As many know, Brendan Eich, former CEO of Mozilla Firefox, “voluntarily” resigned recently from his position due to the backlash over his contribution to the campaign for California’s Proposition 8, the constitutional amendment to define marriage as between a man and a woman. Eich had been a committed employee since the founding of the company, never did anything at work that would constitute as being discriminatory, and even promised that he would not change any of Mozilla’s policies. That was not enough; this created a firestorm, spearheaded by dating site OKcupid, that basically pressured Mozilla to push him out. Mozilla’s statement after the incident was just slightly ironic, and here is just one part:
We have employees with a wide diversity of views. Our culture of openness extends to encouraging staff and community to share their beliefs and opinions in public. This is meant to distinguish Mozilla from most organizations and hold us to a higher standard. But this time we failed to listen, to engage, and to be guided by our community.
Indeed, what a culture of openness and diversity. Perhaps even more ironic was OKCupid’s Rudder’s contention: “Our goal was to raise awareness. We don’t want [Mozilla CEO Eich] to lose his job or anything.” Really? Here’s the quote that was on their website during this time:
Those who seek to deny love and instead enforce misery, shame and frustration are our enemies, and we wish them nothing but failure.
Yep, we believe you.
As always, many people threw out names such as “bigot,” “homophobe,” “hater,” etc. It’s a common refrain from homosexual rights advocates, the media, and even the courts these days. What lays under these accusations is a very important presumption: That the homosexual lifestyle (notice that I did not say “attraction” or “desire”) is completely inherited and has no component of choice. This is the only way that people can contend that “gay is the new black” and that criticizing homosexual marriage is equal with racism. And of course, nobody wants to be a racist, which means that nobody wants to be a so-called homophobe.
The problem with this is twofold: One, all of our scientific evidence points to the fact that sexual orientation is not exclusively determined by our genes, and instead there are significant other factors involved. Two, even if it were the case that same-sex desires are completely inherited and can never have any volitional component whatsoever, it would not follow that entering into homosexual relationships is not a choice unless one presumes a highly dubious hard determinism that could be used to justify nearly anything.
The “Gay Gene” and Choice
Many years ago, Time Magazine famously featured a story about the so-called “gay gene” on its cover, and since then, it’s been a rather popular argument to claim that homosexuals are “born this way.” There is a problem though: There is no “gay gene.” There is evidence that genetic factors play a role, but that is hardly enlightening because that’s true of a lot about us. In a recent study on this where the researchers feel like they’ve located a gene that influences sexuality, a researcher quite candidly states:
We don’t think genetics is the whole story. It’s not. We have a gene that contributes to homosexuality but you could say it is linked to heterosexuality. It is the variation. (emphasis mine)
In other words, your genes can influence your actions… which isn’t a surprise. It is definitely relevant that they may be able to locate it, but the fact of that there is genetic influence is not all that significant. The interesting thing about this discussion is that it should be obvious there is no gay gene because if you look at a set of twins where one of them is gay, it is not guaranteed the other one will be gay as well. Is it a higher correlation? Yes, but that only shows some level of influence, not pure genetic determination. However, I will say that if you have a set of twins and one of them is Korean, it’s a rather safe bet that the other is Korean as well.
Not only this, pretty much every psychological and medical organization admits this in their official statements, organizations that have tried to be more pro-gay relationships. For example, the American Psychological Association states this:
There is no consensus among scientists about the exact reasons that an individual develops a heterosexual, bisexual, gay, or lesbian orientation. Although much research has examined the possible genetic, hormonal, developmental, social, and cultural influences on sexual orientation, no findings have emerged that permit scientists to conclude that sexual orientation is determined by any particular factor or factors. Many think that nature and nurture both play complex roles; most people experience little or no sense of choice about their sexual orientation.
Popular defaults to the alleged “gay gene” by people and even the media simply aren’t supported by any scientific evidence.
Of course, as the quote above hints at, just because homosexual attraction is not purely genetic doesn’t mean it’s automatically a choice. It seems many factors are involved, and not all are controllable by a person. Still, that doesn’t eliminate choice either for the development of homosexuality. Typically, people beat on a straw man by accusing others of believing that homosexuals just woke up one day and thought, “Hey, I just want to be gay.” Of course it’s not that kind of choice, and most characteristics about us aren’t. Likewise, nobody gets up thinking, “I’m going to be a insecure person today” or “I’m going to be an angry person” or anything of the sort when it comes to our character and personality. This does not mean that, over time, the choices we make do not incline our characters a certain way, even if we are not aware of the effect that they have at the time that we make them. For example, most people who become alcoholics do not consciously think about becoming one with every drink, but we do not thereby tell them that becoming an alcoholic was not a choice. Every time they said “yes” to a drink and failed to have control contributed to them growing into the person they became.
