I have a problem with the way the debate about gay marriage pans out these days. My problem isn’t with people who say that homosexual couples should or should not have the right to marry, but rather the reasoning behind it. The discourse has devolved into a mindless back and forth about whether or not homosexuality is biological or a choice, and without realizing it, both sides have just dug themselves into a trench that they are incapable of getting out of.
Let’s start with briefly attempting to define sexuality. To begin, it is incredibly naive to pretend that something as complicated as a person’s sexuality can be defined in concrete terms. In the modern world, it is difficult to claim that anybody is completely straight, gay, or bisexual. Rather, sexuality is most likely a spectrum, and people can fall anywhere along it. To those men who identify themselves as straight, do you really think you don’t have any homosexual tendencies? Think about this, when you watch pornography, do you prefer the penis to be large or small? Why do you think you are so turned on by lesbians? Admittedly, this is all anecdotal evidence, but studies have demonstrated that even people who claim to be completely confident in their sexuality have desires they either repress or are unaware of (see Richardson. The Dilemma of Essentiality in Homosexual Theory. The Journal of Homosexuality. 1984). Take incest as another example of the complexity of sexuality. Most people look at incest with disgust. Yet, if you visit nearly any pornographic website, the videos featuring incestuous relationships are among the most popular. You may consider it a taboo, but if nobody actually did it or fantasized about it, would it really need to be a taboo? We wouldn’t really need to stigmatize something so much if it didn’t happen. No, people can fall anywhere on a sexual gradient, having any manner of sexual preferences or desires, and no two individuals are necessarily the same. Essentialism is not an appropriate way to look at sexuality.
That being said, let’s move on the contentious part of the discussion, the origins of sexuality. Is it biological (genetic) or is it a choice? Contrary to what you may think, there is evidence for each. Researchers have found that gene manipulation can change sexual preference in fruit flies (http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,983027,00.html). The problem is that an analogous gene has not yet been found in human beings. However, the research does suggest that sexuality may have direct biological origins. Speaking logically as well, if heterosexuality is biological, it doesn’t really make sense that homosexuality wouldn’t be. Personally, I do not think that researchers will ever find a sexuality gene in human beings, because I am troubled by the idea that our identities and their components can be “programmed” into anything. I find such a claim logically unsustainable. As far as the other side is concerned, psychological conditioning has been shown to elicit and eliminate homosexual desires (see Combined Intervention for Controlling Unwanted Homosexual Behavior. Archives of Sexual Behavior. 1974 and Coping with homosexual expression in heterosexual marriages: Five case studies. Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy. 1978.). This and much more evidence suggests that environment impacts a person’s sexual preference to a tremendous extent, and a variety of factors can influence them toward one end of the spectrum or another. In reality, sexual orientation is likely developed through a combination of biological and environmental influences. And if we separate sexual orientation from physical sexual preference, this becomes even more apparent. It is very possible to enjoy homosexual sex and not actually be homosexual. Research demonstrates that anal activity contributes greatly to the male orgasm (see Multiple orgasm in males. Journal of Sex Research. 1978.). It is not hard to believe that a man could enjoy homosexual anal sex without having romantic feelings toward men, or even being attracted to men. After all, many men regularly have sex with women they don’t necessarily find attractive. And remember, all of this analysis applies to women as well.
