What if Homosexuality Actually is a Choice?

Posted on 2012/03/05


Feature Image - What if Homosexuality Actually is a choice?

It is rare day when I am accused of being a Christian. Even more seldom am I confused for a Christian right-wing Tea Party mad-hatter. However, in a recent online discussion about gay rights, several like-minded people made this rather strange misjudgment.

It was to do with my comments about this photograph:

Obviously, this is an appropriation of Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous speech on the steps of the Lincoln memorial on August 28, 1963:

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

Comparisons between the African-American civil rights movement of the 1960s and the present-day gay rights movement has become a very hot topic in the US over the past few years, especially with increased GOP rhetoric heading into the 2012 presidential elections.

For instance, in a September 2011 interview for Fox News, Rick Santorum had the following to say about homosexuals in the military:

I know the whole gay community is trying to make this the new civil rights act. It’s not! It’s not the same. You are black by the colour of your skin. You are not homosexual, necessarily, by… obviously… by the colour of your skin. (…) The idea that some how or another this is the equivalent, that being black and being gay is the same is simply not true. There are all sorts of studies out there that suggest just the contrary. And there are people who were gay, and lived a gay lifestyle, and aren’t anymore. (…) I don’t think that’s the case with anyone that’s black. So it’s not the same. And I know people try to make it the same, but it is not.

It is a behavioral issue as opposed to a colour of the skin issue and that makes all the difference (…)

I think gay rights activists make several mistakes in replying to religiously-motivated views such as his. I’ll use the above poster as a launch-pad to discuss why their replies are problematic.


Dr King was saying that the colour of your skin is incidental to, and has no necessary implication for, your ‘character’. And I take ‘character’ to mean some evaluation of the durable moral qualities of a person.

The poster pictured above has replaced ‘colour’ with ‘who they love’. If the analogy is to stick, we have to think that ‘who they love’ is always incidental to person’s character. Yet no one, on either side of the gay rights issue, thinks this is true. We do judge pedophiles and rapists on who they love.

You also can’t restore the analogy by declaring that the slogan really means Platonic love or motherly love, and not sex. We do judge parents who do not love their children.

Furthermore, we consider pedophilia to be a psychiatric disorder that requires treatment, even if a pedophile does not act on their feelings. The love they show for children is considered to be a dark element within the content of their character. We attempt to help these people to stop thinking in this way, so to prevent them committing terrible crimes in the future, and also so they can try find happiness within a society that outlaws acting on these desires.

So I think the poster is a false analogy. This doesn’t mean i’m anti-gay; just pro-logic!


Also, to suppose that the poster slogan is only about homosexual love (and not also about sex) is to forget what the gay rights movement is for.

To highlight this, just consider “Don’t ask; don’t tell” (DADT) – the hideous and smarmy Clinton compromise that ‘allowed’ homosexuals in the military.

While homosexuality was still deemed to be incompatible with military service (anyone proven to have had homosexual sex was still dismissed from the military), the Clinton administration sought to reduce the number of dismissals. The reduction in convictions involved two strains.

Firstly, ‘don’t ask’ prevented the military from actively policing the crime by removing the right to question service men and women about their sexuality.

The second strain reduced the number of convictions by shifting the nature of the crime. ‘Don’t tell’ instigated a type of speech crime and though crime, placing a great burden on those to whom it applied. If you claimed to have had homosexual sex, or even claimed to have thought about it you could be dismissed.

The Servicemember’s Legal Defense Network has recorded that 14,500 service members were fired under DADT. On average, two military careers were destroyed per day for the crime of being homosexual.


The second way I think gay rights activists make a mistake is to suppose that the correct answer to people like Santorum (those who claim that “homosexuals ‘choose’ to be gay”) is to reply with the equally absurd claim to certain knowledge of the contrary.

We don’t really have any idea which blend of nature/nurture might explain homosexuality. Of course, as heterosexuality is the impetus for the proliferation of our species, so we don’t usually consider an answer to this complimentary etiological question to be necessary. However, what causes homoseuxality is considered to be something evolutionary biology needs to explain.

In this short interview, Richard Dawkins conjectures two possible evolutionary explanations for the success of a ‘gay gene’, while also criticizing genetic determinism: [As an added bonus, Dawkins provides fans with the sound-bite 'sneaky fuckers']

Is homosexuality entirely a consequence of genetic determinism? No one knows. Yet neither has it been linked to any particular type of parenting, or environmental conditions.


Regardless, I think attempting to answer charges of ‘choosing to be gay’ is unnecessarily apologetic. Gay rights activists have been unwittingly drawn into making excuses for homosexuality with the the fashionable response of declaring that they were ‘born this way’.

Never in the civil rights movement did anyone receive a standing ovation for declaring they were born black.

What if homosexuality is a consequence of environment? What if homosexuality were found to be a choice, after all (whatever that may mean)?

Would this change the moral argument of the movement? I hope not. No more than Michael Jackson’s skin transmutation proves the civil rights movement to be morally invalid.


There is a more important way in which African-American rights and gay rights are similar, and Santorum is quite wrong to say they they are ‘not the same’.

Both issues are about liberty.

Consensual love and sex between adults is a liberty that no society should outlaw. It is an act between people for whom it is their mutual desire (unlike rape or pedophilia). For the rest of society, it neither picks their pocket nor breaks their leg, to parahprase Thomas Jefferson.

The gay rights movement is similar to the African-American civil rights movement because both demand we stop pretending incidental attributes are part of one’s moral character.

Once that is clear, any explanations for these attributes are wholly irrelevant. And once that is clear, there need be no further discussion about gay adoption or gay marriage – just like there is no more discussion about black adoption, or black marriage.

Posted in: Gay Rights