Mon | Nov 19, 2018

Tomlinson will need more than luck

Published:Wednesday | December 16, 2015 | 12:00 AM
Clinton Chisholm
Maurice Tomlinson, openly gay man and gay-rights activist.

The Gleaner editorial of December 11, 2015 wished luck on human-rights lawyer Maurice Tomlinson's constitutional challenge to Jamaica's buggery law. The editorial went on to treat the objection to homosexual acts as informed primarily, if not exclusively, by an appeal to religious texts. This view from whomever wrote that editorial is almost unpardonably myopic and ignorant of the legal literature. I explain.

John Mitchell Finnis is an Australian legal scholar and philosopher specialising in the philosophy of law. In his essay, 'Law, Morality and Sexual Orientation', he cogently shows that it is very possible to argue against homosexual acts without appealing to any religious texts.

In the opening section of this fascinating essay (available online), Finnis sums up his position on homosexual activity, which is counter to Mr Tomlinson's (and The Gleaner's editorial] and goes on to say that his position "involves a number of explicit or implicit judgments about the proper role of law and the compelling interests of political communities, and about the evil of homosexual conduct.


Gay ideology


"Can these be defended by reflective, critical, publicly intelligible and rational arguments? I believe they can. The judgment that it is morally wrong need not be a manifestation either of mere hostility to a hated minority, or of purely religious, theological, and sectarian belief." (my emphasis).

Finnis continues, "Let me begin by noticing a too-little-noticed fact. All three of the greatest Greek philosophers, Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, regarded homosexual conduct as intrinsically shameful, immoral, and indeed depraved or depraving. That is to say, all three rejected the linchpin of modern 'gay' ideology and lifestyle. Socrates is port-rayed by Plato (and by Xenophon) as having strong homosexual (as well as heterosexual) inclinations or interest, and as promoting an ideal of homosexual romance between men and youths, but, at the same time, as utterly rejecting homosexual conduct."


Contrary to nature


Finnis draws support for his reading of the Greek philosophers from the likes of the late pre-eminent Socratic scholar Gregory Vlastos and Sir Kenneth Dover, late distinguished Classical scholar, I think, precisely because they are, legally speaking, hostile witnesses in that neither agreed with the views of the great Greek philosophers on homosexuality.

Going on, Finnis argues, "Plato saw anal intercourse as 'contrary to nature', a degradation not only of man's humanity, but even of his animality ... a type of act far more serious than any mere going 'contrary to the rules'. As for Aristotle, there is widespread scholarly agreement that he rejected homosexual conduct. In fact, such conduct is frequently represented by Aristotle (in some cases, directly, and in other cases, by a lecturer's hint) as intrinsically perverse, shameful and harmful both to the individuals involved and to society itself.

"Although the ideology of homosexual love (with its accompanying devaluation of women) continued to have philosophical defenders down to the end of classical Greek civilisation, there equally continued to be influential philosophical writers, wholly untouched by Judaeo-Christian tradition, who taught that homosexual conduct is not only intrinsically shameful but also inconsistent with a proper recognition of the equality of women with men in intrinsic worth.

"(The ancients did not fail to note that Socrates' homoerotic orientation, for all its admirable chastity - abstention from homosexual conduct - went along with a neglect to treat his wife as an equal.) A good example of such late classical writing is Plutarch's Erotikos (Dialogue on Love) ... written probably some time in the early second century, but certainly free from Judaeo-Christian influence.

"Another example is the Stoic Musonius Rufus (who taught at Rome c.80 AD and again was not influenced by Jewish or Christian thought). He rejects all homosexual conduct as shameful. Sexual conduct is decent and acceptable only within marriage."

All of the above quotations from Finnis is just from the first five pages of his stimulating essay. I recommend it highly to all educated Christians, lawyers especially, and other thinkers in our society.

Mr Tomlinson will need much more than luck if his constitutional challenge is to pass philosophico-legal muster.

- The Rev Clinton Chisholm is a theologian. Email feedback to and