Sunday, November 21, 2010

Homosexuality is a choice

(1)Putting the ocean of anecdotal evidence against this claim aside, there is no scientific consensus supporting the claim that homosexuality is a choice in the vast majority of cases(2) - quite the opposite, no credible American scientific organization would support that claim.(3) Because sexuality is more than brain chemistry, scientific studies will never tell us all we want to know about ourselves,(4) but the evidence that homosexuality is not a choice in the vast majority of cases is consistent and overwhelming.(5)

1. This is a core part of the argument that homosexuality is sin. Sin often involves our volition. We will to do something wrong. In some cases, it is possible for something to be sin and not a choice, but we can deal with that later in more detail. If homosexuality is not a choice as, is becoming increasingly accepted even among conservatives, then an element of moral guilt is removed. This is partly why opponents of inclusion are so eager to separate between sexual orientation and behavior, but the division between being and action is never clean.

2. By ocean of anecdotal evidence, we mean: go speak with a homosexual person and ask them when they decided to be gay. Or, conversely, think about when you chose to be heterosexual. Of course you never did. Neither did they. In a small number of cases, a person's natural sexual orientation might be corrupted by abuse or other environmental factors, in which case the loving thing to do is to nurture them toward healthy, consensual sexual expression. Here's a pastor saying just this from the recent news. For him, his sexual orientation was no more of a choice than the call of God on his life - in his own words. This is true of LGBTQ folks who want to be ordained this very moment.

3. As for scientific consensus, homosexuality was removed from the DSM in 1973. The American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association, the American Counseling Association, and any number of other scientific organizations take the position that in the vast majority of cases, homosexuality is not a disorder and is not a choice. Numerous long term twin studies have come to the same conclusion. If you argue that homosexuality is a choice in most cases, or even in a large minority of cases, you are doing so apart from the best science available.

4. This chunk of counter-argument is leaving aside ethical or theological considerations for the most part, and simply dealing with the false claim about choice that under-girds so much anti-equality rhetoric.

5. In fact, claims to the contrary are essentially the sole purview of religiously-motivated groups which function outside the world of scientific study and peer review.


Alan said...

I have issues with these choice arguments for a number of reasons...

1) I don't much like the pro-gay argument that we deserve X rights because being gay isn't a choice. (Note: Historically that wasn't the argument, but that's how it is used these days. Historically, this wasn't about choice or not, it was simply the counter argument to the "it ain't nat'rul!" anti-gay argument.)

Anyway, do we really want to make arguments about the rights an entire category of people deserve based only on genetics? Of course, the anti-gay argument made by the BFTSs about denying an entire category of people their basic human rights based on genetics is equally problematic.

2) Even if being gay were a choice, so what? I still don't see any ethical reason to deny people basic human rights based solely on a morally neutral lifestyle choice that affects no one but themselves. Being a busybody, fusspot, tattletale and scold is a choice, but we don't deny them the right to marry, in spite of the harm they do to everyone else.

3) Because of those reasons, I don't see the choice/not a choice argument particularly useful for either side (though both continue to trot it out.) However, it is useful for exposing the BFTS tactic of moving the goal posts. They simply claim that even if being gay is not a choice, that homosexual activity (by which I suppose they mean interior design and floral arranging) is a choice. Their problem is that they've still not proven that even if it were a choice, why it would still be wrong. They just move the goal posts down the field, hoping no one will notice.

4) The choice/not a choice argument is also useful for at least diagnosing any particular BFTS's connection to reality. If they claim that being gay is a choice, you know you're dealing with someone who is either deliberately lying, or ignorant.

Doug Hagler said...

Obviously we disagree; here, briefly, are some reasons why.

1. That sexual orientation is a choice is at the very core of the anti-inclusion argument. That is why people call it a "lifestyle", to imply that it is the same as being a Bobo, or a world traveler, or a vegetarian. This is a false claim, and it downplays something that is at the heart of a person's identity (their sexuality).

2. The issue of whether sexual orientation is a choice is at the core of the argument over whether it is a sin. Something that is not a choice is much less likely to be a sin - it is placed in the category of race or sex or height or eye color, as opposed to taste or preference or behavioral choices. It is therefore a very important thing to work out ahead of time.

3. If we can inform enough people of the fact that sexual orientation is not a choice, perhaps it will reduce the instance of harmful psuedo-scientific 'treatments' like conversion therapy.

