What’s most amazing to me about the ‘born gay’ phenomenon is that the scientific evidence for it is thin as a reed, yet it doesn’t matter. It’s an idea with such social utility that one doesn’t need much evidence in order to make it attractive and credible.*
My response to those who claim science confirms inborn sexual orientation is simple: convince the American Psychiatric Association (APA), the American Psychological Association, and the Association of Gay and Lesbian Psychiatrist – all pro-gay organizations. All three have the same statement on their websites: “No one knows what causes heterosexuality, homosexuality, or bisexuality.” The APA states that while there is interest in searching for biological etiologies for homosexuality there are to date no specific supporting replicated scientific studies. So those who insist sexual orientation is inborn can send their evidence to the APA. But even if there is evidence supporting specific biological etiology, it does not mean people are ‘born gay.’ The APA states, “Some people believe that sexual orientation is innate and fixed; however, sexual orientation develops across a person’s lifetime.” So sexual orientation cannot be completely inborn. This should be of no surprise. Every other human behavior develops throughout life – why wouldn’t sexuality as well?
‘Born gay makes it ok,’ although rarely stated but implied, is a fallacious statement – a non-sequitur. It does not follow that ones biology makes their behavior morally acceptable. Dr. John Corvino is a philosophy professor and also a gay man and activist. He has stated that he doesn’t know if he was born gay and doesn’t care. He uses an analogy of an anger gene. If it were determined he had an anger gene, would it be acceptable for him to beat other people? He concludes no. He concludes that the morality of a behavior is to be determined by its actions, not its biology.
Now what if researchers came out tomorrow and said, “We’ve finally figured it out – sexual orientation develops completely after birth.” Would this mean that homosexuality is morally bad? No, not anymore than it would mean heterosexuality is morally bad. The morality of a behavior is to be determined by its actions, not its source.
Social Utility and Attractive
‘Born gay’ is a useful and attractive argument two major reasons.
First, it lessens the erroneous claim that gay and lesbian people freely choose their sexual attractions. They are not ‘choosing’ their attractions anymore than straight people are. These attractions develop over ones lifetime and are so complex that how they come about is not yet fully understood and may never be. Gay and lesbian people deal with many hardships that straight people never have to even considered. It used to be common for gays to point out that if sexual attractions are freely chosen, then they’d choose to be straight to avoid the difficulties. The ‘born gay’ idea combats the ‘you are freely choosing homosexuality’ idea.
Second, it legitimatizes homosexuality. The analogy is often used to compare sexual orientation with race. If it is wrong to discriminate against someone for their race, the reasoning goes that it must also be wrong to discriminate against someone for their inborn sexuality. Most people cannot see that this is a disanalogy – comparing apples and oranges. The issue of race is non-moral and the issue of sexuality is moral. For example, think of two babies, one black and one white. Which is morally better and which one is morally worse? The question is nonsensical and cannot be answered because color is non-moral. Now think about the two babies as married adults. One is faithful to their spouse and the other cheats at will. Which one is morally better and which is morally worse? Now this question can be answered because there is behavior which can be morally examined. Also, as previously mentioned, the argument is a non-secquitur – a logically fallacy. It does not follow that how one is born makes their behavior either legitimate or illegitimate. Oddly enough ‘born gay’ is rarely used to legitimize other behaviors, but when applied to homosexuality it resonates with a significant number of people. This is another fallacy called special pleading, better know as cherry picking.
While the ‘born this way’ argument is attractive and very effective, it lacks both evidence and logically reasoning. But even though it is broke, it still works and will continue being used until it is thoroughly refuted.
* Quote by Dr. John D’Emilio, a professor of history and of women’s and gender studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago and former Director of the Policy Institute at the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force from 1995 to 1997.