Homosexual Animals?

January 12, 2005

The New York Times is touting the existence of ‘gay penguins,' while yet another book is out ‘documenting' homosexuality in animals. Both the Times and the American Psychiatric Association [APA] feel that animals have a lot to teach us about sexuality. Are we serious? Animals teaching humans about sex?

Earlier this year, the New York Times reported1 that Rob Gramzay, chief keeper of the penguin house in the Central Park Zoo, ‘found' that two male penguins were ‘gay.'

He deduced this because “when offered female companionship, they have adamantly refused it. And the females aren't interested in them, either.” At first, they seemed “so desperate to incubate an egg together that they put a rock in their nest and sat on it, keeping it warm.” So Gramzay gave them a fertilized egg. Sure enough, they took turns sitting on it over the next 34 days, until a chick was born. Then for over two months they fed her until she “could go out into the world on her own.”

There is a lot less here than appears.

Courtesy of the Jon Stewart show1 FRI's chairman Dr. Paul Cameron visited the penguin house. A room perhaps 30 feet by 50 feet is home to about 30 penguins. Sheltered from the sun and cold, a solid shelf, with rocks sticking up, fills the back; the rest is a 10-12 foot deep pond with glass on the side so visitors can watch the birds swim when they feel the urge.

Penguins are fed twice a day, and defecate into or toward the pond with considerable regularity. Otherwise, they stand about looking at not much of anything. Sometimes they spat with each other, clashing beaks. Every few minutes a few of them jump into the pond and swim back and forth for five minutes or so. Then it's back to the shelf to stand around and defecate.

Though the penguins provide amusement for a few minutes, their repertoire is severely limited. And aside from the activity of swimming in their fecally-laced pond, these birds spend most of their time just standing around.

Presumably they also have sex. Unfortunately, penguin sex is a pretty drab affair. Penguins, as it turns out, only have one orifice. Out of it usually comes bodily waste. When they hook together for sex (orifice to orifice), the male has a small penis which extends sufficiently to enable the seminal fluid to get beyond the waste remnants in the male's opening and then to reach the female's orifice. There, at least some of the sperm make tracks toward the female's reproductive organ (which is one of two internal branches beyond the orifice).

Supposedly, the ‘gay penguins' put their orifices together (though in an hour's watching, sex of any sort never happened in public view). Whether birds confused enough to try to hatch a rock ‘enjoy' sex, or know what they are ‘doing' is hard to tell. Further, in such a restricted environment, just how ‘natural' their behavior is also obscure. After all, considerably more homosexual sex occurs in prisons, same-sex institutions (e.g., schools, religious communities) than in the ‘real world' where both males and females interact — perhaps it is the same with penguins.

In any case, just how a ‘gay' penguin would act is hard to imagine. While ‘cute,' these birds are rather uninteresting caged. Perhaps they are a bit more ‘fun' in the wild, but that seems fairly unlikely.

The Time's story said that “Gramzay is full of praise for them.” Praise? For sitting on rocks, or hatching a chick? Best bet? Their keeper is either gay (at least he acted that way on TV) or a wacko liberal. The birds themselves have nothing to teach humanity — unless swimming in your own poop is a ‘must have' experience.

Book Cited by APA

Bruce Bagemihl's book 2 argues that homosexuality in animals has no known purpose (“it just is”). He argues that because it exists, it is “natural.” He also argues that pleasure drives sex in individual animals, and that ‘heterosexuality' in a species has relatively little purpose. Why? Well, because most of the time, the majority of members of the species are not engaging in sex to procreate, and many, many non-breeders exist in many species.

Consider, for instance, Bagemihl's claim that “Although heterosexual mating can (and frequently does) lead to reproduction, this is often an incidental consequence rather than an overriding ‘goal' or ultimate purpose.” Rather an odd comment, given that if animals don't reproduce — no matter how “incidental” it might appear — the consequence is no sex = no young = long gone. Alfred Kinsey, a homosexual, also reveled in animal homosexuality and denigrated ‘heterosexuality.' The similarities in outlook suggest that Bagemihl might also be gay.

Bagemihl also denigrates ‘breeding:' “Often males and females live in separate groups. Young animals up to 3-5 years do not breed. Male baboons have been observed copulating a pregnant or lactating female, or even having sex with a dead female. Sexual pleasure is often a motivating force for heterosexual behaviour.”

Bagemihl concludes, therefore, that homosexuality must not be unique or rare in the animal kingdom. Its failure to lead to procreation is not any different, in his opinion, than much or most of heterosexual animal sex.

