wrote. .......According to Bagemihl, "Homosexual behavior occurs in more than 450 different kinds of animals worldwide, and is found in every major geographic region and every major animal group."

But we don't need Bagemihl for anecdotal evidence. Hardly a week goes by that we don't hear stories about same-sex oriented otters or rabbits. You don't have to go to the Zurich Zoo to learn about "the indiscriminate and almost insatiable sexuality of bonobo apes" or "how gay male dolphins use their lovers' blowholes for sexual gratification." Just last year a review paper by Nathan Bailey and Marlene Zuk of the Department of Biology at the University of California in Riverside concluded that "same-sex behavior is a nearly universal phenomenon in the animal kingdom, common across species, from worms to frogs to birds."

"Female western gulls sometimes pair off for several years and mount each other while incubating eggs," Steve Hogan and Lee Hudson wrote in Completely Queer: The Gay and Lesbian Encyclopedia. "Similar behaviors have been documented among female sage grouse, male mallard ducks, and female and male greylag geese and turkeys." According to the authors of Out in All Directions: The Almanac of Gay and Lesbian America, same-sex behavior has been documented in all kinds of animal species, including antelope, bugs, butterflies, cats, cattle, cockroaches, crickets, dogs, donkeys, elephants, flies, geckos, guinea pigs, hamsters, horses, hyenas, lions, martens, mice, moths, octopuses, orcas, porcupines, raccoons, rats and wasps.
Gay animal behavior seems to alarm religious conservatives almost as much as the human variety, and they have tried their best to deny it. Those who do admit that same-sex behavior exists in the animal kingdom try to explain it away as being playful antics or dominance behavior to assert hierarchy.
"Some conservatives and religious groups now admit that homosexuality is common in the animal kingdom, but many of them have also put forward theories to explain the phenomenon," said Myriam Schärz of the Zurich Zoo. "Some argue that homosexuality only occurs when animal populations become too large, or that animals only turn to homosexuality when they have no other alternative, but there is no evidence to back up the population theory, and there is plenty of proof against the harem argument. Dominant silver-back gorillas, for instance, have frequently been seen engaging in homosexual activity and deliberately shunning available females."
"Humans seem to be the only species where homosexuals are not readily accepted in society," Schärz said
I have just one problem with Ms Schärz's conclusion: it is not true that among humans as a species homosexuals are not accepted. The evidence from history and anthropology is that across all periods, and in all major regions of the world, many humans societies (possibly most) have been tolerant or even encouraging of same sex relationships. (In some societies, homosexual activity has even been compulsory for boys or young men.) Compulsory, exclusive heterosexuality for humans, as demanded by the religious right, may be just as unnatural for humans as it is for animals.


Bagemihl, Bruce: Biological Exuberance: Animal Homosexuality and Natural Diversity (Stonewall Inn Editions)

Roughgarden, Joan: Evolution's Rainbow: Diversity, Gender, and Sexuality in Nature and People

Sommer, Volker and Vasey, Paul: Homosexual Behaviour in Animals: An Evolutionary Perspective

Hogan, Steve: Completely Queer: The Gay and Lesbian Encyclopedia

Witt, Lynn: Out in All Directions: Almanac of Gay and Lesbian America

Also See Additional QTC Posts:

The Wildlife Rainbow

Queer Bonobos: Sex As Conflict Resolution

Lesbian Lizards

Bisexual Snails

Exclusive Heterosexuality Unnatural?

Natural Law and Laysan's Albatross

The effeminate sheep and other problems with natural selection. (at "Seed Magazine")