Now let’s consider the implications. This is the part I am most concerned with, and my actual question to all those with a strong opinion on the issue is: Why does it matter? I don’t really think it does, and I will get into that later. To start, let’s say, for the sake of argument, that sexual orientation is strictly biologically determined. What are the implications? It becomes an immutable characteristic, and is therefore protected under that constitution thing we all admire so much. However, this doesn’t really matter to the people who think homosexuality is morally abhorrent. A mental handicap is an immutable characteristic, but a mentally handicapped person murdering somebody is still morally wrong. Similarly, homosexuality may be an immutable characteristic, but being in a homosexual relationship can still be considered immoral. Illnesses are biological too, and I imagine that biological confirmation will give the anti-gay movement an excuse to claim that homosexuality is an illness. What else? Homosexuals can be more secure in their identities. Those who are unsure about their orientation can have the reassurance that their desires are natural. But again, biological confirmation doesn’t change the fact that homosexuals are still in the minority and will likely continue to be stigmatized. I imagine that, for the most part, sexual identity issues arise as a result of social environmental influences rather than an uncertainty about one’s biological makeup. So let’s flip the argument. Let’s consider the implications of sexuality completely being a choice. That means it isn’t an immutable characteristic, so it isn’t protected under the U.S. Constitution. Really? Religion is a choice. Don’t we protect that? And didn’t marriage originate as a religious institution? So even if it is a choice, the anti-gay marriage folks don’t really have ground to say that homosexuals should not be allowed to get married. This would also mean that people could choose their sexual orientation and effectively “cure” their homosexuality. Again, really? I imagine that people who already have homosexual desires will just “choose” to be gay. Actually, this would force them to become more confident and secure in their choice of orientation as a necessary social survival mechanism.
I asked a little bit earlier why you think the origins of sexuality matter. Now, I invite you to consider that they don’t, at least when it comes to deciding whether or not homosexual marriages should be permitted. The proper justification is not that sexuality is an immutable characteristic, but rather, that marriages are protected under freedom of religion. Consider the religious zealot claiming that homosexuality is immoral. I imagine that he/she thinks being a member of a different faith is also immoral. Although, they would never stand up and actually argue that because we have a guaranteed freedom of religion in this country. The only potential argument against this is that we still limit religious expression. This really isn’t a response, however, because we only limit religious expression in the event that it violates the rights of other people, which homosexual marriages do not. Furthermore, there really is no reason not to allow homosexuals to get married, only benefits. Speaking in strictly utilitarian terms, it’s a great thing that there are more and more couples who will not reproduce with each other. This limits the exponentially growing world population, a population that our Earth will soon not be able to handle. Not to mention, there are millions of orphans who need a home, and increasing homosexual unions will undoubtedly lead to more adoptions. There are those who will contend that a child should not be raised by two homosexual parents. Consider this, whether you believe sexuality is biological or not, you really have no reason to worry. If it is biological, then the child will end up being whatever sexuality it is programmed to be, and if it is not biological, then the child will still just choose to be whatever orientation it wants. Also, it is naive to pretend the child will exist in an isolated homosexual bubble without ever being exposed to other influences.
My judgment of a person is not affected at all by his/her sexuality. In my view, you are welcome to your sexual preferences, so long as you are not harming those around you. That being said, I have a problem with the way the gay community is portrayed in the media, and with the way it often portrays itself. The images and depictions present in gay pride parades and gay neighborhoods like Castro in San Francisco are very troubling to me. Such encouragements of sexual promiscuity are damaging. Just because you are in a homosexual relationship or community, it does not mean that ideas of commitment and family values need to disappear. I’m not one of those people who claims that sex needs to be saved for marriage, but I do think that it is much more emotionally gratifying and meaningful in the confines of a committed relationship. AIDS is much more prevalent within homosexual communities, particularly among gay males. I visited several gay clubs in San Francisco and New York, and the prevalence of STD’s (I refuse to call them STI’s :P) is not at all surprising after being exposed to such environments. I admit that such environments also exist in heterosexual communities, but minority orientation populations seem to overemphasize or encourage them. I do not think the GLBT community has done enough to promote safe sexual practices and strong values. I do not think it has done enough to help its members address relevant psychological and identity issues, and I often feel as if many take an “in your face” approach which is just as tragic and close minded as the opposition’s. Or at least, that is my perception from the research I have done.
I want to see a time when sexual orientations are no longer stigmatized, a time when couples of varying orientations and compositions are permitted to be legally married. However, I think this will require dramatic changes in the attitudes of people on both sides of the issue. This change begins with an education informed by an examination of the actual reality and a willingness to address the real tangible issues within it. I can only hope that this piece has gotten you thinking about these issues in a more incisive and complicated way that is free from some of the prejudices and biases you may have had before.