Tuesday, January 14, 2014
The right to BE gay
Determining whether a particular, complex set of human behaviours is genetically or socially determined is a very difficult matter. In all likelihood, all human behaviour is the result of a complex interaction between genetic/biological and social factors. I put ‘genetic/biological’, rather than simply genetic, because it is likely that behaviour is influenced by biological factors other than particular genes.
The debate over whether sexual orientation is genetically determined is politically and emotionally charged, and research into it is unlikely to be entirely ‘objective’. Many of those of a religious persuasion who are opposed to homosexuality would like it to be demonstrated that a homosexual lifestyle is a matter of choice rather than genetically determined. Of course, in a sense they will always be correct: it will always be possible (but not necessarily desirable) for someone with a homosexual orientation to choose celibacy. Many within the homosexual community would prefer it to be demonstrated that a homosexual orientation has a genetic basis, as this would strengthen equal rights arguments.
My personal opinion is that it is unlikely that the debate over the genetic origin of sexual orientation will ever be fully resolved and that, in fact, as with all human behaviour, the situation is far more complicated than an either/or option. I also think it likely that there is an entire spectrum of sexual orientation and that few people are 100% gay or 100% straight.
Many of those who are in favour of gay rights seem to prefer the ‘genetic’ over the ‘choice’ model for sexual orientation. They seem to think that by showing that sexual orientation has a genetic or biological origin they have lifted it out of the moral sphere. I have even heard gay people say things like: ‘I can’t help it; I was born that way.’ I find this kind of thinking odd, and a little disturbing. Are they implying that if it were a choice, it would be immoral? Is the only argument against those who consider homosexual behaviour to be immoral to remove it from the realm of moral choice by claiming that it is innate? Is that not, at some level, to concede the argument?
Surely the correct argument against those who claim that homosexual behaviour is immoral is to argue that it is moral, rather than that it is amoral. Even if there is some genetic influence on sexual orientation, I think it unlikely that choice can be entirely eliminated, even if it is only the choice to express that behaviour. Why not stand proud and say: ‘I choose to live this way’; and perhaps even: ‘I choose to be this way, and there is nothing wrong with that choice. It is not an amoral choice. It is an equally valid moral choice.’ Then we can begin a dialogue, not only about the need for people who are gay to have the same rights as those who are not, but about the right to be gay.