By Christine Guthrie
One hot afternoon this summer, my husband decided to take the family to a movie. He chose March of the Penguins, and I was pleasantly surprised by a documentary that could appeal to all ages, even our 4-year-old. The movie piqued our interest in these amazing creatures, so I decided to go to the repository of all knowledge worth knowing (the Internet) and learn more about them.
There are several websites out there dedicated to penguins. But what baffled me as I searched was the fact that nearly all of them linked to articles about “gay” penguins. At first I thought it must be some sort of joke, but my curiosity got the best of me and I read on.
It seems there were a couple of male chinstrap penguins named Roy and Silo in New York’s Central Park Zoo that had taken up together. Since this species of penguin mates for life, Roy and Silo stayed. Not only that, when the zookeepers discovered the pair trying to incubate a rock, they decided to give them a real penguin egg. (I assume this egg had lost its parents, but I’m not sure.)
In time, a female hatched and they were one happy penguin family. Someone even decided to write a children’s picture book about them. The book showed what a loving family this alternative penguin arrangement had produced.
Not only that, turns out there is a zoo in Germany with several “gay” male penguins. More have shown up at a Japanese zoo. The German zookeepers took what might be considered a common-sense approach and introduced more females.
The local gay-rights activists were incensed. These zookeepers were not respecting the sexual preference of their charges. (Remember, we are talking about penguins.) The zoo defended the action, saying it was only trying to ensure the survival of the species. But in the end, the pressure proved too great and zoo officials scrapped the project–thus proving that in the world of political correctness, there really are some things more important than saving endangered animals.
Well, my curiosity satisfied, I filed this knowledge away as one more reason not to let my kids on the Internet unsupervised. And one more reason not to assume that every cute picture book is as harmless as it looks.
In my home, trains rule, and within a few days the subject had been forgotten in favor of the latest from Lionel. That was until I saw another news story about the famous New York pair. It appears that Silo has “gone straight.” He abandoned Roy in favor of a female named Scrappy. (Where do they come up with these names?)
You can imagine the uproar this has caused. Or perhaps, you are, quite sensibly, wondering why anyone cares about penguin sexual practices in the first place.
Of course, penguin anatomy may be part of the problem. As it turns out, the only way for humans (even those with Ph.D.s) to tell male and female penguins apart is via a blood test. They look alike and their external anatomy is the same. Last I checked, the penguins were not availing themselves of the blood test option. So there must be another way they can tell, and it’s likely to be subtle. (Smell, sound, who knows?)
I think it is quite possible that sometimes the penguins have a little trouble telling each other’s sex. (Especially, given the sort of names the zookeepers like to assign them.)
So how did a pair of penguins become poster children for the culture wars? Scientists and viewers of Animal Planet have known for years that all sorts of weird sexual behavior can be found in the animal kingdom. (Of course mollusks are not quite as cute as penguins.)
I think part of the blame lies with social conservatives who have made the argument that homosexuality is immoral because it is not normal or natural. But since when does nature determine morality? It is natural for a toddler to bite his baby brother who won’t stop crying. It is natural to push others aside as you escape a burning building. In much of the world, it is still considered normal for a man to beat his wife.
It is not natural to show forgiveness to your father’s murderer, it is not normal to love your enemies, and there is nothing natural about laying down your life for anyone outside of your immediate family. Instead, we need to show people why doing what comes naturally is often the wrong thing.
In the meantime, the penguins will continue their march, blissfully ignorant of their unintended role in the culture wars.
Christine Guthrie is Stan Guthrie’s smarter half.