One of America's A-list gay couples has broken up.
No, it's not Rosie and Kelli. It's Roy and Silo. Roy and Silo are male penguins. Chinstrap penguins to be exact.
About six years ago, Roy and Silo set up housekeeping together in New York's Central Park Zoo. They courted and attempted to mate and by all accounts were fairly inseparable. They even adopted a child together. Roy and Silo hatched little Tango a couple of years ago and raised her as their own.
However, recently Silo has become perhaps the world's first documented ex-gay penguin. He has moved out of his nest with Roy and taken up with Scrappy, a hot little bird who recently moved in from Sea World Zoo in San Diego. I guess he was wishing for a California girl.
For those who have pointed to Roy and Silo as models for us all, these developments must be disappointing. Some gay activists might actually be angry.
When zoo keepers in Germany attempted to force male pairs of endangered penguins to mate with females, they received hate mail from gay rights groups. Finally, in a bow to the pressure the zoos relented and stopped their breeding efforts.
Chief among the chagrinned may be the authors of a children's book about the Roy and Silo and their adopted daughter called, "And Tango Makes Three."
About the book The School Library Journal gushed, "This joyful story about the meaning of family is a must for any library."
Publisher's Weekly wrote that Silo and Roy's love story provides a picture of "non traditional families that youngsters can understand. This tender story can also serve as a gentle jumping-off point for discussions about same-sex partnerships in human society."
I think now that jumping-off point has become less gentle.
No word yet from the New York Times that ran a story on the pair called "The Love that Dare not Squeak its Name." The article suggested that gay rights might hinge on penguin pride. "Gay groups argue that if homosexual behavior occurs in animals, it is natural, and therefore the rights of homosexuals should be protected," wrote Denitia Smith, author of the article.
With Silo and Scrappy picking out curtains together, will gay rights groups now acknowledge that sexual orientation changes? The concept of gay penguin permanence painted by the Times and "And Tango Makes Three" now seems more like fiction than public policy sign post.
So should former homosexuals among us say, "I told you so?"
Inasmuch as gay rights activists use animal behavior as an argument against the capacity of people to change, it is worth pointing out sexual behavior and bonding in animals is not necessarily fixed.
However, in general I would advise against deriving lessons about human traits from animal behavior.
About the only thing we can say from the Roy, Silo and Scrappy love triangle is that sexuality in animals is flexible, context driven and influenced by factors we do not fully understand. Love children from the 1960s said pretty much the same thing but I don't think they took their cue from penguins.
Whether it be conservative exuberance over the movie "March of the Penguins" and its tribute to family values or gay rights groups' extrapolation from nature to naturalness, analogies to what animals do in the semi-privacy of their nests cannot provide moral lessons to people.
When I want guidance on public policy matters, I don't go to the zoo.
So when activists talk about homosexuality in the animal kingdom, keep in mind that we don't know much about what function same sex behavior serves for any animal species.
Some scientists who are also gay advocates recognize the muddle we get into when we wax anthropomorphic about sexual categories. For instance, gay gene proponents, Dean Hamer and Peter Copeland pointed out in their book, Science of Desire that "…there is no good animal model of human heterosexuality, let alone homosexuality." In other words, "Pigs don’t date … and horses don’t get married."
And for family values or gay rights, penguins don't march.
Warren Throckmorton, PhD is an Associate Professor of Psychology and Fellow for Psychology and Public Policy in the Center for Vision and Values at Grove City (PA) College. Dr. Throckmorton is past-president of the American Mental Health Counselors Association and is the producer of the documentary, I Do Exist about sexual orientation change. His columns have been published by over 70 newspapers nationwide and can be contacted through his website at www.drthrockmorton.com.
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