When Atlanta Braves relief pitcher John Rocker bad-mouthed immigrants, New Yorkers, and homosexuals last year, he provided a golden opportunity for homosexual activists to beat the drum of intolerance. They lumped homosexuality with race as an irrational ground for making judgments. According to The New York Times, baseball commissioner Bud Selig "equated racism and bigotry to a psychological disorder to be confronted and wrestled with-not to be shunted into a closet and hidden," and the Times praised Mr. Selig for ordering Mr. Rocker to undergo "therapy." Whatever one may think of Mr. Rocker's comments, the use made of them by homosexual activists and their sympathizers is unjustifiable. Homosexuality is not like race, which is a mere physical quality-a color-without significant moral implications in itself. Homosexuality, on the contrary, involves at least an inclination to live one's sexuality in a certain way, and, according to those who have made themselves the public spokesmen for homosexuals, same-sex attractions can and should be acted on, as a completely legitimate way of life. Moreover, for a significant minority of Americans today-a minority that includes most intellectuals and The New York Times-mere toleration of homosexuality falls far short of what is necessary. They demand acceptance, even endorsement of homosexuality. "Gay rights" has become for them the leading liberation movement of our time, comparable to the civil-rights movement of the '50s and '60s. Homosexuality must be accepted as a natural condition, and therefore as the foundation for an entirely legitimate way of life, deserving of protection and, in some ways, even promotion (for example, through school counseling of young people with ambivalent sexual feelings). They want more than just therapy for John Rocker-they want all sodomy laws off the book, all restrictions on marriage and adoptions lifted, and special protection from "discrimination" in employment and housing. "Gay gene": DNA is decisive
Invocations of "science" have become a key factor in this movement. Homosexuality must be accepted, its proponents say, because it is neither a mental illness nor a choice. It's simply a genetic fact that can't be changed. "Is this child gay?" asked a Newsweek cover in 1992, touting "two new studies [that] seem to find the origins of homosexuality in genetics, not parenting." Newsweek seemed to suggest that such a finding would end the argument: "If it turns out that gays are born that way, it could undercut the animosity they face and win them civil-rights protections as a 'natural' minority." Unsurprisingly, later studies debunking these claims never quite made Newsweek's cover. (Nor did the magazine's editors stop to ask what conclusions might be drawn from contentions of, say, pedophiles or alcoholics, that they are just "born that way.") The fact is that serious studies-and clear thinking-undermine the "gay gene" theory. The facts of the matter are simple. While there is still a great deal about genes and other biological factors that we do not know, it seems clear that neither genes nor other biological factors are decisive in causing people to have same-sex attractions. At least two basic arguments make this clear. First, if homosexuality really were genetic, it would have almost certainly died out, or at least be continually declining. Homosexuals reproduce at much lower levels than the general population (since for the most part, they engage in acts that don't result in reproduction). So if homosexuality were a genetic trait-such as blue eyes, or left-handedness (an analogy that homosexual activists often use)-it would be found in a smaller and smaller percentage of the population. But the fact is, while there are some differences from time to time and place to place, the part of the population that is homosexual seems relatively stable. Second, we know that identical twins have the exact same genes. So if homosexuality were genetic, then in all sets of identical twins where one was homosexual, the other would be, too. But studies show that instead, when one identical twin is homosexual, the odds of the other twin being homosexual are 50-50-not 100 percent. Moreover, even that 50 percent is not necessarily genetically caused. Environment is likely to play a strong role, since twins are almost always raised in the same environment. So even if genes are a factor-as they seem to be in the case of alcoholism-they're only a contributing factor, something that might put someone more at risk. Dr. Jeffrey Satinover, the most balanced writer on this subject, offers this: "Do genes determine (make) someone a great basketball player?" He points out the obvious answer: no. Hard work and dedication are essential ingredients. It certainly helps if you have genes that make you seven feet tall and physically coordinated-but that doesn't "make" you a basketball player. Nor do genes "make" people "homosexuals." But just as it's wrong to say, "homosexuality isn't an illness, it's a trait," it's also unhelpful to say, "homosexuality isn't an illness, it's a choice." Certainly homosexual acts are typically choices-but so-called "orientation" is something much more complicated. The truth is that people experience same-sex attractions for reasons usually entirely beyond their own control-especially early childhood experiences (most notably relations with parents and peers) that therapists who treat homosexual attractions have been able to identify. Diagnosing deviancy: recognition, the first step
