Now that the General Assembly has acted to override Gov. Pat McCrory’s veto of legislation that would allow public servants to shirk their public duties on the basis of their religious opinions, it may be time to have a frank discussion about the facts of human sexuality and how those facts bear on our social institutions and our most intimate affections for others.
It won’t be long before religious objections to non-heterosexual relationships go the way of religious objections to interracial marriages or to interdenominational marriages. There is no coherent way to make a public defense of the distinctions on which these objections are based.
The faithful may hold the opinion that nonbelievers are beyond salvation, but there is no evidence of that claim that meets even minimal standards of public reason. The faithful may believe that different races cannot mix, but wild interpretations of Scripture don’t change the fundamental facts of human biology. And the faithful may assert that there are only “males” and “females,” that their function is reproduction and that marriage is only for them, but that doesn’t mean that the law can ignore all of the evidence about the rich diversity of human sexuality and how nature (or the deity, if you prefer) made millions of human beings who just don’t fit into the simple categories of those who only see what their prejudices allow.
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The determination of our sex is usually a cursory affair. When we are born, someone picks us up, does a quick inspection of our sexual equipment and notes on our birth certificates – which will tag us for the rest of our lives – whether we are one or the other of the only two choices that society and the law allow us to be.
For some, this rather casual and arbitrary exercise in naming what we are turns out to have very little to do with the facts of nature. Their lives often turn out to be a struggle against the Tyranny of the Birth Certificate.
For the approximately 1.7 percent of us who are born with some variety of intersexuality, our biological gear might be arranged in very different ways from the heterosexual norm. And that’s when the tyranny begins: If we get by childhood without being subjected to involuntary surgical alteration of our sex, we are likely to be harassed, even excluded from athletics, and of course denied the right to marry along with various other forms of legal standing, because we are neither “male” nor “female.”
born outfitted with what appears to be “normal” sexual equipment but whose nonobvious biological variables, or psychological dispositions, lead us to emotional, physical and even sexual attractions to non-heterosexual partners, the effects of credulous heterosexual prejudice are of course all too well known. The wells of this ignorance, it seems, are so deep that we have to rely on the wisdom of judges to tell us what we should already know.
Add all of these different kinds of human sexuality together, and we get about (and it is probably safer to say, at least) 520,000 North Carolinians – a population a bit larger than the city of Raleigh.
New Zealand, Germany, Australia, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal have all moved to recognize “other” as a category of sex or gender identity their citizens can choose for themselves, putting an end to the arbitrary Tyranny of the Birth Certificate and recognizing the rich diversity of human sexual identity – just as nature – or the deity – designed it.
But here in North Carolina, the law has once again been made to pander to prejudice and opinion, not facts, evidence, arguments and reasons. The governor tried to keep us from slouching toward ignominy, but the sources of enlightenment appear to be much dimmer in the hallowed halls of Jones Street. Still, even if the legislature can’t distinguish between the facts and the truth and prejudice parading as religious belief, we can perhaps hope that some of our magistrates are smart enough to understand the difference.
Stephen Leonard teaches politics and gender at UNC Chapel Hill..