Tuesday, May 18, 2010

a conviction in malawi

We will shortly be turning our attention in this course to the field of ethics, and we will need to examine how people should and do employ reason to arrive at moral judgements. Here is a story that is "breaking news" today:


The judge convicted the couple on the grounds that what they were doing was "against the order of nature". Leaving aside for now what he might have meant by that, consider the following:

What OTHER moral claims could be made that would (a) support the conviction, or (b) help to overturn it? In more general terms, what grounds are there for condemning or accepting the actions of a couple such as this?

Each reply to this thread should include at least one example of each please! I don't want your personal judgement on the matter; I want you to identify the grounds that could be invoked on either side. We want to get beyond instant opinions in order to access the premises and assumptions that lie at their roots.


  1. Deborah FrempongMay 21, 2010 at 10:20 PM

    Another moral claim that could be made to support this convinction is that it would be unfair to a child who would be raised up in that home.
    A moral claim to help overturn it would be that every human being has the right to his or her sexual orientation.

    With the moral claim against this issue, there is the premise or assumption that things that are "unnatural" are bad for the society, and humanity and must be stopped. The moral claim on the children issue is also similar to the fact that homosexuality is not "normal."
    For the claim that supports homosexuality and overturns the conviction , there is the premise that all humans are entitled to their opinion, to their way of life, regardless of any other person.

    I think that an underlining issue in this case is that of the "individual" versus "society." For the people against homosexuality, it is a moral and social issue and so the individual must conform to society. The individual cannot just do what he wants, especially when it is not parallel to the accepted and normal ways of the society.
    On the part of those who support it, to them, it is about an individual's right. One person must have the ability to decide where he wants his life to go, what he wants to do with it. No one's right must be infringed on because of the society. Society is not always right. The leaders are not always right. And in fact, society has been proved wrong through out history. (Issue of blacks and racism, women and rights...etc)

    I think that homosexuality is not really accepted on Africa because the continent dwells very much on a societal level... This is unlike in the West where individual freedom and rights are the most basic thing.

  2. A support for this conviction is that research proves that people form same-sex marriages generally have a life expectancy 20 years lower than the average “straight” person. Again endorsing such marriages may provide a slippery slope in the legality of marriage such as having multiple wives, or marrying an object. What will happen if someone decides to marry his dog? Do we endorse it? Thus the conviction can also be regarded as a means of preventing a whole chain of reactions, and preserving marriage as the most “sacred union” in the government.
    A counterclaim is that the sexual orientation of the individual may have more biological causes than meets the eye. Evidence from research gives biological reasons for some lesbians and gay people having secondary sexual characteristics that resemble the opposite sex. Thus, we should see this as sometimes, a switching of hormones. Eg: Some lesbians have stronger cheekbones, deeper voices and more masculine body shape, etc. It’s purely a concentration of masculine hormones which develops an attraction to “females”. Hence it will be wrong to convict people for something they have no control over.
    The underlying ground to this issue should therefore be on what basis ethical claims are made? Who determines what is ethical or not? And what evidence do we have to prove ethical claims?

  3. This is what former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo had to say about this:


    Note how this connects with Deborah's observations on attitudes to individual rights. Is this the key to the disagreement?

    The American psychologist Jonathan Haidt has identified five aspects of morality that people might rely on in their judgements:

    1. Fairness
    2. Avoidance of harm
    3. Authority
    4. Purity or sanctity
    5. In-group allegiance

    Furthermore, he has made a rough distinction between two types of societies - those that prioritize just items 1 and 2 on the list (let's call them type A societies), and those which value all 5 items (let's call them type B societies).

    Now on the basis of Haidt's analysis, can we explain the reactions of different people to this particular situation?

    A final point. On the matter of acts "against the order of nature", wouldn't climbing into a crowded metal tube that then proceeds to fly at hundreds of kilometres per hour through the sky count as "against the order of nature" too? How might the judge distinguish between these acts such as to celebrate air travel but condemn homosexuality?

  4. Homosexuals in Southern Africa are seen as sinful people.Homosexuality is believed to be the devils tool of making people sin against God.I believe that too. When Christianity was introduced in Southern, people were told that homosexuality was bad.Today in the 21 Century,the question of what is morally wrong and what is right comes up.

  5. Haidt's 5 aspects make it easier to tell which people might make certain judgements about homosexuality.

    Type A societies, as he mentions, place more importance about whether things are fair and whether they cause any harm or otherwise. Societies like this might, therefore be inclined to support homosexuality because it might be seen as 'fair' to allow people to chose the lifestyle that they want to have. Also, they might add that since both parties want to be involved with each other, such marriages do not necessarily harm anyone.

    However, as Deborah said above, what about the children of the couple? And what about other young people in the society, who might see them and be influenced by them?

    Type B societies, however, are more likely to condemn homosexuality, as they believe in one particular authority (most of the time religious) who might not support homosexuality. They also prioritize purity and may see homosexuality as a sinful or impure act. 'In group allegiance' will also mean that since most of the people in society are not homosexual and see homosexuality as abnormal, they will condemn anyone who does not fall inside this 'normal' pattern.

    It's interesting to note that most of these things can be seen as unfair, as such societies force their members to adhere to authorities and standards of 'purity' that they may not necessarily believe in.

    Purity and 'the order of nature' are also very controversial as Mr. Kitching's airplane example points out. It can be argued that technology is against the 'natural order of things' so who decides the answer to the question: 'In what ways and to what extent are we "allowed" to breach this natural order of things?'

  6. Nana Kwame Sakyi OwusuJuly 13, 2010 at 9:56 PM

    Considering the defendant's statement, "Here are two consenting adults doing their thing in private. Nobody will be threatened or offended..." it is clear that his argument was looking at the issue in terms of the net benefit or happiness gained by all parties - utilitarian. From the utilitarian perspective, this may seem an ethical action due to the apparently high 'benefit' or utility for both grooms. On the other hand, considering long-term issues like the negative effect on the child, like Deborah said, and even the negative influence that their marriage could have on the society such as other young people experimenting gay relationships and eroding the society's moral fabric. This disutility sharply reduces the net benefit and could even bring this into the negatives, making the act an immoral one.

    Now considering Mr. Kitching's final point, judging ethical issues like this, apart from considering established theories such as Haidt's 5 aspects or the utilitarian outlook, also require that the situation be considered specially i.e. the particular intentions, circumstances, consequences etc. governing the situation. With Mr. Kitching's example, air travel has the intention of aiding human travel, contributing to the world being a global village, and other such positive intentions that majority of society find acceptable but homosexuality on the other hand is favoured by the minority due to some of its negative end results such as a 20-year discount in life-expectancy like Tori stated...;D

  7. I agree with Nana Kwame Sakyi Owusu


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