Posts Tagged ‘gay’

Is Sexual Orientation a “Choice”?

November 17, 2008

In light of the strong civil rights case which establishes that:

  1. Civil marriage is a “fundamental right” (Loving v. Virginia, 1967)
  2. Equal protection under the law requires equal availability of fundamental rights (14th Amendment to the US Constitution)
  3. Separate facilities and institutions are inherently unequal, even if they are “equal” by all measures (Brown v. Board of Education)

… the main avenue for denying that gay marriage is constitutionally protected is that the second point does not apply to homosexuals.

Certainly, “equal availability” does not equate to “equal use”. In other words, my second amendment right to organize a militia is not being violated if I choose to not own a gun. No matter what I choose, I have the right, and the Constitution prohibits the government from infringing upon that right.

So, the argument goes: marriage (heterosexual) is “available” to all people. If a homosexual wants to marry, all he needs to do is choose to live a heterosexual lifestyle, find a good Christian girl, and make himself a home!

The question is, though: is homosexuality a choice?

There are three major perspectives to consider, here, and so I will discuss them all. The first, and to my mind most important, is the scientific perspective: are homosexual traits determined pre-adulthood, or as a consequence of adult actions? The second is related: can the homosexual urges be “reversed” or reliably suppressed, without detriment to both the individual and society? The third is the most visceral: why would anyone “choose” this lifestyle in the first place?

The Scientific Concensus

For those not acquainted with how science works (and topics of homosexuality and other culture-war issues tend to bring out those who misunderstand the scientific vetting and peer review process), a quick overview:

  1. The scientific method allows for (1) initial observation, (2) hypothesis, (3) experimentation, (4) conclusion. A “hypothesis” is a statement backed by available evidence, which can be proven or disproven with some kind of test. If there is no available test for a hypothesis, then technically it is not a hypothesis.
  2. A theory is something which is well supported by the available evidence and has withstood multiple experiments and the scrutiny of peer review. The “theory of universal gravitation”, for instance, is a theory. The “theory of evolution” is another theory.
  3. Often the scientific community disagrees on particulars while agreeing to the general principles. In fact, this is the default state of science. For instance, there is very little disagreement that in the “normal universe” gravitational attraction decreases proportional to the square of distance (theory of universal gravitation); moving to the specific mechanisms there is a consensus but not universal agreement, and moving to the particulars of any given proposed mechanism there is widespread disagreement. It would be wholly inaccurate to cage the disagreement over how weak nuclear forces relate to gravitational forces as a disagreement over universal gravitation. The same could be said of the theory of evolution: disagreement over the “Hardy-Weinberg Equilibrium Model” predicting likelihood of speciation, should not be seen as disagreement over the fundamental principle that species evolve over time via the mechanism of natural selection.
  4. If there is an idea out there, you’ll find at least one crackpot who agrees with it and another who disagrees. This is not the same as being backed by the “scientific community”. While the community is composed of individuals, which individuals by their very nature as well as occupation seek points of disagreement, there is often a “community view” of a particular issue or theory which the vast majority agree upon.

All that having been said, the vast preponderance of scientific evidence suggests that the following is true:

  • Sexual orientation is a trait which is significantly influenced before or around the time of birth, and which is not affected by proximity to or knowledge of the “gay lifestyle”.

Some significant “twin studies” have looked into the effects of genetics on sexual orientation. For instance Bailey and Pillard (also summarized at World Policy) have compared samples from three groups of men and women, and relied on previous studies for a fourth:

  1. “Identical” twins of homosexuals
  2. “Fraternal” but same-gendered twins of homosexuals
  3. Adoptive same-gender/same-age siblings of homosexuals
  4. Natural same-gender/different-age siblings of homosexuals

In men and women both, they found that the first group was significantly but not completely predisposed to homosexuality (around 50%), the second group only slightly predisposed (around 20%) and the third group less than the second (about 10%). In females, the latter two groups were significantly less influential than in males (16% of fraternal females versus 22% of fraternal males; 6% of adoptive females versus 11% of adoptive males). Amongst “natural siblings” of homosexuals, the rate of homosexuality was found to be around 9%, approximately the same as with adoptive siblings.

General incidence of homosexuality in the population is about the same as seen in adoptive females (3-5% at the low end and 10% at the high end, depending on the specific study).

