Part 12: Aren't Some People Just Born Gay?
By Dr. Robert Stackpole, STD (Mar 17, 2016)
The following is the twelfth in a series on Homosexuality and God's Merciful Love. You can follow the entire series here.
At this point in the series, some of my readers may be thinking: "If homosexuality really is an unnatural condition, as the Bible and the Catechism say, if it is not what our Creator intended for us, and therefore cannot lead to human peace and fulfillment, then what about the fact that scientists have now discovered it is genetically inherited — that people are gay because of their genes? If it's all in their genes, and they were born that way, how can it be a "wounded," or "unnatural" condition?"
Well, the "gay gene" is not a fact, it's just a theory. Back in the 1990s two studies purported to show a genetic link with homosexuality, but "the court is still out" in the scientific community about the possible genetic roots of same-sex attraction.
Joe Dallas summarizes these two research studies for us in his book When Homosexuality Hits Home:
First, Dr. Simon LeVay, a neuroscientist in the Salk Institute in La Jolla, California [and a homosexual himself], reported a region of the brain called INAH3 to be larger in heterosexual men than in homosexuals. He also found it to be larger in heterosexual men than in the women he studied. For that reason, he hypothesized that homosexuality might be inborn, and his finding were published in Science in August, 1991.
Another study from the same year was hailed as proof of homosexuality's inborn nature, when psychologist J. Michael Bailey (a gay-rights advocate) of Northwestern University and psychiatrist Richard Pillard of Boston University School of Medicine (who is openly homosexual) compared sets of identical male twins to fraternal twins (whose genetic ties are less close). In each of the compared sets, at least one twin was homosexual (Harvest House publishers, 2004, p. 55).
A little known fact, however, is that these scientists have themselves publicly admitted that their research does not actually prove that same-sex attraction is genetic or inborn.
They have good reason for this skepticism about the results of their own studies.
For example, with regard to LeVay's study of brain size differences, Dr. Marc Breedlove, professor of neuroscience at Michigan State University has pointed out that we now know that both brain size and brain re-wiring can be the result of mental processes and behavior. In other words, brain differences are not entirely inborn, the result of genetic factors alone: "My findings give us proof for what we know theoretically to be the case — that sexual experience can alter the structure of the brain, just as genes can alter it. [I]t is possible that differences in sexual behavior cause (rather than are caused by) differences in the brain" (Cited in Robert R. Reilly, Making Gay OK. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2014, p. 131).
Meanwhile, the Bailey and Pillard study is widely considered to be scientifically inconclusive. Fr. Ignatius writes in his online essay The Church and Persons Afflicted with Homosexual Tendencies:
[I]f genetic information is determinative, why aren't identical twin brothers always homosexual? Bailey acknowledges that "there must be something in the environment to yield the discordant twins," but that answer could just as easily be used the other way. Maybe [there is no gay gene at all and] it's "something in the environment" that yields the homosexual twin. A genetic predisposition is clearly not determinative since even identical twins, possessing the same genetic material, do not always have the same orientation. More so, "in order for such a study to be at all meaningful," states biologist Anne Fausto-Stirling of Brown University, "you'd have to look at twins raised apart. It's such badly interpreted genetics" (pp. 6-7).
Personally, I should not at all be surprised to find there is a genetic factor involved in many or even most cases of same-sex attraction. After all, scientists have been finding genetic factors in all kinds of human proclivities for decades now (including tendencies to enjoy reading books and to be afraid of roller coaster rides ... I am pretty sure I have both of those genes myself!).
But three important things to bear in mind here.
First, the fact that one inherits a degree of inclination toward a certain attitude or behavior does not mean that this inclination is solely genetic in origin. There may be other factors at work that affect one's inclinations as much, or even more, than genes: for instance, one's upbringing, and the effect of choices one has made throughout life. There is a general consensus emerging now among scientists that a homosexual orientation usually has multiple causes.
Second, even if one of the factors involved in causing same-sex attraction is genetic, this does not at all imply that one is compelled to engage in homosexual behavior. As Catholic author Melinda Selmys writes:
The fact that something is genetic does not mean that it cannot be overcome. ... Morality is not an instruction manual on how to follow your inborn impulses. It is a call to overcome the artifacts of fallen nature within oneself, to become better than an animal, to become a complete, self-possessed human being (Sexual Authenticity, p. 67).
Most importantly, even if same-sex attraction is rooted in part in the human genetic code, this does not necessarily mean it is "wholesome" or "natural." There are all kinds of traits that human beings inherit from their parents that are far from "natural" because they do not lead to human flourishing and fulfilment: for example, tendencies toward melancholy, irascibility, alcoholism, sickle cell anemia, type 1 diabetes, and congenital blindness. Selwyn again points to the faulty logic at work here:
Ah! But if it is genetically coded, then God made us that way. In that case, how could it be argued that it was not God's will for gay people to be gay? ... We are speaking of men born blind, and children born legless; of personality disorders, severe psychoses, autism, incurable depression. To accept the "I'm born that way, God made me that way, therefore its good" argument is to accept that God also made certain people to be psychopaths, and that this is natural and good for them; that he made others to wring their hands day and night and dream of suicide, and that this too is a realization of the image and likeness of God. It would make nonsense of the idea that God is good (pp. 66-67).
So what makes an inherited human trait "natural" and wholesome? Clearly, it is whether the trait arises (at least in part) from hurt or trauma, and whether it leads to human flourishing and fulfillment, or to human brokeness and degradation. If it does, then the inherited trait may be the result of the wounding of human nature caused by the fall of Adam and Eve (that is, the inherited corruption of our nature called "original sin") rather than any natural gift from our Creator.
People can easily deceive themselves in this regard. They may reason: "I seem to have been born with this desire, and it feels good when I give in to this desire, therefore it must be wholesome and natural to give in to it." Kevin DeYoung points to the flawed logic at work here too:
Our own sense of desire and delight is not self-validating. People may, through no conscious decision of their own, be drawn to binge-drinking, to promiscuity, to rage, or to any number of sinful behaviors. ... Quite simply, sometimes we want the wrong things. No matter how we think we might have been born one way, Christ insists we must be born again a different way (John 3: 3-7; Eph 2:1-10) (What Does the Bible Really Teach About Homosexuality?, pp. 111-112).
In short, whether or not there really is a gay gene is largely beside the point. What we need to know is whether same-sex attraction also arises from hurt and trauma, and whether it leads toward human health and fulfillment.
We have already seen (in last week's article) what philosophy has to say about same-sex attraction and the nature of homosexual acts. But if it really is as "unnatural" as the Bible, The Catechism, and Philosophy seem to tell us, then we ought to be able to see at least some of its harmful effects. Can homosexual behavior lead to health, happiness, and wholeness in this life? Or does the evidence suggest just the opposite?
That will be the subject of our next article.
Next Time: A Broken and Wounded Condition
You can follow the entire series here.
Robert Stackpole, STD, is director of the John Paul II Institute of Divine Mercy, an apostolate of the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception.