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Friday, 27 July 2007

Some Questions for Dr. Michael Cullen

I saw Dr. Michael Cullen speaking in on TV3 last night. What he said was interesting because it highlights a tension I have often noted in liberal views of sexual morality . The issue was as follows: A school had hired a teacher. This teacher however had advertised on an internet adult site for a woman to have sex with him. He requested the women be 17 or adding that the younger the student was the better. His partner apparently consented to him doing this and offered to join in, apparently one of them “liked to watch”.

Now Cullen stated that he wanted to tighten up regulations so Schools could dismiss teachers like this. He stated it was unacceptable that a person like this should be teaching teenage girls. He seemed to take this latter claim as obvious and there was no apparent disagreement from anyone in the clip.

Let’s be clear what Cullen is saying here. He is suggesting that it should be permissible to refuse to employ someone on the basis of private sexual behaviour they engage in with other consenting adults (under NZ’s laws a 17 year old is not considered a minor when it comes to sex and hence is a consenting adult). Moreover, he is also suggesting that a person’s private consensual sexual behaviour can be grounds for considering them unfit to teach at public schools. Moreover Cullen appeared to think this was obvious and certainly no one appeared to disagree in this instance.

If this is so the question I have for Cullen and the Labour party is this. If you believe this, why have you repeatedly stated the opposite in the past? This is the party whose activists have repeatedly stated that it’s wrong to discriminate against people on the basis of their private consensual behaviour.

I also have another question. Suppose this teacher had instead of advertising for a member of the opposite sex on a website he had been cruising for causal sex with another man in a local gay bar. Would Cullen say this person was unfit to teach teenage children? Suppose he had advertised for causal in Express magazine? Would that be grounds to discriminate against him and to claim he is unfit to teach at public schools?

I suspect I know the answer to this question. If a person were to make this argument about a homosexual teacher Cullen and his supporters would denounce the person as a bigot and an intolerant homophobe. No doubt the person would be compared to the Nazis and to the Taliban (as though somehow saying that a person is unfit to teach at a school is the same as engaging in mass murder and genocide).

But this raises an obvious question; If it’s obvious that a heterosexual male is unfit to teach because he advertises for sex on the net. Why is a homosexual male who advertises for causal sex in a Gay bar or on the pages of express not also unfit? In both cases the sex is consensual in private. The only difference is the gender of his partner. I thought Labour believed it was wrong to treat same sex relationships differently to heterosexual ones?

If we are to believe what Labours activists have told us then either one of two things is true either (a) Cullen is a pro Taliban Nazi bigot or (b) much of what Labour has told us about consenting sex in private is false and much of the character assassination it has dished out to Conservatives is unjustified. Which is it?

A rational person should not prescribe a principle unless he is willing to also prescribe the logical implications of that principle. If you prescribe a rule but are unable to accept its implications because you find them intuitively absurd then you have good grounds for rejecting the rule. No amount of denouncing others as bigots can change this fact.

The claim that its wrong to discriminate against people on the basis of their private consensual sexual activities has counter intuitive implications. Hence in the absence of compelling arguments for this claim it should be rejected.


  1. Matt, I don't think your example of a gay man looking for sex in gay bars is analogous to the actual case. I think what authorities were concerned about was that the teacher was looking for a sexual partner the same age as many of the students he was (presumably) teaching - prompting not unwarranted fears that he might view some of those students as potential partners. If you were to reverse your example, and have a heterosexual man cruising bars looking for sex, it might not be exactly palatable, but this is not the same as someone actively seeking out sexual partners of age 17, who can't legally frequent bars, and are young enough to be taught by the man in question.

  2. Kate

    Change my example slightly.

    Make it a Gay man who advertises in Express ( or Gaynz) saying he seeks causal sex with a man 17 or older. And then have the parents at the school request his dismissal on the grounds they think he might try and have sex with their son.

    I do not think this would change my analysis one bit.


  3. As someone who works in the education sector I can assure you that teachers who are 'punished' for any such indiscretion are no more likely to be straight than gay.
    I have seen teachers who have been investigated due to complaints of many natures and the happen to both straight AND gay teachers.

    Usually though Gay teachers are so aware that they are more likely to be targetted by small minded bigots so they are squeaky clean in their conduct.

    Heterosexuals - not so much!

  4. Esmerelda

    You seem to misunderstand my point. I was not claiming that that teachers who loose their job for sexual indiscretions are more likely to be straight than Gay.

    What I was suggesting is that there is often an inconsistency in how these cases are approached. If a the indiscretion involves a same sex partner the sacking is put down to ( in your words) small minded bigotry. Yet it’s seen as common sense to sack teachers for precisely the same behaviour when the partner is of the opposite sex..

    Consequently even if what you say were true that would not address the point I was making.

    Neither the less your claims seem dubious at best. As for your suggestion that teachers sacked for such indiscretions are no more likely to be straight than Gay. That strikes me as absurd, given that those who engage in same sex relationships with any regularity only make up around 1-4% of the population. Hence obviously a person sacked for any reason is considerably more likely to be in a heterosexual relationship that a same sex one.

    Moreover your suggestion that homosexual couples tend to be more squeaky clean and less prone to the kind of sexual indiscretions mentioned that is also false. Numerous studies show a male same sex couples are *considerably* more likely to engage in the kind of behaviour mentioned.

    It’s also, I believe, a fact that a disproportionately high amount of same sex behaviour occurs amongst child molesters than amongst the general population.

    These are empirical facts, anecdotal statements and calling people names (like bigot) does not address or refute them.

  5. But M, why would anyone want to introduce such provable facts into such an emotionally charged debate on morality? Facts are only to be used by the liberals against conservatives - don't you know that? Sheesh, obviously the brainwashing isn't doing its job as it should.


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