Responsibility and the Law

This is a difficult topic to tackle because it involves what is at the heart of philosophical practice’s claim to be a legal practice protected by the first amendment.  But it needs to be tackled.  The reason I want to address the issue of the intersection of responsibility and the law in philosophical practice is because of a troubling phenomenon in pastoral counseling.  Although the American Psychological Association no longer recognizes homosexuality as disordered, conservative pastoral counselors… at least some… continue to treat it as such.  They do not claim that homosexuality is a psychological disorder but a moral one, a distinction without much of a difference.

There are, of course, examples of morally corrupt practices that are not clearly psychologically disordered.  Lying without a reason springs to mind.  Shoplifting is another case.  A single case of theft is not proof of kleptomania.  But in the case of homosexuality, relationships that are seen as psychologically beneficial (as opposed to psychologically neutral as in the cases of lying and stealing) are classified by conservatives as morally corrupt.  The distinction between psychological and moral disorder falls apart here, because the claim of moral disorder implies that the relationship is in some way harmful contra the facts.

No doubt some natural law theorists will come to the aid of our not-so-hypothetical conservative and argue that homosexual intercourse undermines the natural function of the organs involved.  Of course, that is to define the organs in terms of heterosexual intercourse, and therefore is a form of begging the question.  The move is also troublingly dismissive of all that is beneficial in a loving relationship between two persons of the same sex and focuses in on a single aspect of such a relationship, sex.

If philosophers and pastoral counselors can get away with counseling others on the depravity of consensual homosexual relations, maybe we need to rein them in legally.  Is free speech and religious liberty worth the sacrifice of a young woman’s or young man’s psychological well-being?

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