Will A Gay Gene Get Us Anywhere?
Biological evidence for homosexuality made front page news a couple of years ago and they still do. Critiques of flaws in these studies, on the other hand, are almost never heard of. Two of the most widespread studies will be examined briefly.
Simon Levay compared a certain group of neurons in the hypothalamus structure between cadavers who were alleged homosexuals and heterosexuals. He theorized that bigger neurons caused heterosexuality, and the media claimed that his evidence supported his claim. One of the problems the public did not hear about is that 17% (6 out of 35) of his cadavers contradicted his theory. Secondly, no scientist has ever claimed that the region under study is linked to sexual orientation. Third, Levay's research does not justify a cause and effect relationship between the neuron size and homosexuality. Fourth, we cannot verify the sexual orientations of these cadavers. The fifth is that Levay's methodology is not universally accepted. Some argue that volume or density are more important than mere size. And finally, it has failed the test of replication. In fact, at least one study by Dr. Shwab in The Netherlands contradicts it.
Richard Pillard and Michael Bailey interviewed identical twins in an attempt to find out whether homosexuality was genetic. They found that 52% of identical twins, 22% of fraternal twins, 11% of adoptive brothers, and 9% of non-twin brothers were homosexual. The media were quick to point out that as genetic similarity increased, so did the probability of both being homosexual, and thus homosexuality was genetic. The media was silent with regards to the shallowness of this explanation. Identical twins share all their genes, and if homosexuality were genetic, then we would expect 100% of identical twins to be homosexual. Because this is not the case, it makes more sense to say that environmental, not biological, factors cause homosexuality. Secondly, the use of identical twins raised together do not tease apart the nurture vs nature debate, instead the methodology merely confounded the issue more. Thirdly, the subjects were recruited through publications that catered exclusively to homosexuals, and thus do not represent an accurate sample of the whole population.
Gay rights activists seem to be trying to prove the acceptability of homosexuality through a gay gene, while Christian theologians seem to be trying to say that if a gay gene is not found then homosexuality is immoral. In this crossfire of whether homosexuality is genetic, I contend that our finding of a gay gene will not really get us anywhere in the debate.
This is because we know that bad things can be genetic. For example, the mental retardation that accompanies Down Syndrome is caused by a genetic defect. So is cystic fibrosis that causes problems in human respiration. Accompanied by other abnormalities such as color-blindness or Klein-Felters, the list of genetically caused defects is not short. Even if a gay gene were found, this would not grant homosexuality moral or social acceptability because it could still be regarded as a defect or an abnormality.
Some homosexuals also feel that finding a gay gene might diminish prevalent homophobia. This is also a naïve view. Racism has not diminished because we know that blackness or whiteness is genetic. Sexism exists even though we know that sex is genetic.
Since finding a gay gene will neither make homosexuality morally or socially acceptable nor will it diminish homophobia, it is clearly the wrong place to be looking. The gay gene debate and arguments over whether it is genetic or not are superfluous and can have no real impact on the important aspects of the discussion of whether homosexuality should be acceptable.
Another line of attempt at the problem is to argue that humans have the right to choose how they live, and even if homosexuality is not genetic, it should be morally acceptable to accept people's choices. However, not all choices are good or moral choices. Getting a haircut is a choice. Getting a tattoo is a choice, but so is getting an abortion. So is the choice to go to the bar every night and getting trashed. So is the choice to smoke crack each night to get by with life. Two people who engage in sado-masochistic behavior willingly are acting out their choices, but they and the drunk and drug addict may require psychological attention which would be denied to their well-being if outsiders did not intervene. The argument that homosexuality is a choice does not answer the serious accusation that homosexuals are people who need psychological counselling.
While the arguments for accepting homosexuality seem weak, so are the arguments for branding homosexuality as immoral or wrong.
The main argument is usually based on the unnaturalness of homosexuality. Some claim that because homosexuality is unnatural, therefore it is wrong. This argument is even more naïve then the view that finding a gay gene will diminish homophobia. Consider the everyday artifact - a pair of eyeglasses. Eyeglasses do not appear in nature and are man-made. According to the argument, wearing eyeglasses is immoral and wrong because it is unnatural. So is car-driving, house-painting and even doing algebra because it does not appear anywhere else in the natural animal kingdom. Proponents of this type of argument fail to see whatever a human being does must be natural because human beings themselves are part of nature and thus natural. For a human being to do something unnatural, he must be unnatural himself, which is an odd position to take because this would mean that nature contains unnaturalness.
A sibling argument to the unnaturalness argument is the disgust argument. Surely something as disturbing as homosexual intercourse must be wrong. However, many people are also disturbed by the gore of seeing open heart surgery. Does this make it immoral and wrong? Thus both these arguments are untenable ones logically.
A more sophisticated argument is that homosexuality uproots society's most cherished and valued element of the family. Proponents of this view forget perhaps that the American heterosexual family faces a 50% chance of divorce that has long term effects on all parties involved, particularly young children. Homosexual couples have a much, much lower divorce rate in comparison and thus in a way cause less disruption to our most cherished social element the family. Proponents of this view also forget that democracy could also have been argued to uproot society's most cherished and valued element of the royalty and dictatorship and banned as immoral.
So the question is neither "Is it genetic?" nor "Is it a choice?", neither "Isn't it unnatural?" nor "Isn't it disgusting?", or even "Will it uproot society's values?". So, what is the right question then? What makes something morally acceptable or unacceptable?
Part of the problem here is that the world is inherently amoral, and we become unsettled by the thought that something can be neither because we often forget that that is how the world is. The questions asked above all try to paint in broad strokes that answer to generalities instead of specificities, and it is hard to find absolutes in such broad generalities. People are using the easy way out:
1) Something that is genetically caused is acceptable.
But it is seldom that such general statements as (1) are absolutely true. There are exceptions. And when people go through all the generalities they know and every one of them fails their plight, they get confused, as we have by our questions above.
If homosexuality is a moral question, then it deserves to be questioned specifically, and very few people have. Most arguments for or against it are tied up with some "If..then" generality or analogy. People trying to show the moral acceptability or unacceptability of homosexuality need to focus more on the specifics.
is the more provoking possibility that homosexuality does not deserve
moral standing, in the sense that it is absurd to talk about it in moral
terms because it is neither. This is also the case with most preferences
or behaviors. We do not think of eating one flavor versus another flavor
of ice-cream as being morally unacceptable. Are we making a problem where
none exists? In the world, there are moral questions and there are non-moral
questions. Does homosexuality belong to the latter?