Response to an article headlined 'The simple truth about homosexuality and same-sex marriage' by Richard and Lavine Reid published in the Sunday Observer of July 1, 2012.
ANTHROPOLOGY has much to recommend it. Possibly the most important is the revelation that there is no one truth. Engaging with societies around the world tells us that truths vary: what one group finds normal and incontrovertibly right (eg, the world began on the back of a turtle; men should never have sex with men) is alien and wrong to another.
Therefore, when Lavine and Richard Reid, ministers of religion at the Linstead Church of Christ, present 'The simple truth about homosexuality and same-sex marriage', the anthropologist knows that she is about to read the truth according to a specific world view. In other words, she is about to learn about beliefs, not truth.
What does she learn about the Church of Christ's world view? Well, its religious specialists believe that, "In every human civilisation in world history, it is known that marriage is between a male and a female". This statement is of immediate interest to the anthropologist because it is false: anthropology has shown that in many African societies, for example, marriage is contracted between two women, although this tradition waned after colonisation.
Older, usually infertile Igbo (Nigerian) women married a younger woman to gain the power denied to childless women: the children produced by the "wife's" sex with a man would belong to her and the older woman, her "husband". So, even though there was heterosexual sex for the purposes of reproduction, this marriage — formalised in the usual way, including bridewealth — was between two women.
Knowing this, the anthropologist begins to ask questions, the most important of which is, why would these religious specialists make this general statement without checking whether it was true?
Intrigued, the anthropologist reads on. She is struck by part of the religious specialists' evidence for the riskiness of "homosexual intercourse": a summary of a 36-year-old study. Has there been any discussion of 'Gay Bowel Syndrome' — which apparently results from 'homosexual intercourse' — since 1976, she wonders? Do the religious specialists know that HIV/AIDS used to be called "gay-related immunodeficiency syndrome (GRIDS)" and that a doctor who proved that heterosexuals had symptoms fitting GRIDS was ridiculed by the medical community?
Why are they saying that "homosexuals are trying very hard to remove [the study] from public knowledge"? Shouldn't they consider the possibility that it was scientifically unsound? After all, the abstract does say, "This [the diseases comprising the syndrome] can occur in anyone involved in sexual activity via the anus".
Why don't the Reids address how "gay" Gay Bowel Syndrome could be if the 3 in 10 women who have anal sex (according to a 2007 national survey in the United States) could get it? And why don't they tell us how the Church of Christ classifies the almost 1 in 4 gay men (according to Steven Underwood, author of Gay Men and Anal Eroticism) who do not have anal sex? Why are they telling us, in effect, that "homosexual intercourse" is the same as sex "via the anus"? And a bigger question: why do they assume that riskiness of sexual behaviour is related to its morality/naturalness?
This question leads the anthropologist to evaluate the religious leaders' premise: that homosexuality is unnatural. She knows that bachelor Azande warriors (in Central Africa) used to marry younger boys, paying their prospective in-laws bridewealth, calling their boy-wife "my lover" and his parents "mother/father in-law". These marriages lasted until the boys became warriors and took their own boy-wife. Eventually, the men married women and had children.
Homosexual relationships were just as "natural" as heterosexual ones -- another phase in their life cycle. The inability to reproduce, a major reason for the Church of Christ's rejection of homosexuality, did not attract scorn. Again, the anthropologist wonders: did the religious specialists not know of this and other practices around the world? Why not, given that they are writing an article on the subject? Is there something more important to them than facts?
Finally, the anthropologist notes the religious specialists' use of statistics. They compare numbers on heterosexual marriage and homosexual relationships to prove that gays cannot have long-term relationships.
More questions: why do they compare apples and oranges? There is no satisfactory US (the presumed data source) data on the length of homosexual marriages (because they are illegal in most states, and only recently legalised in the others), so no one knows if they are shorter than heterosexual ones. And why wouldn't the religious specialists present the obvious counter-argument, if only to refute it: that people who have signed a contract and vowed in front of God to stay together might feel more invested in a relationship than those who haven't?
Why would the Reids associate length of relationship with morality or naturalness, given the often-cited 50 per cent US divorce rate? And finally, how would they counter the scientific evidence that led the American Psychological Association to conclude there was no significant difference in well-being between children of homosexual and heterosexual parents?
The anthropologist concludes that antipathy towards homosexuality is such an important truth in the Church of Christ's world view that a balanced discussion is neither possible nor desirable. Nevertheless, even though religious beliefs exist outside of logic, some religious leaders respond to the contemporary dominance of science over religion by presenting empirical evidence to validate their truth.
Thus the Reids start from the opinions on homosexuality dictated by their interpretation of their holy book, and then rely exclusively on information that supports that reading.
The Reids have substantially increased the anthropologist's knowledge about the Church of Christ's world view. She notes that she is none the wiser about the (im)morality of homosexuality, however.
— Dr Moji Anderson is a lecturer in Anthropology at the University of the West Indies