The main conclusions from twin studies are:

  1. There is not a complete determination of sexual orientation based on genetic code. This is something anti-gay sites tend to latch onto, forgetting the rest. It is absolutely true. Setting aside environmental pressures to suppress gay sexual orientation (which is significant, but IMHO not sufficient to explain the findings), we should see a vast majority of identical twins sharing orientation were a “gay gene” 100% selective.
  2. At the same time there is a significant predisposition to homosexuality born out in the genes. Homosexuality could not be explained by gross pre-birth or post-birth environmental factors, or the other two groups would have had the same highly-correlated results as the first group. Micro environmental factors (ie, which would affect one fetus or child but not the other) may exist, though.
  3. In-utero environmental effects appear to have a measurable effect on sexual orientation, as seen by comparing the second and fourth groups (both groups are natural siblings; the second group shared the womb).
  4. Finally, post-birth environment does not appear to be a significant driver of sexual orientation, as the adoptive siblings (who presumably encountered similar environments growing up) showed no appreciable change in occurrence of homosexuality than the general population. This is the most tentative of conclusions from this study, and should be seen as a hint rather than a conclusion.

Other studies on this concur with the above general findings.

Much of the scientific discussion around this area, in fact is not about if genes predispose one to a specific sexual orientation. The main discussions are: what are the secondary factors which make some predisposed individuals gay and others straight; what is the evolutionary advantage of homosexuality amongst a family group (obviously homosexuality is only rarely directly “passed on”, but the effect of having a homosexual sibling in the family might be advantageous); and can the “gay gene” be isolated in the genome (which brings forth ethical questions on unnatural selection against such a gene).

The scientific community has many questions about homosexuality, but on one thing its findings are resoundingly clear: homosexuality is NOT a choice!

Reorientation Therapy

In light of the above, the question that comes up most often is, can we “fix” homosexuals?

Many people and groups have tried. Many will say they have been successful, and pull out spot anecdotes almost as convincing as the guy who lost 150 pounds by just thinking happy thoughts and eating chocolate cake all day.

When exposed to scientific scrutiny, however, every single sexual reorientation therapy approach has proven ineffective.

Now, that is not to say that there is not ever going to be a “cure” for homosexuality. I strongly believe that the current approaches to therapy are unlikely to bear any fruit, as they tend to disregard completely all scientific understanding of sexual orientation. However, as I said, it is always possible that such a “cure” will be found.

At the same time, such hope for a “cure” can not influence policy today, and might not make sense to influence policy when it is found. Two reasons for that.

First, obviously, if there is no “cure” today, then homosexuals today are an involuntary minority. Yes, this is the same as racial minorities and disabled minorities. Constitutionally, they can and should be protected from the whims of the majority.

Second, if there were a “cure”, a major ethical question would come into play: can we as a society “force” someone to reverse their “God-created nature”, in order to enjoy fundamental rights? Were it possible (physically and economically) for a person to be “cured” of “blackness”, would it be right for us to strip all black people of rights, since they could easily obtain those rights just by way of a simple procedure?

Fundamentally, I come down on the side of this entire area of pursuit having no bearing on civil rights at all. Certainly not today, and IMHO not ever in the future, either. Men and women have fundamental civil rights from the day they are born, period.

Rational Actions

The third avenue here is really just a bit of a mind game.

Imagine for a moment that homosexuality is indeed a pure “choice”.

Who would choose that?

Well-known (to any rational chooser) attributes of the “gay lifestyle”:

  1. Denial of “natural” biological imperative. This is implicit in this mind game: homosexuality is not biological, and so the “normal” heterosexual biological imperatives continue to exist. There are very few segments of the population who successfully deny their biological imperatives (eg, Catholic priests). 3-10% of adult males would choose this?
  2. Systemic, officially sanctioned discrimination. As much as we are aiming to reverse some part of this in our lifetimes, discrimination against homosexuals has existed and been officially sanctioned for thousands of years, and likely will continue to exist for centuries to come.
  3. Systemic “blind eye” to discriminatory violence. Same as above, I’d love to see this reversed. However, even today in most of the country a gay man stands a much higher chance of being beaten to death by ignorant bigoted thugs than any straight man. And today is relatively speaking the “golden age” for homosexual tolerance!
  4. Artificially small pool of potential mates. Assuming the high end of 10% homosexuals, a male could choose from 5% of the population (10% of males) or 45% of the population (90% of women) as their potential mating pool. Sheer odds of finding someone you want to spend the rest of your life with are significantly higher with nine times as many people to choose from!

