Friday, June 18, 2010

Welcome!

Homosexuality is a hot-button issue to say the least. Not many issues are able to create as many sparks and fiery debates as this one.  Many countries around the world are moving ever forward, increasingly granting more and more rights and protections to gays and lesbians. Others are not.

As a Norwegian living in the Philippines, I happen to be caught between the two. I come from Norway, a very progressive country in Europe, and I now find myself in the Philippines, a very conservative country in Southeast Asia. The contrasts are overwhelming at times. My own country is cold, the Philippines is hot; Norway is developed, the Philippines is developing; Norway has a small population, the Philippines' population is quite large; Norway is a secular society, the Philippines is still highly religious in the home, the school, and even the halls of government.

The contrast in the two countries' laws is immense as well. While Norway has very liberal laws regarding, for example, divorce, abortion, and gay rights and same-sex marriage, the Philippines is a stronghold of conservatism, a place where both divorce and abortion are illegal, and where gay rights are still seen as something "foreign." Having been raised in an open, liberal society, the way things are in the Philippines can be admittedly frustrating.

I personally am heterosexual, but I have a cousin who is gay. He recently married his partner and they have since adopted a baby. Perhaps the fact that I have a gay family member has spurred a desire in me to see that he is entitled to all the same rights under the law. Perhaps the fact that I am from a staunchly egalitarian society plays a role as well. Perhaps the fact that I am also a biologist has something to do with why I am writing this blog. As a man of science, accurate information based on facts are of great importance to me. The amount of misinformation on homosexuality floating around the planet has stirred the disdain of myths and inequality that I have inside me.

I have often heard said to gay and lesbian people, "Oh you're gay?...well, there's a cure for that." Being that most people who say that are religious conservatives, the assumption is that they mean you can "pray the gay away." Cute but incredibly naiive when viewed through the lens of modern science.


Biology, which is my field of expertise, together with neurology, embryology, and genetics, are on the front lines of this issue.  While theologians and armchair moralists quibble over doctrines and Hebrew Old Testament verses, we in science are afforded to work with powerful "little" things called facts.  And while doctrines are open to interpretation and verses written in ancient languages must be scrutinized ad nauseum in light of historical, cultural and linguistic contexts, scientific facts are purely scientific facts.  One cannot ponder them into obscurity if one doesn't like what they show evidence of.  They are facts, not opinions, and by their very nature they are concrete.  

This blog's posts and pages will explore those facts, which each day grow more and more numerous and convincing.  The data and peer-reviewed research from all corners of the globe are showing one thing:  a homosexual orientation is no more of a choice than a heterosexual orientation.  Again, this has nothing to do with opinions, feelings, doctrines, or beliefs.  The scientific evidence speaks perfectly well enough for itself.

For those who believe "there's a cure for that," this blog is for you: to shed light, facts, and broaden understandings. It is also for the many gays and lesbians who daily struggle in the face of prejudice, discrimination, and bigotry at the hands of people who just don't know any better. It is to let you know that there are many straight people - including many straight Christians - who are not against you, but who stand with you and fight for you. It is to let you know that you are not strange, disordered, deviant, or abnormal. That is why I'm writting this blog: to say to people who push a "cure," that knowledge is actually the best cure.

If you're misinformed, confused, unsure, ignorant of the facts on the matter, unaware of what modern science has to say, well...there's a cure for that.


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It is important of course to remember that the Philippines is a very socially conservative country -- a place where divorce is not yet even legal. The powers that be, and always have been, are deeply religious. Though they may be sincere they are often sincerely wrong, and more and more frequently they find themselves on the opposing side of modern scientific findings.

I read a newspaper opinion piece written by an outspoken Filipino Catholic priest, in which he asserted that the Philippines is "the last bastion of family and life in the world." Though slightly misguided, this priest, and throngs of other like-minded religious conservatives, wholeheartedly believe that to be true; and they are willing to resist tooth and nail any agenda they believe may alter the status quo.

They are the very embodiment of conservatism: defend and uphold the thoughts and ways of old, and resist change at any cost. It would be admirable if only it weren't so narrow and impractical, for to do so requires one to either deny or altogether ignore scientific facts. Many place their beliefs above everything else, ignoring all evidence that contradicts them. It has been said that one should not have to surrender one's mind in order to be a faithful believer. I couldn't agree more.

But I must take caution not to become the very thing I take a stand against: intolerant. I have neither disrepect nor disdain for Catholics or any religious person. I myself am a Christian, and my faith is an important part of my life. Religious conservatives have just as much a right to voice their opinions in good conscience as anyone else, and I am not nor have I ever been intolerant of those views.

