A Natural Phenomenon: Beyond the ‘Gay Gene’

by Stephen H. Miller on December 12, 2012

An interesting new study looks at the genetic link to homosexuality and explains why identical twins do not always have the same sexual orientation:

Long thought to have some sort of hereditary link, a group of scientists suggested Tuesday that homosexuality is linked to epi-marks—extra layers of information that control how certain genes are expressed. These epi-marks are usually, but not always, “erased” between generations. In homosexuals, these epi-marks aren’t erased—they’re passed from father-to-daughter or mother-to-son, explains William Rice, an evolutionary biologist at the University of California Santa Barbara and lead author of the study.

Another nail in the coffin of the “it’s a choice” crowd, whether religious fundamentalists on the right or queer theorists on the left.

{ 14 comments }

Houndentenor December 12, 2012 at 3:34 pm

I hate drawing firm conclusions from such shaky science, but no one with any intelligence believes sexual orientation is a choice and they haven’t for a long time. There’s no reason to treat such nonsense as if it’s a valid point of view. They might as well be insisting that the earth is flat or that the sun revolves around the earth. We all know better and nutjobs are not entitled to be treated as if they are offering a legitimate point of view.

One thing though…I have heard of “queer theorists” but never met one. I suspect there aren’t more than a few dozen such people in the whole country. Equating them with the religious right is ridiculous.

Tom Scharbach December 12, 2012 at 4:17 pm

Another nail in the coffin of the “it’s a choice” crowd, whether religious fundamentalists on the right or queer theorists on the left.

Several critical distinctions exist between “fundamentalists on the right” and “queer theorists on the left”. The “fundamentalists on the right” seek to deprive gays and lesbians of equal treatment under the law; “queer theorists on the left” do not and never have, to my knowledge. The “queer theorists on the left” have come and gone (the movement came into being in the 1990′s, gained a small following, but has few advocates at present); the “fundamentalists on the right” may be dying off (to quote George Will) but a lot of them remain and they exert significant political power within the Republican Party. The “queer theorists on the left” are no threat to anyone; that cannot be said of the “fundamentalists on the right”.

Having noted those distinctions, I have several observations/thoughts With respect to the science of sexual orientation and “fundamentalists on the right”:

(1) Many “fundamentalists on the right” do not recognize sexual orientation at all, and those who do consider it irrelevant — neither important nor definitional. What counts is sexual behavior, or, as it is usually put, “lifestyle“.

(2) Unless and until we come to grips with the fact that sexual behavior (rather than sexual orientation) is the focus of “fundamentalists on the right”, we cannot have a meaningful political discussion with them.

(3) Because sexual behavior is what counts to “fundamentalists on the right”, working to convince them that sexual orientation is inborn barks up the wrong tree and is a waste of time. Even if they were convinced of that (as the Catholic Church appears to be, given the statements in the Catechism) it would make no difference to them in terms of .

(4) We can do something about: (a) convincing the mainstream of Americans that we should enjoy equal rights and responsibilities under the law (we’ve been doing that and it is working), and (b) breaking the death grip that “fundamentalists on the right” hold on the Republican primary process and lessening their considerable influence within the Republican Party (pro-equality conservatives haven’t been doing much on that score and should get their asses in gear). That is where we should focus and stay focused.

Clayton December 12, 2012 at 10:32 pm

Bryan Fischer is already citing this study to prove that homosexuality is a birth defect, and he is saying that parents will want to abort gay and lesbian babies. So much for a right to life.

Tom Scharbach December 13, 2012 at 7:56 am

The more interesting part of Fischer’s article is this:

Under a Judeo-Christian moral construct, we can freely admit that we do not understand the origin of all of our impulses. But it is not necessary to understand the source of every impulse to know that self-destructive impulses must be resisted at all costs. That’s what the message of the gospel is all about – that there is power in Christ to resist dark impulses, no matter what the source, that will destroy us if indulged.

It was fashionable for a time – and it may be still – to believe that alcoholics were born with a predisposition to alcoholism. But even if they were “born that way,” genetics was disallowed by those who loved them as an excuse to engage in behavior that would destroy them, their lives, their health, their marriages and their families.

I do not for one moment believe that homosexuality is pre-determined, either genetically or epigenetically. But even were it true, it would make no ultimate difference. We are still back to the simple truth that homosexual behavior, regardless of the source of the impulse, is always a matter of choice. And by God’s grace, everyone is capable of making better choices, starting today.

Although Fischer is obviously relieved that the posited developmental origins of homosexual are not genetic (which might imply that we are a legitimate part of creation, perhaps even an inspired burst of Intelligent Design), Fischer also makes it very clear that the developmental origins of homosexuality make no difference to the fundamentalist Christian right .

The only thing that counts, in their book, is sexual behavior. They are totally disinterested in the origins of homosexuality, so long as no direct genetic link is proven.

