Biology only a part of LGBT equality struggle


Star Tribune columnist Katherine Kersten penned a Tuesday blog entry titled, “The Uneasy Relationship between ‘Gay Rights’ and Biology,” raises two questions: Is the biological science surrounding sexual orientation solid? And is it possible for a left-leaning, gay rights activist like me to agree with something Katherine Kersten wrote on the topic of gay rights? The answer to both is a surprising “yeah, kind of.”

Opinion: Biology only a part of LGBT equality struggle

Kersten says that the evidence suggesting a biological basis for sexual orientation is lacking, and that evidence to the contrary shows that gays can change their sexual orientation. She cites an article by Gary Greenberg, writing for Mother Jones, on the “reparative therapy” movement. “Greenberg notes research showing that only about 50 percent of identical twins – two persons having identically matched DNA – are both gay, and he points to an increasing body of research indicating that sexual orientation may, indeed, be changeable,” Kersten writes. She should have read Greenberg’s article more carefully.

From the same source:

In the last 15 years, researchers have discovered differences in brain anatomy between gay and straight men – and found that the 6 percent of rams that have sex exclusively with other rams (just one of hundreds of species in which homosexual behavior has been observed) have a similar neuroanatomical difference; identified a gene sequence on the X chromosome that is common to many gay men; traced genealogies to show that homosexuality runs in families, on the maternal side; proved that a man’s likelihood of being gay increases with the number of older brothers he has, which scientists attribute to changes in intrauterine chemistry; and learned how to use magnetic resonance imaging to detect sexual orientation by watching the brain’s response to pornography. Findings in the field of anthropometrics have yielded intriguing results: Gay men’s index fingers, for instance, are more likely than straight men’s to be equal in length to their ring fingers; gay men have larger penises than straight men.

Not a slam dunk as far as causation goes, but there are certainly correlations that suggest a biological cause for sexual orientation. Kersten conveniently left those facts out.

Kersten’s basic assertion is that the gay rights movement relies on biology to forward its cause: “Proponents of the biological explanation for sexual orientation are ignoring complexities in our sexual make-up – complexities that may eventually undercut the current foundation of the gay rights movement.”

If a lack of biological evidence undercuts the foundation of the gay rights movement, then that foundation has been undercut for quite some time. There have been no conclusive studies demonstrating a genetic cause for sexual orientation. Kersten says that gay activists respond with an emphatic “yes” to the question of a genetic cause. But that’s not quite true. Most gay activists would answer the question, “Are gays born that way?” with a subjective “yes.” For us, we feel that we were born gay.

None of us would answer a question about the biological determination of our sexual orientation with, “Of course! It’s the genetic marker, Xq28, on the X chromosome, silly!” We don’t know the biology of why we are gay or lesbian or bisexual or straight, but we know we are those things. We feel it, and we have felt it all our lives.

The lack of a genetic marker doesn’t mean that our desires, relationships and communities are merely a “choice” to be changed by the Lord or by discredited therapists. It does not mean we don’t believe that our sexual orientation is a fixed, innate characteristic. We have faith that we are living our lives as we were created to live them. It doesn’t matter that we have no conclusive biological proof of the innateness of our gayness; we are on the side of righteousness.

Kersten even found a gay activist that supports that thought. “It doesn’t matter whether you were born that way, it came later, or you chose,” she quotes Jon Davidson of Lambda Legal as saying. “We don’t think it’s okay to discriminate against people based on their religion. We think people have a right to believe whatever they want. So why do we think that about religion and not about who we love?”

Kersten ends her post with: “Is there a solid foundation for gay rights in a right for people to ‘believe whatever they want’ – something analogous to the right to religious belief?”

In a free society, we accept people from different religions, even if we don’t agree with them and even if we find their practices suspect. (Scientology? Mitt Romney?) It’s illegal to fire people from their jobs, prevent them from marrying or suppress the practice of their faith while serving their country in the armed forces based upon their religious practices.

Gays and lesbians are subject to all those abuses. There are substantial differences between sexual orientation and religion — you can change your religion with relative ease — but Kersten may be on to something with her closing question.

Can we draw an analogy between sexual orientation and religious belief? There is a body of scientific evidence that suggests a biological factor, but mostly, gays and lesbians are asking their fellow Americans to take a leap of faith and trust us when we say we love who we love, that we have found the relationships that mean the most to us, and we have created the families that make sense for us. And, for almost all of us, that’s not something we can change.

If Kersten is suggesting that we should think about sexual orientation in much the same way we think about religious beliefs, that people can “believe whatever they want” and their rights will not be infringed, then why is it so hard for religious types to understand gays and lesbians “love who we love?” If that is the analogy that Katherine is suggesting, then I think for the first time, Katherine Kersten and I agree on something: a scientific foundation for equal rights isn’t as important as the fundamental right to freedom.