Recognizing these factors is important, because only when we acknowledge the sources of a disorder can we begin to treat it with hope of success. Today, faith-based groups offer hope, and secular means are also available. The most prominent method is "reparative therapy" by psychiatrists and psychologists, which aims to identify and treat the underlying psychological problems that give rise to same-sex attractions. This approach has been ably advocated and defended by the National Association for Research and Treatment of Homosexuality (NARTH), in the face of strong opposition by politically mobilized gay advocates in various professional associations. Those activists, and psychologists and psychiatrists sympathetic to them, were the source of the ideologically driven decision of the American Psychiatric Association to redefine homosexuality in 1973, by dropping it from its list of mental disorders in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, Fourth Edition (DSM-IV). Both the APA and its sister organization, the American Psychological Association, have recently adopted resolutions condemning reparative therapy, saying "there is no scientific evidence that reparative therapy or conversion therapy is effective in changing a person's orientation." The evidence, however, was outside the Washington, D.C., conference room, when that resolution was passed-members of the group Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays (P-FOX) were on the sidewalks, protesting that resolution. Picketing alongside P-FOX were members of Exodus International, one of a growing number of faith-based groups offering a spiritual route to overcome same-sex attractions. Much of what these groups do looks a lot like what groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous do. They admit up front that change requires hard work and deep commitment. But just as we encourage drug and alcohol rehabilitation, so must we encourage those with same-sex attractions to struggle to overcome them. It is especially important to take this message to young people who are struggling. As Don Schmeier argues in his An Ounce of Prevention, it makes a great deal of sense to try to reach people when they are young, and to prevent the ripening of initial sexual uncertainties into fully developed same-sex attractions. Given the great difficulties of homosexual life-including the much greater likelihood of serious diseases and earlier death, the higher rate of suicide, the impossibility of having children born from the sexual expression of marital love-even people without any moral objections to homosexuality might consider this a sensible policy. Nor is change only possible for the young. Older people who have lived a homosexual lifestyle are capable of change as well. Many such people have been helped by psychiatrists and spiritual ministries to change their sexual attractions from people of the same sex to people of the opposite sex. The power of their testimony is the reason why gay activists reacted so violently when a series of ads highlighting them appeared in major newspapers last year. If it harms the family, it harms the larger society
On this larger scale, recognizing homosexuality for the disorder it is-and the commitment to provide compassionate support to those willing to struggle with such disordered attractions-gives us a framework for our political policy. Why does all this matter? Isn't a person's sexual life simply his own business and nobody else's? Such questions reveal profound misconceptions about sex. One's sexual life affects many more people than just oneself. Sex is intimately intertwined with marriage, and marriage involves the transmission of life, property, political and social institutions, and culture to the next generation. Sex is, more importantly, about marriage, and families, and children. The most significant way in which legitimizing active homosexuality would harm society-the way it would harm the family most-would be in how people are taught to think about the nature and purpose of sex, marriage, and family. Most importantly, the legitimization of active homosexuality would be the most straightforward and complete attempt to separate the connection between sex and children that society has ever proclaimed. In so doing, society would be undermining one of its most fundamental institutions, marriage. Many of our current social pathologies arise from the fact that our society has not been successful in handing on the heritage of social norms supporting a strong and intact family. The instability of family life is a contributing factor to almost any significant social problem today. Rather than weaken the institution of marriage further, by establishing a new form of social union essentially divorced from children and from the elevated meaning of the sexual urge that children represent, we should reinforce traditional notions that sexual activity is legitimate only within the perspective of family life and its conditions. Among other things, this would involve resisting the pressure to legitimize homosexual marriage. Some will ask: "What about the sexual frustration that 'no physical sex' will entail?" Many will face a difficult struggle, of course, but this does not mean that the exhortation to live such a life lacks compassion or is insensitive to suffering. The same exhortation has to be addressed to unmarried (many of them never-to-be-married) heterosexuals ... and to alcoholics, and to those whose impulses to anger are difficult to control, and to drug addicts, and so on. Similar exhortations are addressed to those with physical disabilities, to help them face up to the difficulties beyond their control and live a good life in spite of them. It's what we increasingly demand of smokers. These exhortations do not deny suffering, but they do help people to ennoble it. It is not an altogether pleasant or comforting truth that a life which involves some suffering can be good and meaningful. It is understandably difficult for those who suffer to accept such exhortations cheerfully when they come from those who do not share their suffering. But it is, nonetheless, an important truth about life-one that our modern affluent, secularized society has great difficulty acknowledging. Ultimately, sound understandings of the common good and our religious faith both command compassion for those dealing with same-sex attractions. But legitimization of homosexuality is not true compassion. It is destructive for homosexuals, and for society at large. We must not offer such false hope. Instead, we must offer the genuine hope and compassion that is rooted in the truth about homosexuality.
- Christopher Wolfe is a professor of political science at Marquette University