12 April 2006

Thoughts on Homosexuality, Part I: Choice

Some recent blog entries concerning Soulforce’s visit to BYU have lead me to think more clearly about why I personally, and the Mormon church generally, feel the way we do about homosexuality. In particular, Alison’s comment—containing all the standard left-wing arguments against those who think homosexuality is a sin—has inspired me to write this essay expounding on and defending my position. I hope everyone will bring to this essay the same spirit of open-mindedness and understanding that I have tried to convey in my consideration of the various positions. In the way of citation, my position owes much to Orson Scott Card’s “Hypocrites of Homosexuality,” C. S. Lewis (particularly his books on Christian philosophy), and LDS church doctrine, both in the scriptures and through modern revelation. To make this essay more manageable, I’ve divided it into three sections according to what I see as the major counterarguments. The first, and main, argument presented by Alison is the issue of choice. Over the past few weeks, I’ve realized that when people debate over the rightness or wrongness of homosexuality, the issue they are really debating is whether homosexuality is a choice.

Part I: Choice
When examining what makes a person who they are, we generally recognize two types of traits. First are those that a person is born with, including gender, race, and hair color: the genetics category. The second group includes all the choices we make in our life based on the traits we are dealt from the first set: the choice category. In other words, human nature is a combination of the genetics we are born with (nature) and what we do with it afterwards (nurture, in a sense).

As gay rights advocates are quick to point out, condemning traits from the first set as immoral would be unfair. I agree whole-heartedly. We cannot condemn something which a person has no choice in, because morality implies an incorrect action. (I derive my definition of morality from C. S. Lewis’s. Please consult the early chapters Mere Christianity or perhaps The Problem of Pain for a more thorough discussion of it which I will not reconstruct here. In general, morality is man’s natural sense of “I ought” and “I ought not” about his own actions, whether or not he follows it. In other words, it is our sense of guilt, which, yes, must be natural, for other explanations are painfully lacking.) It is ridiculous, and cruel, for example, to condemn a girl for not being a boy, because she simply has no choice in the matter (setting aside gender change operations, which still really don’t cut it anyway). These rules are pretty much universally agreed upon.

However, condemning traits from the second category is perfectly fair because they are under our control. The word “condemn” may seem strong to left-wing opponents, who associate condemnation with such ignominious movements as Nazism, the Inquisition, and McCarthyism. Please understand that my definition of this word is something more along the lines of saying something is immoral, or perhaps unethical if you prefer. Two fairly universally condemned actions would included theft and murder. Condemnation means recognizing an action as wrong and, if you are in a position to do so, initiating appropriate actions to prevent it. Let this be very clear: by condemnation, I do not mean that if someone takes an action which is deemed “wrong,” it is alright to hate, ostracize or in other ways torture that individual. As is part of LDS church doctrine, we condemn actions, not people. People are all children of God, and their right-ness (or righteousness) cannot be “judged” by us with our limited perspective. But more on that subject later.

Returning to the point at hand, we have two categories of traits we can ascribe to people, one of which we can condemn, and one which we cannot. Now, the essential root of any gay rights argument is over a definition: to which of these categories does being homosexual belong? Clearly, gay rights advocates, such as SoulForce, will argue that being gay is a genetic trait, that gays can’t help being who they are, and therefore condemning or excluding them is a barbarous act, “homophobia,” which is akin to racism. On the other hand, the “religious right” would argue that homosexuality is entirely a matter of choice, that these people chose wrong, and must repent.

So which of these views is right? And which do I subscribe to? Neither of them, actually. The problem is that, unlike hair color or what you eat for dinner, most human characteristics cannot be easily classified as inherited or individual agency. Modern science also leads us to believe that many behaviors, which we might before have exclusively relegated to the choice, are influenced by inborn tendencies from the genetics category. For example, behaviors like depression and alcoholism are widely recognized as having both a genetic and a “choice,” or in this case reaction/coping-mechanism, component. It is this in-between-ness of behaviors that creates the moral problem.

Below is the discussion of one study that shows the in-between-ness of homosexuality. As far as I can tell, it is fairly well-conducted and representative of most other research, but of course I am not an expert on the subject. I invite you to leave a comment for me if you have another study you want me to look at. In this study with identical twins (abstract here), when one twin was gay, the other twin was gay only 52% of the time. When the twins were not identical, the percentage dropped to 22%, and only 9.2% for regular siblings. If homosexuality was a genetic trait, we would expect a result of 100%, since identical twins by definition share the same DNA. Even if homosexuality had to do with how one was raised, we would still expect a higher percentage, since twins are presumably raised in a very similar environment. Interestingly, 11% of adopted brothers were also both gay. Now, this study clearly debunks the myth of gay-determinism, but doesn’t provide evidence that there is no genetic component either. In fact, if these statistics are as I believe them to be, then the fact that there is any correlation at all provides evidence that there is a genetic component, but this component is far from being the only or most powerful influence.