I think that we should accept that as a fact, and not waste our time on the “born that way” argument. We can’t change what the fundamentalist Christian right believes, but we can lessen the power that they wield in our country’s political arena. That is where we should focus.

JohnInCA December 13, 2012 at 10:54 pm

The game has never been to persuade the fundamentalist Christian right of anything. They’re a right-off. The rest of the country though? They’re a lot more flexible, and a lot more sympathetic when it isn’t a choice.

Not that it should actually matter, but that’s public opinion for you.

Clayton December 12, 2012 at 10:37 pm

Bryan Fischer of the AFA is already citing this study to prove that homosexuality is a birth defect, and he is saying that parents will want to abort gay and lesbian babies.

Bernie December 12, 2012 at 11:21 pm

Science hasn’t convinced the fundamentalists that the earth came into existence 6 billion years ago, that humankind is the current pinnacle of a long evolutionary process and that mankind’s industrial activity has had an adverse effect on our climate.

I’m not going to hold my breathe that science is going to make them accept that gays and lesbians are anything more than hell bound decadent sinners. Facts and reason have no place in their world view; unerring belief and faith rules supreme. Why should they listen to what science discovers when they KNOW that it’s all Satan’s doing?

Don December 13, 2012 at 10:44 am

Tom you’ve got a fascinating argument. And I agree with it, mostly. It is precisely the tracking-back to the root of the thinking that I admire and I think you’re on to something. But I would add this: the root is actually the literal interpretation and biblical inerrancy. They really are not interested in this or that theorem or interpretation du jour. Regardless of the topic, they all start from “well, let’s check what the book says.” and start there. Anything and everything in there is right. The only thing that can be wrong is our understanding of the world. Some people will never be convinced differently of this. This is why I believe it’s better to convince them the Amish were right and withdraw from society than it is to get them to change their belief system. This is what preachers told them before: it was wicked to get involved in politics. These people have the right to believe as they wish, but they are a danger to society when they refuse reality.

Rob January 15, 2013 at 12:58 am

LOL. Those scientists are 8 years late. I had already suggested that epigenetics played an important factor in the development of sexual orientation.

http://www.discussanything.com/forums/showthread.php/50670-My-take-on-the-gay-madness.?p=608622#post608622

Throbert McGee January 16, 2013 at 7:03 pm

Late to an old thread, but I just wanted to say: Anything that may nudge fundamentalists away from the ex-gay “Jesus can turn you heterosexual” model and in the direction of a “gay by birth, celibate by choice and God’s grace” model seems to me like an improvement in the lives of those who are both homosexual and religiously conservative. (Not that I endorse the “God wants gays to be celibate for life” position; I just see it as likely to be less damaging to religious gays than the “ex-gay” approach.)

For a yahoo like Brian Fischer to even acknowledge the difference between orientation and behavior is a small step forward.

[Brian Fischer said] “We are still back to the simple truth that homosexual behavior, regardless of the source of the impulse, is always a matter of choice. And by God’s grace, everyone is capable of making better choices, starting today.”

Houndentenor January 16, 2013 at 7:07 pm

I see your point but isn’t that just swapping one hypocrisy (pretending to be straight and marrying a woman) for another (pretending to be celibate). The only improvement there is not involving another person in your shame and self-loathing but that’s about all.

Throbert McGee January 16, 2013 at 7:12 pm

isn’t that just swapping one hypocrisy (pretending to be straight and marrying a woman) for another (pretending to be celibate).

Umm… if the celibacy is a sham (but the self-identified “gay and celibate person” is secretly having gay sex), then it’s hypocrisy.

But if the self-declared celibate really IS celibate, then how is it either hypocritical or self-loathing if someone publicly identifies as a gay person who chooses not to engage in “gay behavior”?

Houndentenor January 16, 2013 at 11:26 pm

For the handful that actually are celibate, I suppose it wouldn’t be. And then there’s the rest of them.

Our whole culture is a big bag of hypocrisy. It’s bizarre watching roundtables of pundits condemn whoever just got caught with their pants down like none of them have ever done that. Statistically speaking it just seems impossible that not one of them has ever cheated on his or her spouse. And yet there they are piling on whoever had the misfortune of actually getting caught. We love our self-righteous BS in this country. And it’s what freaks the religious right out about people who are openly gay or openly anything else for that matter. Because we threaten their closets and almost all of them live in one closet or another. Again, I say this as someone who was raised Baptist and knows what really goes on in those pious little hypocritical communities all over the country.

Throbert McGee January 16, 2013 at 7:07 pm

For a yahoo like Brian Fischer to even acknowledge the difference between orientation and behavior is a small step forward.

Although then again, there’s a famous aphorism that “If a cannibal learns to eat with a fork instead of his fingers, is that really progress?”

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