In return for all these negatives, a man choosing between homosexuality and not gets a feeling of inclusion in a “club”? Really?

Who would choose that? Keep in mind that a significant portion of the population would need to have been “choosing” just that, and in much less tolerant conditions than we know today, since before the start of recorded history.

This thought experiment always fails. There is no way we can reconcile a rational actor model with a choice to adopt a lifestyle with so many intrinsic and highly visible negative effects.

The only “rational” explanation for this would be that homosexual men are, somehow, irrational beings. However, if homosexuals are somehow generally irrational, that fact has been impossible to support in scientific studies.

So … Is There a Choice?

Scientifically, it is clear that (1) sexual orientation is most significantly determined well before adulthood and (2) attempts to change sexual orientation in adults have all failed. Rationally, it is clear that (3) were this a simple “choice” no one would choose homosexuality.

Given that, is there any argument at all in favor of the “this is a choice” / “lifestyle” / “sin” side of the debate?

As I’ve said previously, I firmly disagree with anyone who says a person should be held liable – in this life or the next – for something well outside their ability to choose. People are born poor and to bad parents and so forth, and of course it would be great if “born poor” didn’t mean “poor for life” to a statistically significant extent. However, those are failings of society, which are difficult to impossible to correct. Allowing a man or woman who was born gay to choose their soulmate, to live their life in our society with honor and dignity, and to contribute to the wealth of human progress: that is easy and cheap. And, as with all civil rights issues, the benefits will be immense beyond anything we can imagine today.

If we as a society can not stand on the side of God and our fellow man when doing so is easy, how can we hope to lay claim to righteousness when it is hard? Will we ever pull ourselves out of the dark ages of the soul, when we find it so imperative that those unlike ourselves not be allowed to enjoy life’s riches? Will the selfish miser ever find true happiness?


On Which Side of History Do You Stand?

November 14, 2008

Forgive me for the long and dry history lesson, and skip ahead to the end if you feel you must. However, we are in a historic time, and it is apropos to look back at similar times to see how the forces we consider today as “good” and those we consider today as “evil” (or, more generously, “misguided”) aligned themselves. With this historical perspective, perhaps we can then look back at ourselves, from a vantage point fifty years in the future, and give an honest answer to the question: On which side of history did we stand?

Alabama, 1883

Tony Pace and Mary Cox had fallen in love in the Antebellum South. They had not been allowed to marry because Tony was a black man and Mary a white woman. While such a marriage had been deemed valid under the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution in Alabama in 1872 (Burns v. State), the decision had been reversed in 1876 by a Democrat-ruled AL Supreme Court in Green v. State.

Green v State defended anti-miscegenation laws as necessary to protect marriage “against disturbances from without”. It deemed that the state had a vital interest in promoting and protecting white family life against “elements so heterogeneous that they must naturally cause discord, shame, disruption of family circles , and estrangement”. Indeed, later on in Hoover v. State, all interracial marriages which had been previously allowed were declared “absolutely void”. (Citations: Wiki: Pace v. Alabama and Moran: Interracial Intimacy).

Pace and Cox did not seek to invalidate the anti-miscegenation law which kept them from marrying. Their sexual relationship had been found out and they each had been sentenced to two years’ imprisonment. This was larger than non-interracial fornication sentences; the discrimination was what they went to court to fight.

They lost. In Pace v. Alabama, 1883, the US Supreme Court ruled that interracial relationships may be treated as a more egregious crime than intra-racial (ie, white with white) relationships.

In other words: interracial relationships may be discriminated against so long as each individual in the relationship is treated equally.

Louisiana, 1896

In June of 1892, with conscious intent to test the constitutionality of Louisiana’s racially-segregated railcar laws, Homer Plessy took a seat in the white car of the train, refused to move, and was arrested and jailed. Plessy appealed to the judge in his case, John Howard Ferguson, that the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments of the US Constitution were violated by the requirement for him to sit separate from the white passengers.

The case eventually came to the US Supreme Court as Plessy v. Ferguson, in 1896.