It's great that Ali and SoulForce have a “personal belief” that homosexuals have no choice. However, science currently doesn’t support this idea, and rather tends to debunk it. And no matter how much they believe the world is flat, if the evidence continues to say it's round, it simply can't also be flat. And an argument based on bad science simply holds no weight in a rational society.

And what of this argument that homosexuals wouldn’t choose something for which they knew they would be persecuted? As “not too pensive” pointed out, this argument is just clearly wrong, as people do it frequently through out history. I'll just use one example to prove this, but I'm sure you can think of many more. An ironically relevant example is that of the Mormons in Missouri, threatened, harassed, driven from their homes because of their choice of religion. Yet many of them chose to endure those things because it was something they believed. Therefore, people do sometimes make choices that lead to persecution, and stick with them in spite of it.

In fact, the example of religious persecution gives us a good opportunity to examine why people would choose something in spite of overwhelming odds. In the case of religion, people convert in the face of overwhelming odds because a religion strikes them as true, and once they know it is true, the consequences they believe will come by ignoring truth are too severe to be ignored, even in the face of physical consequences. A similar argument can be made for those who give in to a homosexual tendency, or really any other kind of genetic tendency: they believe that the benefits of improving and acting on the tendency outweigh the cons they incur by “repressing” or ignoring it.

Which brings us to the next major problem of this argument. The entire previous section has merely established the fact that homosexual behavior is a valid human trait to have an opinion on the rightness or wrongness of it. It is an entirely different matter to determine what that position should be and how that opinion should be incorporated into society.

Stay tuned for Part II: Judging.


Not Too Pensive said...


I'm intrigued by the study you posted and I'm curious if studies with larger numbers have been done. While the data seems fairly conclusive, 56 individuals is a fairly small sample size, I'm sure you'll agree. That said, the opposing side of the argument does not have any better data, either. Amusingly, I heard several Soulforce members declare that science was completely behind them and, when pressed for specifics, said, "well, you know, everyone." If I was going to stake my entire argument on something, I would actually do my research.

Additionally, I apoligize for maintaining my relative anonymity, as future career interests make posting my real name a poor decision.

Liz Muir said...

True, it is a small sample size, but from what I know of Stats (not much - just 221), it seems to be a large enough sample size to be relevant. As I mentioned, I am no expert on the topic. I actually found the study through FAIR's article on homosexuality in the church. I haven't read the full text, since it isn't available online, but I think it is available in periodicals at BYU, if you want a look.

Personally, scientific research to me is secondary to revelation in my personal position, so I'm not particularly interested in pursuing this further. But if you want to do the work, I'll sit back and reap the benefits of your labor. :D Science just happened to be a necessary part of this argument.

However, I'd avoid being too amused about the SoulFore people. It's generally true that the loudest spoken people have the least knowledge.

Future career interests, as in politician? Very apt nickname for a politician. :D I guess I can understand the need for anonymity, although I personally would never choose a line of work that requires me to hide my beliefs. Which, of course, is why I want to be a writer and not a politician. Or a scientist.

Not Too Pensive said...

Well, my knowledge of statistics comes merely from Political Science 200... so... yeah, I know nothing of statistics. But bigger sample sizes are always better, and reduce the chance those who collect them are "cherry-picking" data.

I must agree, though, that revelation is the ultimate source for all of this. The basis of the arguments is religious in nature and is best argued there.

As far as future career interests, I will never, ever, under any circumstances be a politician or elected official. Noooooooo thank you ;-) that's not my bag. I'm more interested in the civil service, particularly the State Department and other foreign affairs related government work. I absolutely love my country, but it bores me to death to stay here - I just don't feel as alive when I'm stuck in the land of strip malls and English speakers. Give me a language barrier and a quanit little street market any day! All the better if I can have a job that covers the travel and living expenses ;-) Posting my name all over the internet can make the process of getting a security clearence more difficult, and since it already takes months upon months to get one, I'd rather shave a few weeks off the process.

nicolaepadigone said...

fascinating what is going on at BYU these days....

Liz, for your thoughts on homosexuality here, have you considered looking at what Elder Oaks said in October 2005 in a talk called "Same Gender Attraction"....


Liz Muir said...

Interesting article. This is pretty much the position I am trying to get across. However, since I'm trying to explain it to those who aren't members of the church, I've avoided using doctrinal references too heavily, and tried to use mostly reasoning that they can relate to. (The next section will probably have more doctrine than this one, though.)

nicolaepadigone said...

Don't be afraid to use doctrine even on non-members. It is true, and it is inspired. Let people be offended, but say it how it is. :)

Liz Muir said...

True, but it's not a good idea to offend your audience when trying to write a convincing argument to them. When trying to convince an audience, you need to work from their point of view. If your audience doesn't accept it as scripture, it only alienates your audience, which makes them not listen to you no matter how convincing you are.

So, if I were trying to simply state my opinion, I would use it, proudly. However, since I'm trying to convince a specific audience, I must consider what will convince them, not what will convince me.