Despite efforts by folks like Bagemihl, the evidence for animal ‘homosexuality' is often suspect or weak — with detailed observations lacking (e.g., the penguins). Nevertheless, it seems to FRI that there are at least some credible reports of what appears to be ‘homosexual' behavior on the part of some animals, usually males. The most credible of these are among ungulates and primates (unless you count snails — who have both male and female organs and engage in sexual relations with many other snails at the same time).

Perhaps because of this, the American Psychiatric Association cited Bagemihl's book before the U.S. Supreme Court in the Lawrence v . Texas case in late 2003 to argue that homosexuality was ‘normal' and ‘natural.' That, of course, was the decision in which the Court ruled that there could be no laws against homosexual activity between humans.

What Animals Do

That the APA would rely upon animals to ‘teach humans' anything betrays its fundamental lack of any moorings — or for that matter, of much in the way of common sense. To see this, let us first remember what animals do.

Animals, among other ‘criminal' activities:

• Kill and eat members of their species — that is, they are often cannibals;

• Kill and eat some of their offspring — that is, they commit cannibalistic infanticide;

• Compete with other males for the opportunity to have sex with a particular female, often killing or debilitating the rival;

• Fight with and exile or kill the ‘owner' of a ‘harem,' kill his ‘children,' and then raise other children with the females in the harem (the females show no ‘loyalty' to their former ‘husband' and blithely have sex with the new guy).

• Discriminate against and kill ‘aliens' to their particular territory or tribe;

• Often have sex with some of their offspring;

• Often have sex with relatives and near-relatives (from a human perspective, aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters, grandparents, etc.) — in other words, they commit incest;

• Let the males just about always get their way (e.g., eat first, win any spats),

• Often allow large groups of males to have sex with a female, even leaving her near-dead or even dead — that is, they engage in ‘gang rape;' and

• Often allow one male to hog all the females in a given area, driving away his ‘sons' and his ‘friends' who would like a little sexual ‘pleasure' with the ‘girls.'

None of these activities inform how we regard cannibalism, murder, gang rape, marriage, the rightful place of the sexes, or incest. What happens in the animal kingdom is irrelevant to what occurs in the human realm. With fairly rare exception, human civilizations look askance at each of these activities and/or criminalize them. To be sure, there are primitive tribes of humans who do many, and perhaps all, of these things from time to time. But civilized societies proscribe most, if not all, of them.

Humans are different from animals in countless ways. Humans speak, write, have a sense of personal history and the history of their culture (and often of other cultures as well). They think about and plan for the future, have theories about what makes the world tick (e.g., believe in God, Evolution, or alien visitors), and devise schemes of how the world ‘should be' (e.g., have legal systems and cultural ideals — ‘everyone is equal', ‘only a man and a woman can be married,'etc.).

Humans also change the world in innumerable ways (build roads, buildings, bridges, tunnels), and manipulate the earth for food and entertainment (e.g., horticulture, husbandry, planetary exploration). Animals, as near as we can determine, do none of these things. Even when they ‘use tools' (like sticks or rocks), animals display only rudimentary skill at the enterprise.

There are some similarities between the bodies of some animals and the bodies of humans, but even those similarities are often weaker than it appears — that's why drug-testing in animals often has no relevance to how humans will react to the same chemical concoction.

Silly Justifications

So what happens in the animal realm may be interesting, but it has no necessary bearing upon human culture — unless we decide to include the practices of animals in our schemes of how the world ‘should be.' FRI thinks attempting to do so is silly. How, pray tell, will humans pick and choose which animal activities to value and which to deplore? Is there any compelling reason to either pick or neglect ANY infrahuman activities?

If humans do the picking, and that picking is arbitrary , then studying animals to ‘get insights' on our activities is a waste of time. Studying them may be fun, it may even have a utility in husbandry, but animals have nothing to teach us about how to ‘run our lives .' These are among the reasons why FRI considers humans and their culture as unique — humans are not animals .

As opposed to animals, where homosexuality appears to be irrelevant, we know that homosexuality in humans is harmful . We know that those who engage in it:

• get and transmit blood borne diseases at high efficiency;

• generate high medical costs;

• often deliberately try to infect others; and

• shorten their lifespan.

Those who engage in homosexuality also:

• frequently seek to ‘convert' others, particularly the young, to their sexual tastes

• are generally rebellious, unstable and troubled;

• are disproportionately disturbed (most who want ‘sex-change' operations engage in homosexuality);

• are more frequently criminal;

• more frequently take mind-altering substances;

• more frequently engage in sex with animals (e.g., dogs, etc.);

• more frequently engage in odd sex practices (e.g., sadomasochism, anal-oral sex);

• are less productive in terms of fertility, raising well-bred children, and in their economic contributions; and

• are more self-centered, selfish, and self-concerned.

