Friday, July 25, 2014

Public Health Arguments and Civil Rights Protections

For some time now gay civil rights (aka gay rights) activists have argued that same sex relationships and conduct should be decriminalized because evidence shows that in societies that don't do so there is a higher prevalence of HIV among gay men.

Let there be no doubt, the latter claim of fact is true. There is a fairly substantial body of social science evidence demonstrating that. Opponents of gay rights typically point to that higher prevalence - even in societies that have decriminalized - to bolster their opposition. They usually argue that if their society decriminalized same sexual relationships  (aka buggery, to use that lovely colonial phrase invented by the Brits) even more folks would engage in that high risk behaviour and things would get worse on the HIV fronts. That isn't true, demonstrably so. This will have little impact on these campaigners' messaging, because they're god people. Their opposition to homosexuality is driven by religious convictions plus almost certainly deep-seated other psychological issues. After all, these are the same people that like equating pedophilia and homosexuality. Evidence for that claim is also difficult to come by. There's a method to this madness though, and it's a successful madness. Whole countries (Jamaica and Uganda are just two examples) these days are in the thrall of moral panics when it comes to the matter of homosexuality.

Now, gay rights activists have resorted to engaging in similarly flawed arguments to further their political objectives. To be fair, unlike god people they at least have some evidence on their side (i.e. homosexuality isn't pedophilia, criminalization leads to higher HIV prevalence). However, none of that creates a case for gay rights. At least it shouldn't. Civil rights cannot be contingent on non-immutable characteristics. What if it turned out to be the case that decriminalization of homosexuality led to higher HIV prevalence? Should one then join god people and their campaigns? Civil rights case closed? Obviously not. The case for civil rights cannot be based on public health arguments.

The case for civil rights protections is always and necessarily so based on individuals' liberty entitlements to live their lives as they see fit, as far as self-regarding actions are concerned, on privacy rights, their right to associate with whoever consenting adult(s) they see fit, their entitlement to see their needs treated equally to comparable needs that led to rights heterosexual people enjoy, and a gaggle of other related arguments. None of these arguments are contingent on the truth or otherwise of particular public health matters. After all, where would one go once it was possible to eradicate HIV with a simple pill being taken, or once a working preventative vaccine existed? Too bad for gay rights then? I think not.

That's not to say that opponents of gay rights should not be called on their lies and deception. However, by turning their arguments on their head no case is made for gay rights either.

Addendum: 12:29pm, July 25, 2014 EST.

Of course, it is true that civil rights protections also extend to certain kinds of choices (e.g. religion) as well as other not immutable characteristics such as language. I stuck to immutable because that case is easier to make and it applies to homosexuality.


  1. I so agree with you. I think the same can be said about the public health based arguments for decriminalising sex work.

  2. The same could be said for Cannabis legalization. It doesn't matter that it's efficacy hasn't been proven by the incredible double-blind studies that pills are approved by. It's my right to use it. Case closed. Legalize it.


Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.

Certainty is not a defensible standard for policy making in the context of assisted dying

I mentioned in a Bioethics editorial a while ago that new frontiers are opening in the assisted dying debate. As an increasing number of...