Bioethics Blogs

Pedophiles and homosexuals – apples and oranges?

Australian columnist and TV personality Mia Freedman has been caught in a social media storm after comparing pedophiles to gay people. Freedman’s gaffe didn’t warrant the furious response it got; the response seems mainly the product of people’s inability to understand how analogies and similes work. Freedman, arguing in favor of a public sex offender’s register, claimed that we ought to expect pedophiles to continue to be a danger to children, because they can’t change who they’re attracted to, just like gay people can’t change who they’re attracted to. Freedman’s point was that we used to think that gay people could be ‘cured’; we now accept that that’s a fantasy. So we should say the same thing about pedophiles.

But while I don’t think she ought to be condemned for homophobia as so many people on twitter seem to think, I think the analogy is a bad one. The reason we don’t think that homosexuality can be cured is partly a normative one: you can’t be cured of something that is not a disease or illness. We do combine this with an empirical claim, but that claim is inseparable from further norms. We think, or we ought to think, that gay people can be celibate (because we think, or ought to think, that anyone can be celibate). But we think it is unreasonable to expect gay people to be celibate because having close and loving relationships is (at oncee factually and normatively) partially constitutive of a flourishing human life. It is a good that people can be expected willingly to forgo only under special and limited circumstances.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.