4. If anti-inclusion persons understand that sexual orientation is not a choice, it may increase empathy for LGBTQ persons. If a person understands that a homosexual person doesn't choose same-sex attraction any more than a heterosexual person chooses other-sex attractions, maybe this will help heterosexual persons identify more with homosexual persons (for example), making it that much harder to deny them basic rights, or bully them, or refuse to ordain them.

Alan said...

The problem with ignoring choice is that the obvious BFTS rebuttal is "well, being gay may not be a choice, but acting gay is." So while you're making analogies to eye color, they're making analogies to alcoholism. Do we really want to rely on biological determinism to do the heavy lifting on deciding whether something is a sin or not?

Regardless of whether you agree, if your purpose here is to provide a rebuttal for common arguments, then your argument about choice absolutely must address behavior, whether you want to or not, since that's where the anti-gay folks focus their rants.

I still find the notion of arguing for or against rights for an entire class or race of people based on genetics deeply troubling. While I wish it were true that "if [anti-gay] persons understand that sexual orientation is not a choice, it may increase empathy for LGBTQ persons" when historically there is little evidence to back that up. Race is most evidently not a choice, but that didn't stop Christians from owning slaves. I don't think we can expect the BFTSs of our generation to be any smarter or moral than the bigots of previous generations, and all the evidence suggests they are neither.

This is also the hardest argument to make because it relies on people actually understanding and acknowledging the scientific evidence. Given the anti-intellectual tendencies of most of the BFTSs, that's a hard sell. If you can't convince these people the world isn't 6000 years old, then convincing them that sexual orientation isn't a choice is going to be pretty tough.

Doug Hagler said...

@ Alan: In brief - that's why we have more than two dozen arguments we're presenting here. We're not arguing for anything based on genetics alone. We're saying that genetics, as far as we understand them to determine sexual orientation, is about 4% of our total argument as presented. I would also be troubled, if we were arguing from genetics, but we are not. We are arguing from genetics, in addition to a huge load of other things including behavior, biblical languages, history, sociology, psychology, theology, ethics and politics, among others. We deal with behavior other places, but not in this particular point.

I just have to say I disagree on the empathy issue, but my evidence is anecdotal. I have seen people realize that homosexuality is no more a choice than heterosexuality, and I have seen it move them, even if slightly, in the direction of justice and inclusion.

Again, it is one argument among many others.

Aric Clark said...

I see Alan's point. Biology by itself is neutral, anyway, as Gagnon and friends are quick to point out. A Sociopath may be that way because of biological reasons. It doesn't make their behavior ok.

But Doug is also right that moral responsibility is lessened when no choice is involved. For example, I WOULD say that a sociopath is less responsible for their crime than a normal sane individual. For safety and to prevent future crimes we may need to restrain the sociopath, but they deserve our empathy.

Similarly I would say about choice that it is mostly morally neutral - which is to say that just because you did something by choice won't determine whether that thing was good or bad. It will however effect the degree of moral responsibility you have. If the thing you did was bad and you did it by choice that is worse than if you did it without intending to or under coercion.

I think we have to deal with sexual orientation and biology because it is a feature of arguments against homosexuality. I agree with you Alan that even if it was by choice it would not make it any more or less "moral". It would just mean that the people choosing it would be more responsible for their actions whether good or bad.

And yeah - they move the goal posts and make it about behavior, but that relies on a false dichotomy between identity and action, and a horrible shrinking of sexuality to mere coitus, as if holding hands, and flirtatious looks, and our very scent, appearance, movement, personality, thoughts, and presence were a-sexual. Yeah right.

Jodie said...

I think this argument, the one about choice, really challenges the doctrine of original sin, since the doctrine, at least as it is popularly understood, prominently features the lack of choice about sin.

Zenophobia is something we lack a choice about either. It may not be as deeply buried in our DNA as our sexual drive, but its in our DNA as well.

At the end of the day, it is time to re-open the whole notion of sin. We have learned more about human behavior and human instinct in the last 50 years than the accumulated knowledge of all previous time. Our theory about sin has been abandoned by the liberals and all scientific discoveries after 1900 have been abandoned by the Fundamentalists.

But there is such a thing as sin, and we need to recognize it. And while I do acknowledge that it has much to do with choice and values, we do sometimes choose incorrectly. We do sometimes aim and miss.