Wednesday, October 08, 2008


As an addendum to a post from the other day about homosexuality and "choice", here's Nathanial Frank with more on the subject in today's LA Times:

...insisting that homosexuality is wholly involuntary does little to defend gays and lesbians from social disapproval. After all, the subtext of the "choice" debate is that opposing gay rights is only appropriate if gays select their sexuality, since it is unfair to punish someone for something one does not control. Yet this reasoning raises a larger question: Why should equal treatment of gays and lesbians hinge on whether they have chosen or inherited their identities? Whether our DNA or our free will are "at fault" really only matters if being gay is a bad thing.

It is past time to retire the question of whether being gay is a choice -- not because it's been settled but because it never made sense in the first place. Indeed, when it comes to other aspects of our identity and behavior, we generally don't dwell on the question of choice. To ask whether a practicing Catholic or a professional dancer has "chosen" to be a Catholic or a dancer seems bizarre, not because we entirely deny that an element of choice is involved but because we recognize that the lives we lead are the layered products of our experiences and passions, our convictions and longings, our judgments and follies.

Frank doesn't dwell on the negative, which is the fact that a trait may be inherent has never forestalled discrimination in the past. Rather he focuses on the positive, that homosexuality is simply an expression of an innate character and personality trait and as such is no different from the "decision" to practice a certain faith or engage in a certain hobby or profession. Just as those who discriminate against gays analogize homosexuality to pedophilia and the like, those who value equal rights for gays can analogize it to something as wholesome as religious belief. Frank gets at an essential fact in the debate about homosexuality, which is that many people still regard homosexuality as "wrong", as immoral and unnatural. The antidote to this belief is not to demonstrate that people are born gay (though I do think that helps to undermine certainty about the matter) but to demonstrate that homosexuality is not wrong; that as a lifestyle choice, it's as legitimate and wholesome as any other lifestyle choice that we give our approval to. Gay rights have made great strides not because scientists have found the "gay gene", but because social activists and gays themselves have demonstrated that there's nothing abnormal about being gay; gays can live, love, work and raise families as well or as poorly as anyone else. Progress lies in making homosexuality familiar, everyday, "normal"; not in proving that gays are the way they are because they have to be.

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