The Story: A new study highlights why both Christians and LGBTQ activists should reject biological explanations for homosexuality.
The Background: A recent study that included half a million people suggests genetics may have a limited contribution to sexual orientation.
The study, published in the journal Science, found that while genetics are certainly involved in whom people choose to have sex with, there are no specific genetic predictors that can determine whether someone will develop a same-sex orientation.
According to Scientific American, the researchers found five single points in the genome that seemed to be common among people with at least one same-sex experience. While two of these genetic markers sit close to genes linked to sex hormones and to smell, these five markers explained less than 1 percent of the differences in sexual activity among people in the study.
A conclusion of the study is that a “genetic score cannot in any way be used to predict same-sex sexual behavior of an individual.”
“It’s the end of the ’gay gene,’” says Eric Vilain, a geneticist at Children’s National Health System in Washington, D.C., who was not involved in the study.
Why It Matters: When it comes to homosexuality, those who support LGBTQ rights don’t often agree with conservative Christians. Advances in biomedical technology, however, should push the two groups to agree that the biological basis for the homosexual orientation is irrelevant. Although their motivations may differ, each side has reasons for promoting the idea that sexual activity is freely chosen behavior.
LGBTQ rights activists have, of course, been working against this idea for decades. They have been eager to find a genetic, hormonal, or neurological explanation for sexual orientation, which, they believe, will remove any doubt that individuals have no choice about their sexuality—and society will have no choice but to accept their sexual behavior as natural and normal.
Ironically, such an explanation could have the opposite effect of what they hope for. No one who has followed the trajectory of eugenics-oriented biotechnology will be surprised that one of the first targets for manipulation would be sexual orientation. In his 2002 book, Our Posthuman Future, Francis Fukuyama speculated that within 20 years we would be able to devise a way for parents to sharply reduce the likelihood that they will give birth to a gay child. Even in a society in which “social norms have become totally accepting of homosexuality,” he argued, most parents would choose the treatment.
While Fukuyama was wrong about the timing, he was right about the trajectory. Even if homosexuality were considered a benign trait such as baldness or left-handedness, a significant number of parents would still opt to have a heterosexual child (“What if we want biological grandchildren?”).
But what happens when a homosexual orientation becomes perceived as a being based on a preventable biological trait? The effects of such change will likely occur privately, behind the doors of the IVF clinic, the obstetrician’s office, and the abortion clinic. Soon after technology made it possible to detect sex and chromosomal abnormalities, it became acceptable to abort baby girls and children with intellectual disabilities. Children that possess the propensity to develop a homosexual orientation will join others groups with less-than-desirable traits in being quietly eliminated before birth.
Although they would naturally abhor the aborting of such children, many theologically conservative Christians would be amenable to changing sexual orientations in the womb. A prenatal treatment seems a humane solution for a moral problem, an easy way to deliver children from a particularly difficult temptation.
This acceptance of the “medicalization” of sexual orientations is misguided. Treating orientation as a malady promotes a reductionist view in which human behavior is explainable by the laws of chemistry and physics. As we’ve seen in other areas of bioethics, reductionism inevitably undermines both moral autonomy and also the dignity of the individual.
But even Christians who disagree with me should recognize that embracing the use of drugs and genetic engineering to correct behavioral orientations opens the Pandora’s box of natal eugenics. Bioethicist Samuel Hensley has warned that rather than unconditionally accepting offspring as a gift of God, we will be tempted to redefine parenthood to include choosing the particular characteristics we want in children.
Christians should reject this cult of choice. We should be vigilant in expressing the truth that children are a blessing from God, not a product we manufacture to our specifications.
However, Christians can agree with the LGBTQ activists that homoerotic desire might very well have a biological basis. We can also rightly insist that acting upon that desire in the form of sexual activity requires a freely chosen decision. While we might not be responsible for our sexual urges, we are always accountable for our sexual behavior. If LGBTQ activists would agree with us on this point, we could form a tentative alliance against the type of eugenics that attempts to change someone’s future behavior—or eliminate them entirely—while they are still in the womb.
But this would put LGBTQ activists in an awkward position. If they agree that sexual orientation does not require people to act on their orientation, they will have lost a key argument for pushing societal acceptance of their sexuality. Yet they could be harming their cause even more if they continue to argue that the orientation is normal and acceptable simply because it has a basis in our biological nature.
What will they say when a biological “fix” for homosexuality is discovered? How will they adjust when the societal expectation is that parents should have a child with such an orientation corrected or aborted? If homosexuals want to see their future, they should look at the plight of the children with Down syndrome—assuming, of course, any such children can still be found in their neighborhoods.
We need an entente between Christians and LGBTQ activists to prevent the issue of homosexuality from being determined by genetic engineers and abortionists. This will not lead to an agreement about whether such behavior is benign or immoral. But at least we will be able to discuss the issue with our human dignity intact.