Gay Gene Continues...
(Continued from page 20)
The conservative case for the gay gene
will strike many as too pragmatic, somewhat equivalent to the case for pro-
choice Republicanism. I admit the
parallel. I am a Colin Powell Republican and a gay person who is an ardent assimilation i s t. I am an assimilat-
ionist in part because I look at a homosexual orientation as a biological
roll of the dice that has all the political
importance of left-handedness, i.e.,
none at all. For this reason, like the lawyer who wrote me, I too would not be
opposed to considering genetic surgery.
Some conservatives may find accepting the gay gene as repugnant as accepting choice on abortion. But there is one
glaring difference between them. The
key question about abortion is, "When
does human life begin?"—and answering it means defining the term "human
life." For most pro-lifers, humanity
has some-thing to do with the soul, and the
existence of the soul is not determinable by science.
But the question about homosexuality and volition—whether one chooses
to be gay—is subject to empirical verification. And among researchers.
this question is considered answered.
Which means that supporting Position
1 or 2 —lifestyle or disease—will soon
be as politically successful for the
Republican party as supporting crea-
And for those who find intolerable
■.■ven lhe short-term gain that liberalism would get from a conservative
conversion to the idea of a biological
homosexual orientation, 1 would
remind Ihem thai there is a way oui—Ihe
final element of the conservative case
lot ihu gay gene. From the perspective
of those who seek total proscription of
homosexuality, it is certainly
imperfect, bui it is at the same time a way
for conservatives to stop shrinking
from science and accept the gay gene
while nullifying ils pro-gay political impact. It is the most obvious piece in
ilie debate: religion.
Jeffrey Marsh, a physicist and orthodox Jew, reviewed my book for THE
WEEKLY STANDARD (August 5, 1996)
and made two conclusive statements.
The first was scientific: The research
has demonstrated the biological
nature of homosexuality. The second was religious and moral: This
doesn't matter. "The Bible," wrote
Marsh, "does not forbid homosexual
activity emphasis mine because it is
'unnatural,' but because it is on a long
list of prohibited sexual relationships. " Many Biblically proscribed
traits. Marsh noted, have quite natural
biological components, from greed
to adultery, theft to murder. But to
religion, biology is immaterial.
It is unnecessary for religion to pronounce on moleeular genetics not
merely because (as in the case of Pat
Robertson) it usually gets molecular
genetics wrong, but because genetics
are irrelevant to religion. For religion speaks wiib absolute authority on
the morality of the myriad traits that
genes and molecules create, including human sexual orientation.
Naturally, liberals and those who are
pro-gay will combat this religious
position with two arguments. The first:
•The religious position—to lake a
specific example, the Catholic position that homosexuality is an "intrin-
sic disorder—is empirically incorrect " The immediate and dispositive religious counter-response:
Wlii> cares'" First, religion is not
subject to empirical verification.
And the Biblical prohibition is on
homosexual behavior, nol homosexual orientation. In thc same vein, there
are very good reasons to believe that
criminality has a genetic component, and proof of that would not invalidate legal proscriptions against
The second liberal response: "The
First Amendment separates church
from state." The religious counter-
response: Like a principled opposition to abortion, the religious opposition to homosexuality rests on a moral
stance that is translated into individual positions on policy. Science presents information, but judgment and
values and morality must be applied to
Ultimately, a moral opposition to
homosexuality is above debate, just
as it is above bioassay and data set. A
moral opposition to homosexuality
will not prevent the short-term loss that
an acknowledgment of the gay gene will
cause, but it is lhe best response to it. Science produces the ability to understand the mechanical functioning of
genes, but it does not change the moral
nature of the traits they produce.
Which is why, after the announcement of
the gay gene's discovery, Immanue!
Jakobovits. the former chief rabbi of
Britain (and reputedly Margaret
Thatcher's favorite religious
leader), slated to the conservative
Daily Mail: "Homosexuality is a disability, and if people wish to have it
eliminated before they have children
... I do not see any moral objections to
using genetic engineering to limit this
particular trend." Marsh, the physicist, f r a m e d the rabbi's idea more
broadly and more trenchantly: "Fulfillment of ihe human potential for
holiness depends on a continual
struggle to overcome many perfectly
natural human inclinations. By
showing man how those natural inclinations work, science can help him in
The science will show what it will show.
And if it shows how biological traits
such as homosexuality work, then
this simply means lhat we can reply in the
affirmative to someone like the lawyer who wrote me: "Do you know of any
research institutions that arc currently studying the possibility ()t'
converting homosexual men to heterosexuality? I would be very interested in making such a change. I am gay,
and for personal reasons would like not
to be. ..."
* What's the study worth? The certainty
of genetic studies is determined by
their "significance," or "p value,"
■ 05 being the minimum needed for scientific acceptance. If a study gets .05.
it has statistically only a 5 percent
chance of being wrong. So a .03 would he
better, having only a 3 percent chance
of being a false finding, and a .01 would
be better still.
What was the "p value" of the NIH study?
** To be more precise, homosexuality in males. GAY-1 and STRAIGHT-1
probably affect only men. Research
consistently reveals a clear male/
female discrepancy; there are about
twice as many homosexual men (around
6 per 100) as homosexual women
(around 3 per 100), and sexual orientation in women, researchers believe.
may involve completely unrelated
f Chandler Burr, a writer living in
Washington, D.C, is the author of A
Separate Creation: The Search for
the Biological Origins of Sexual
Orientation (Hyperion). The views
expressed in this article are those of the
author and do not necessarily reflect
the views of The Houston Voice or its
Reprinted by permission of The Weekly
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