The issue for me arises in the way those views are often voiced and propagated, that being to the exclusion of all others. Furthermore, many religious conservatives have a desire to take their private beliefs and transfer them upon everyone else through legislation or the ballot box. This is where I take issue.

It is one thing to believe in and follow the teachings and edicts of one's faith in one's own life; it is another thing altogether to insist that your neighbor must also live their life according to your beliefs. Such an attitude is both irresponsible and damaging, and has no place in a modern, pluralistic democracy. We went down that path in Europe in the middle ages and the end result brought nothing but oppression, disunity, and eventually blood-shed. Please learn from our mistakes.


Speaking of ballot box morality, I am reminded of the Proposition 8 fiasco that took place in California in 2008. The Supreme Court of California had found it unconstitutional for the state to deny same-sex couples the right to marry, and social conservatives thought the sky was surely falling. Then, in November of that year, a California-wide initiative was placed on the general election ballot: it was called Proposition 8, and the intent was to allow Californians to vote on whether or not same-sex couples should be barred from marrying under state law. The measure passed by a margin of 52-48%, and gay Californians saw a constitutional right stripped away from them in an instant.

When news of this broke, I was practically sick to my stomach. I was home in Norway at the time, and when my family, friends, and colleagues discussed the matter we were all utterly disgusted by it. We weren't entirely shocked that the measure passed - after all, America has its fair share of social conservatives that's for sure. What was really shocking to me and most other Norwegians (indeed many Europeans overall), was that Prop. 8 made it on the ballot in the first place.

Imagine, citizens in a democratic nation going to the voting booth to decide the civil rights of their fellow citizens! It literally boggled my brain. It would be a tropical day in Norway before anything like that would happen there. That's almost offensive to even imagine. It's equivalent to asking people to vote on whether or not interracial couples should be "allowed" to marry, or whether Asians should be allowed to move into "white neighborhoods."

I think it will go down as one of the great social injustices of our time, but hopefully it will be found unconstitutional before too much longer.

Oscar Wilde put it well: "Selfishness is not living as one wishes to live; it is asking others to live as one wishes to live."




UPDATE ~ August 4, 2010:  a 9th Circuit US Federal Judge ruled that Prop 8 violates the US Constitution and is therefore unconstitutional and overturned.  The matter will most likely go to the US Supreme Court after a ruling on appeal by the 9th Circuit Appeals Court, which is scheduled to begin December 6th, 2010.  It looks as though America is finally edging ever closer (slowly) to nationwide marriage equality, and it seems the days of discrimination against gay and lesbian Americans are numbered.


4 comments:

aC said... Best Blogger Tips

I'm a fan. It's just sad that 2 out of 3 Filipinos are actually against same sex marriage in the Philippines. Makes you want to think and decide to leave the Philippines since the country cannot seem to have equality in marriages. And is most likely to NOT really support it.

Erik said... Best Blogger Tips

It's a frustrating situation, aC. I wish I could snap my fingers and make things progress by 50 years. I think the Philippines is unique because it's somewhat stuck between the past and the future – at least it seems that way to an outsider like me. Gays and lesbians are free, they are not criminalized, and they are able to live their lives... but at the same time they're forced to remain on the margins of society with no legal protections or recognition, and are treated as second class citizens by their govt. It's sort of like being in limbo.

But don't lose hope! As education and public awareness increase, things will change. Just look at Spain and conservative Argentina and Portugal – Catholic countries which have full equality today. Sooner or later the Philippines will catch up, and that's what we're working toward together.

Anonymous said... Best Blogger Tips

HEY STOP trying to brainwash with this types of foolishness and IMMORALITY to our country! Filipinos are still a common sense people and still LOVES GOD! This homosexual stuff is not good for our country! We are the Philippines we are not a crazy Europeans!

Erik said... Best Blogger Tips

Whoa friend, take a deep breath. Okay so I am European, but (and I'm sorry to disappoint you here) I'm actually not crazy. I don't think it's crazy to support the dignity and civil rights of human beings.

I'm very happy that you and many other Filipinos still love God. That's something we actually have in common, because I love God too.

Human rights and equality are not just for Europeans or people living in developed countries -- they are for everyone in every country. This is not a first world vs third world issue, nor is it straight vs gay. Every person deserves to be treated with equal dignity and value, whether they're straight, gay, bi, or trans; whether they're white, African, or Asian; whether they're in Paris or Nairobi or Manila.

And by the way it's not brainwashing, it's called information. The last time I checked, Filipinos still have the right to access differing viewpoints and make up their minds for themselves. That's called DEMOCRACY. (Since you used all caps I decided to try it too. So there, now we have two things in common.)

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