No Purpose

The most that Bagemihl could argue is that ‘homosexuals' in the animal kingdom have no particular purpose — they “just are.” From this observation, he concluded that animal homosexuality is ‘natural' and ‘normal.' Yet, we simply don't have enough knowledge about ‘homosexual animals' to know whether or not this is true. For one thing, we can't read their minds, nor can they tell us about their desires. For another, is ‘chronic wasting disease' among elk (one of the species where what appears to be ‘homosexual activity' has been observed), disproportionately gotten and transmitted by the ‘homosexuals?' Are the ‘homosexuals,' other than being non-procreative, just as ‘useful' to their species in some way we haven't figured out?

So what are we to make of the Bagemihl book and the many instances of possibly ‘homosexual' activities among various animal species?

First, ‘homosexual' activity does not appear to be very common in nature. It is more common in animals in captivity. Among animals that herd and form harems, the ‘outsider' males at times engage in what appears to be ‘homosexual' activity. Sometimes, what appears to be ‘homosexual' activity occurs among birds. But appearances may be deceiving — we don't know what animals are ‘thinking' and to what degree their activities are ‘chosen' as opposed to ‘instinct gone awry.' And many of the postures they adopt (e.g., mounting) are ambiguous as to what they ‘mean.' While such postures among humans can be figured out because we can ask the participants or ‘imagine what they must be thinking,' the same cannot be said of animals.

So what would the ‘purpose' be of ‘homosexual' animals? From a culinary standpoint, while the ‘homosexual' animals seldom reproduce, they taste as good as their mates or as good as the non-breeders who do not turn to homosexuality. Of course, many ‘homosexual' animals — usually males, since it's hard to determine what a ‘lesbian animal' does — will mate with the opposite sex if given a chance. But it's hard to figure out ‘what they are for' since the ‘homosexuals' seem to serve no purpose most of the time other than ‘taking up space.'

And when they do ‘take up space,' they also eat — presumably making things harder for the breeders. This poses problems for evolutionists, since only the breeders seem important. After all, only the breeders pass on their genes. One would think the ‘homosexual animals' would simply disappear over time.

Human Contrast

Among humans, there are almost no ‘homosexuals' — that is, men or women who only have sex with the same sex and only could have sex with their own sex. By age 40 (if they live that long), probably no more than 5% of ‘gays' and 3% of ‘lesbians' have only had sex with their own sex. Perhaps even these numbers would be lower if opportunity for sex with the opposite sex presented itself.

In most modern societies, perhaps 2-3% of adults at one time or another engage in homosexual activity. Why do they do it? Because they like to, because its ‘better than nothing,' because they enjoy the reactions it gets from others, because they have fun twisting the rules of society, etc. Homosexual activity is more common in prisons, and those who engage in homosexuality are disproportionately criminal, socially disruptive, rebellious against society, and generally unstable. Further, they are often highly motivated to get the young to follow their habits. In addition, homosexual males are the breeding ground and the vector into the breeding community for countless diseases.

It is hard to find analogues for these characteristics in ‘homosexual animals' — perhaps there is a similarity between animals in captivity and humans in prisons, but there are many dissimilarities as well (those in prison know they are there for a reason; what do animals know about their captivity?). Are male ‘homosexual' animals the disproportionate spreaders of blood-borne diseases in most species? They are in humans, but it is hard to know what kind of evidence to gather to implicate or exonerate ‘homosexual' animals like elk.


All in all, it seems a bit preposterous to take instances of possible animal ‘homosexual' activity — not knowing even whether the animals involved would classify or think of it as such — and tranform those into general statements about the naturalness or normalcy of homosexuality. Animals regularly do all sorts of things that we as (civilized) humans abhor and would never consider natural or normal. The parallels between supposed animal homosexuality and human homosexuality are also rather tenuous. Unfortunately, in their zeal to justify human homosexuality at any cost, such reasoning seems to have escaped those at the New York Times , the American Psychiatric Association , and even the U.S. Supreme Court.

1. Dinitia Smith, “Animals part of sexuality debate,” New York Times , 2/7/04.
2. Comedy Central , 3/10/04.
3. Biological exuberance: animal homosexuality and natural diversity, 1999.

by Family Research Institute

Posted: January 12, 2005 6:53 PM
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