Thursday, February 08, 2007

Election woes, and other ridiculous things

Liberals Forced To Change First "Fixed Election Date" Over Religious Conflict
According to this CityNews article, the Ontario Liberal Government has had to change the provincial election date from October 4, 2007, to October 10, 2007. The reason is that Shemini Atzeret (perhaps better known as Simchat Torah, and/or the day after Sukkot) falls on that date, which would prevent some Jewish people1 from voting. The opposition loved this, of course...

"We're happy the date has been moved," adds PC MPP Tim Hudak. "But my goodness, you think they would have thought of this two years ago when they set the election date."

Well, yeah, okay, it was a mistake...but let's be fair. The Hebrew Calendar is a little complicated to follow for those unused to it, specifically those used to the good old-fashioned (Christian/Euro-centric but stable) Gregorian calendar. I mean, even the calculation of Easter is based on the Gregorian calendar, albeit with a little lunar twist thrown in.

Thankfully, the Jewish community has responded positively to the date-change:

But Jewish leaders see it differently, applauding the government's courage to admit its oversight after first refusing to alter the timeframe.

"This is something that all Ontarians should take pride in, and it should give comfort to Ontarians," claims Steven Shulman of the Canadian Jewish Congress. "There's a clear statement being made by the government to accommodate this sort of conflict, and next time it may be another community that's in conflict."

Here's the Ontario Government news release.

Gay Sheep Revisited

Saletan breaks down the pros and cons of the research being done on ovine sexuality at Oregon Health & Science University and Oregon State University.

My problem with this is the same as my problem with the biological determinism argument in general: how long before the discovery of genetic/neurological causes of sexuality turns into the search for a genetic control of sexuality? Apparently there is good evidence to suggest a strong correlation between a belief in the inherent-ness of sexuality and acceptance of sexuality.2 But then, those who reject homosexuality currently tend to reject a biological basis for it.3
Alan Turing, the famed British polymath, was treated with hormones to "correct" his homosexuality. He killed himself. But even if treatment worked, the question for me is: should it? Should we try to "correct" a benign biological characteristic, which to my mind is as much an element of personhood as handedness, eye-colour, et cetera?

And furthermore, should the (hypothetical) finding that sexuality is not biologically determined change our acceptance of people who identify as homosexual? In a time when political adherence and religion, among other things, are considered inherent to the extent that no person should be required to change them, why should sexuality be considered not just chosen, but apparently chosen whimsically, and open to alteration without doing fundamental damage to the psyche and identity?

I fear that the hyper-focus on the biological nature of sexuality (true as it seems to be) misses the point rather extravagantly, and while we can hope it will lead to short-term gains in the area of increased tolerance and acceptance, I can't help being concerned about the ultimate consequences.

  1. According to Stats Can, and the 2001 census, there are about 191 thousand Jewish people in Ontario, out of about 330 thousand in Canada. That's a little under 60% of the Canadian Jewish popumation. Of course, not all of those would consider themselves unable to vote on Shemini Atzaret.
  2. From Wikipedia article "Biology and sexual orientation": Ernulf, K. E., Innala, S. M., & Whitam, F. L. (1989). Biological explanation, psychological explanation, and tolerance of homosexuals: A cross-national analysis of beliefs and attitudes. Psychological Reports, 65, 1003-1010. See also: Whitley, B. E., Jr. (1990). The relationship of heterosexuals' attributions for the causes of homosexuality to attitudes toward lesbians and gay men. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 16, 369-377.
  3. See the "Pathogenic theory of homosexuality" article at Wikipedia.

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