Plessy lost. In the summary, Justice Brown wrote “We consider the underlying fallacy of the plaintiff’s argument to consist in the assumption that the enforced separation of the two races stamps the colored race with a badge of inferiority. If this be so, it is not by reason of anything found in the act, but solely because the colored race chooses to put that construction upon it.” (Ref: Wiki Plessy v. Ferguson)

In other words: separate facilities do not treat the races with inequality. If Plessy saw it as unequal, that was his own problem.

California, 1948

Andrea Perez and Sylvester Davis met and fell in love in Los Angeles. Their families and church supported their love, and applauded their application for a marriage license.

However, Sylvester was of African descent, and Andrea of Mexican descent (which was listed as “white” and thus under the rules of anti-miscegenation). The California law at the time declared “All marriages of white persons with Negroes, Mongolians, members of the Malay race, or mulattoes are illegal and void.”

Perez brought suit against the LA County Clerk (W.G. Sharp) to force an issuance of the marriage license. Their church (the Catholic Church) was willing to marry them, and the state’s anti-miscegenation law infringed on their right to participate in the religious ceremony.

In a previous case in 1942, the California Court of Appeals, 4th District, had ruled that a woman of mixed race herself could, effectively, not marry anyone (because of her white heritage she could not marry any of the other listed races; because of her non-white heritage she could not marry any caucasians); this came up post-fact after her (white) husband’s death as an invalidation of her marriage and hence loss of inheritance (Estate of Monks, 1942). The US Supreme Court had declined to take up the case. The deck seemed stacked against Perez.

However, in a landmark ruling, the California Supreme Court ruled that marriage is a fundamental right and that laws restricting that right based on race alone violated the Equal Protection clause.

The ruling was not well received. As late as 1958, Gallup polls showed that 96% of white Americans disapproved of interracial marriage (Ref: Wiki: Antimiscegenation). While Perez and Davis’ local Church was willing to marry them, the Roman Catholic Church in general was still on record against mixed-race marriages, as were most other major religions.

Still, it started a wave of anti-miscegenation laws being overturned across the US, which wave continued at the state level throughout the 1950s and much of the 1960s.

Kansas, 1954

In Topeka, Kansas, in 1951, thirteen parents, on behalf of their twenty children, brought suit against the Topeka Board of Education calling for the Board to reverse its policy of racial segregation. This policy was built on the foundation of the principle from Plessy v. Ferguson more than half a century earlier: separate, but equal, facilities provided by the state did not violate the Equal Protection clause of the US Constitution.

Linda Brown, a third grader, needed to walk six blocks to her school bus stop, at which point she could ride to her all-black school another mile away. An all-white school, Sumner Elementary, was just seven blocks from her house. Higher-grade school were not segregated (in fact, the Topeka High School had been integrated since its inception in 1871); Kansas law permitted segregation only below the high school level.

Linda’s father, Oliver Brown, with an aim to force the Board’s hand, enrolled his daughter in their neighborhood elementary school instead of the more distant all-black school. Linda was refused enrollment, and the case (including the other nineteen children so refused) was brought in 1951.

Ten previous cases had been brought against the 1879 Kansas school segregation law, three in Topeka alone. They had all failed.

There was no reason to believe that the education of Linda Brown, other than the minor discomfort of having to be bussed a mile to a different school, was in any way inferior to that given her white neighbors. For this reason, the District Court ruled against Brown et al, citing Plessy v. Ferguson.

In 1954, the US Supreme Court ruled on the case of Brown v. Board of Education, and four other similar cases (overall, including around 200 plaintiffs versus their local authorities). Earl Warren declared that “Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal” in the majority opinion of the case, basing his declaration not on a measurable inequality, but rather a psychological effect of separation.

Warren cited McLaurin v. Oklahoma State Regents, a case which had ruled against the black plaintiffs, which had nonetheless deduced “Segregation of white and colored children in public schools has a detrimental effect upon the colored children. The impact is greater when it has the sanction of the law; for the policy of separating the races is usually interpreted as denoting the inferiority of the negro group.” (Ref: Brown v BoE and Wiki: Brown v. BoE)

In other words, the very act of providing a separate facility for one group over another guarantees inequality, because the existence of that separate facility will be interpreted as a judgement on the separated.

The last surviving plaintif in Brown v. Bourd of Education, Zelma Henderson, died on May 20, 2008. Her son Donald, who along with his sister Vicki gained entrance to desegregated Topeka schools in 1955, continues to live in Topeka.

