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Is Homosexuality a Choice?

June 4, 2012

Scott Whynot

This topic has been the definition of inflammatory over the past while.  Even hint at the fact that you believe homosexuality to be a choice and you’ll be labeled a bigot faster than Terrell Owens can lose his job.

Somewhat recently, the ‘Sex and the City’ star Cynthia Nixon dared to state that her homosexuality was a choice.  The LGBT community did not appreciate that one bit.

Let’s try to leave the emotions behind for a minute to probe this question a little further.

Lots of interesting research investigating the role of biology in homosexuality is being published.  Researchers have aptly proposed that differences in genetics, intrauterine environments, hormone balance, etc. may influence sexual orientation (1, 2).

It is important to note, however, that no 100% biological determinant has been found. Judging by the lack of pure concordance of sexual orientation in twin studies (3), it is highly improbable that any such determinant actually exists.

So at this point we know that biology has some sort of role in sexual orientation.  It doesn’t give us the whole story, but it definitely plays a part.

This makes little difference in determining if homosexual behavior is a choice, or if it is morally acceptable.

Part of the fallacy here is assuming that if a behavioral trait is influenced by genetics it is automatically less malleable than an environmental one – genetic fatalism (4).  This is simply not true.  Alper and Beckwith discuss:

“For example, one person might be able to control angry rages brought on by a hormonal imbalance due to an altered genotype more easily than another might be able to control the same type of rages brought on by years of suffering as an abused child.”  (4)

Regarding morality, just because a behavior has a biological influence doesn’t make that behavior necessarily right or wrong.  Look at alcoholism, aggression, possibly even impatience or pedophilia.  Some or all of these traits may have a biological influence, but that doesn’t decide the morality of the act.

Most, if not all, behaviors are influenced in some way by environmental or biological factors.  We lose all foundation for ethics if we pronounce every influenced behavior to be morally acceptable.  (Check out Paul’s discussion of moral foundations here).

The scientific community doesn’t have all the answers on how genetics and environment shape our behavior.  One thing we do know is that we are all influenced by both of these factors while we live our lives.  We still make real choices and are responsible for our behaviors.  The Christian response should be to help and support those who are influenced biologically or environmentally towards morally wrong behavior instead of simply declaring it to be right or abolishing any sense of responsibility.

So, is homosexuality a choice?  If the question is asking if a person has a choice to be biologically influenced towards homosexual behavior, the answer is no.  However, if the question is asking if participating in homosexual behavior is a choice, the answer (unless you are a genetic fatalist) is yes.  Furthermore, the whole question of the morality of the behavior is completely detached from these factors.

(1) Sexual differentiation of the brain and behavior. Swaab DF. Best Practice & Research Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism. 2007.

(2) Minireveiw: hormones and human sexual orientation. Balthazart J. Endocrinology. 2011.

(3) Genetic study of male sexual orientation. Bailey JM and Pillard RC. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 1991.

(4) Genetic fatalism and social policy: the implications of behavior genetics research. Alper JS, Beckwith J. Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine. 1993.

One Comment
  1. It’s interesting to me that prior to this past century, this was never any talk about homosexuality being or not being a choice, or biological or psychological factors, or even it being an alternate “sexual orientation” at all. Granted, such behavior hasn’t been anywhere at all socially acceptable or “in the open” until fairly recently. But even in the ancient world — especially in the ancient world — when it was not only socially acceptable, but idealized, there was never any discussion of “sexual orientation” or choice or “being born that way.” In ancient Greece in particular, men chose to have relations with other men because male relationships were considered ideal. And then went home and procreated with their wives because it was their duty. The Roman emperor Hadrian, an ardent admirer of the Greeks, had a Roman wife but chose to take a Greek lover. There was never any suggestion in the ancient world that homosexual behavior was anything but a choice.

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