But all that said, let’s say that the development of homosexual desires have no choice component whatsoever, and that genetic and environmental factors completely determine it. I am actually inclined to believe myself that even if there was a choice component in its development, it would be a very small one, so I have no problem with believing that same-sex desires are largely unchosen when they appear. This actually does not necessitate that they stay that way, but sexual fluidity may be a topic for another time. For now, let us just grant that same sex desires are completely inherited and static. Does this mean that it is wrong to disagree with homosexual relationships? Does this prove the legitimacy of such relationships?
No. No it does not.
A self-defeating assumption of physical determinism
What has often been fascinating about this debate is how quickly people make the jump from “homosexual desires are not chosen” to “homosexual relationships are not chosen.” It is a common retort from many gay rights activists to state that they cannot help it because they are born that way, but surely that doesn’t make sense. Even if desires aren’t chosen, it is certainly a choice to act on desires. Many heterosexual or homosexual people may choose not to even enter into a relationship at all, for example. It would require a hard-line naturalistic determinism to go so mechanistically from genetic/environmental desire to automatic behavior. However, if we go down that road, then it will start to become hard to hold anyone responsible for any of their actions. Alcoholic? Genes. Child abuser? Genes, and he was also abused as a child. Religious person? Genes and environment. Genuine homophobe? Again, genes and environment. It would be strikingly odd to start holding people morally responsible for what they do when they are uncontrollably and naturally determined to do it, an irony that Sam Harris has yet to realize as he rails against religious people from one side of his mouth and denies free choice from the other due to his naturalism.
Some may object if we tell people, like homosexuals, to not act on their desires because they would be “denying themselves.” However, don’t we do this all the time? If you’re married and you feel strongly attracted to a person who isn’t your spouse, don’t most people think that that person shouldn’t act on his desire? Don’t we tell people not to eat as much fast food and sweets as they want to? But you might answer that those things are either morally wrong or bad for you… and I would say, “Exactly.” Now we’re getting somewhere.
Some gay rights activists have figured out the problems with using a simplistic “born this way” argument and have changed tactics. They realize what kind of door that could open, so instead they argue for the legitimacy of the choice to enter into a homosexual relationship. One commenter online who realized this stated roughly, “Just as it is stupid to discriminate against people for their religious preferences, it’s stupid to discriminate people for their sexual preferences.” Perhaps so. Do you know where this leads us? It opens up discussion on the morality, health, and social benefit of homosexual unions. That doesn’t mean that those are necessarily legal questions, but they are discussions that, at the least, private citizens have every right to engage in. Nobody, for example, gets angry when someone publicly announces disagreement with Christianity. Nobody is expected to accommodate for Christian beliefs if they do not agree with them, so if hypothetically a Christian couple wanted to get married in a mosque and the Muslims told them no, it wouldn’t strike us as some sort of civil rights violation. And if a CEO of a company wants to give private contributions either for or against gay marriage, we would recognize that as his personal views and leave it at that.
The freedom and respect to disagree
None of what I said, mind you, necessitates that we make laws against gay marriage. There are many Christians who disagree with gay marriage morally but believe that homosexual couples should have that option as far as the state is concerned. Heck, even if it became generally acknowledged that same sex unions are unhealthy, that wouldn’t automatically mean that gay marriage should be outlawed; even secular psychologists think that pornography is harmful, yet many people don’t advocate laws that prevent adults from watching it in the privacy of their homes. Even if gay activists dropped the whole “gay is the new black” slogan, as they logically should, they could still argue for many of the same things that they want: gay marriage, equality in the workplace, antidiscrimination laws, etc. All of those things would still be on the table.
Why don’t they drop it then, when it’s clearly based on bad arguments and a really bad assumption? I think it’s this: Once it becomes acknowledged that gay is NOT the “new black” and that homosexuals’ relationship choices are open to criticism as any other personal choice is, then the weapons of intimidation and silencing go away. We understand quite well that being male or female or black, white, or Asian is not a choice and completely genetic, so it is absolutely wrong to criticize that about a person. We also understand that religious choices are not this way, even if they are heavily influenced by how one is raised, so it is acceptable for people to voice their disagreements with, say, a Mormon lifestyle insofar as that person doesn’t violate that Mormon’s first amendment rights.
If gay rights activists admit that the choice to enter homosexual relationships is more in the latter category, then they can’t go after people with labels of “bigot” so easily. They can’t go on a smear campaign and call someone a “homophobe” for merely expressing his belief that homosexual relationships are sinful even when such a person has never mistreated a homosexual, which happened to Louie Gigliio. Their battles in the courts become more difficult because they can’t sneak in this assumption of natural determinism (which unfortunately most courts buy these days). These questions also become more open to discussion: “Are gay marriages good for society, and even if they are not, are there convincing reasons why we should not allow them? Should we make people who don’t agree with them participate in them?” Those become questions that they cannot take off the table with “homophobe” rhetoric.
Unfortunately, the champions of tolerance are not interested in such discussions, so they have resorted to the aforementioned tactics to shut it down. Two gay rights authors, Kirk and Madsen, even wrote in a book that their goal against proponents of traditional marriage is to “cow and silence” them. The irony is rich, and it’s an irony built on bad arguments from science and a bare assumption of philosophy.