Sunday, April 13, 2003

Ecce Homo

Kieran Healy reports that a large majority of Republicans believe that homosexuality is a choice, whereas a large majority of Democrats believe that homosexuality is genetic. As Mark Kleiman observes, this is another example of people’s amazing ability to fit their empirical beliefs to their desired policy conclusions.

The issue of homosexuality’s origin seems to be a hot topic at the moment; it came up on Julian’s blog a few days ago, and he was responding to a couple of posts (here and here) by Matthew Yglesias on the same subject. Julian makes the excellent point that sexual orientation could also result from nurture at such a young age that it could hardly be considered a choice even if it’s not genetically encoded. In other words, to draw a sharp dichotomy between choice and genetics is to commit the fallacy of the excluded middle.

In any case, I’m with those (like Julian and Matthew) who think the answer to the origin-of-homosexuality question shouldn’t matter. Even if one’s orientation is innate or otherwise unchosen, the conservatives are correct to observe that the *action* is chosen. I’m heterosexual, even though I don’t recall ever choosing to be – and yet I have the shocking ability to refrain from heterosexual sex. The real issue is whether homosexual sex does harm to anyone other than the participants – and the obvious answer is no. (Or more to the point, it needn’t harm anyone else. If we implement a public health system that socializes healthcare costs, then anything that increases the likelihood of health problems for oneself – including high-risk sexual behavior – could harm others through the expenditure of tax dollars. But that kind of harm doesn’t follow from the act itself, only from the policies imposed by the legislature.)

I once mentioned to a homosexual friend that I rather hoped homosexuality would turn out not to have a genetic (or otherwise unchosen) component, because then the conservatives would have to accept it as a pure choice (in the broader sense of choosing one’s orientation as well one’s action) that is nevertheless *none of their damn business*. My friend replied, “Well, you’re clearly not homosexual.” His point being that, for whatever reason, people are more inclined not to punish X if X is not a matter of choice, whether or not X is something that causes harm to others. For those who have a dog in the hunt on this issue, it’s more important to get the right policy than to get it for the best reasons. If I were homosexual, I suppose I’d cheer any evidence of a homosexuality gene, simply because there are many voters who would choose to support my “choice” in that case.

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