Virginia, 1967

By 1967, many states had repealed their traditional anti-miscegenation laws. However, Virginia had not. The 1924 “Racial Integrity Act” stood in full effect in banning interracial marriages.

Mildred Delores Jeter and Richard Perry Loving traveled to the District of Columbia to wed, and returned home to Virginia a married couple. The local police invaded their home and arrested them in their bedroom. At their trial, the judge invoked God’s plan:

“Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, Malay and red, and He placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with His arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that He separated the races shows that He did not intend for the races to mix.”

The sentence of one year was suspended on the condition that they leave Virginia for at least 25 years.

The Lovings moved to Washington, DC, and filed a motion to vacate the judgement. Initial rulings in the Virginia Supreme Court declared that the Lovings had not been discriminated against, because both of them – the black woman and the white man – had received the same sentence, echoing Pace v Alabama, 1883.

The appeal to the US Supreme Court was accepted and heard. The Earl Warren Court ruled that the Lovings had indeed been treated unequally by the State of Virginia. He wrote:

“Marriage is one of the “basic civil rights of man,” fundamental to our very existence and survival…. To deny this fundamental freedom on so unsupportable a basis as the racial classifications embodied in these statutes, classifications so directly subversive of the principle of equality at the heart of the Fourteenth Amendment, is surely to deprive all the State’s citizens of liberty without due process of law. The Fourteenth Amendment requires that the freedom of choice to marry not be restricted by invidious racial discrimination. Under our Constitution, the freedom to marry, or not marry, a person of another race resides with the individual and cannot be infringed by the State.”

Mildred Loving outlived her husband by several decades before passing on May 2, 2008. On the 40th anniversary of her landmark case, she spoke in favor of not only racial equality but also sexual orientation equality of marriage: “I believe all Americans, no matter their race, no matter their sex, no matter their sexual orientation, should have that same freedom to marry. Government has no business imposing some people’s religious beliefs over others. Especially if it denies people’s civil rights.”

On Which Side Will You Stand?

Earlier this year, the California Supreme Court ruled that the California “Defense of Marriage” act sought to create a “separate but equal” facility for marriage (“Marriage” for heterosexuals, “Domestic Partnership” for gays).

No matter the practical differences of the two marriage licenses (due to the federal Defense of Marriage act, “Domestic Partnership” or “Marriage” between homosexuals would not be recognized outside of California or in any Federal jurisdictions such as income taxes or Social Security benefits). The mere presence of a separate institution for homosexual couples de facto declares them as inferior to the “normal” heterosexual couples. The CA Supreme Court ruled this as unconstitutional because the recognition of civil marriage is a “fundamental right” (declared so in Perez v. Sharp, 1948) and thus separate facilities violates the Equal Protection clause of the 14 Amendment (as established in Brown v. BoE, 1954).

In November, Californians, largely assaulted by false arguments (for instance that allowing gay couples to marry would cause homosexuality to be taught in schools and force churches to officiate in gay marriages, both of which are provably false), approved by scant majority (52%, pending final count) amending the California Constitution to forbid gay marriages in the state.

In 1948, had such an initiative process existed, I have little doubt Californians (who supported anti-miscegenation laws by more than 19 to 1) would have passed such an amendment easily. Yet, they did not. Because they did not, because they accepted progress, a vile and arguably evil practice began to come to an end. By the late 1960s major religions, including the Roman Catholic Church, had reversed their positions on miscegenation and were lobbying states to strike such laws from the books. It took eighteen and a half years before a US Supreme Court ruling would strike down anti-miscegenation laws across the country. Still, it started with the simple recognition of the fundamental right to marry which must be made available to all couples.

Now, half a century later, there are scant few who would claim in public that it is wrong or evil or destructive for a black man to marry a white woman, or for a Korean woman to marry a white man. They are, rightfully, ridiculed when they pop out their cretinous heads.

Fifty years from now, will this debate over gay marriage have been silenced by common accord? In a hundred? Perhaps it will take nothing more than a few decades, perhaps as long as another century. I am confident, however, that it will come to overwhelming consensus, as these issues tend to.

In a hundred years, your great-great grandchildren will read the journal in which you write tonight. On which side of history will they judge you as having stood?

Will they need to make excuses for you, saying “that was just what people were like back then”? Will they, instead, look at your voice as one of courage, standing for the rights of those whom you scarcely know?