The anti-gay lobby vehemently defend that homosexuality is a choice as it justifies so much of their view that homosexuality is purely a moral issue, it can change and should be changed. Therefore, in some cases, they regard that it is acceptable to legislate against homosexuals, e.g., the Ugandan “anti-gay” bill. For the gay rights and equality lobby, the aspect of choice is vehemently denied as they believe it is key to understanding why homosexuality cannot be nor should it be changed. Therefore human rights protect homosexuals and anti-discrimination laws are so important to protect them as a minority group. Both sides begin with apparently mutually exclusive presuppositions without trying to understand each other and what is informing each other's views.
From my own perspective, I to started with the presupposition that one's sexual orientation was a choice. However, over time I have reconsidered this position in light of what I have found both in the scriptures and modern psychology. I now regard that one's sexual identity (homosexual, heterosexual or somewhere in between) cannot be regarded as a simple choice; that there is no big dial on someone's chest that can be flicked between heterosexual or homosexual, or left somewhere between the two. In some ways I acknowledge that the simple “choice” presupposition was a lot easier as I could view life as black and white. However, my own life experiences have taught me that life is not monochrome.
However, I believe that there are elements of choice when considering how people behave in response to their sexual identity.
Now that I have declared my presupposition, I will attempt to justify it.
In modern psychology, sexuality is not just about sex, as it
"refers to an enduring pattern of emotional, romantic, and/or sexual attractions to men, women, or both sexes. Sexual orientation also refers to a person's sense of identity based on those attractions, related behaviors, and membership in a community of others who share those attractions."
APA Website (2009) Sexual Orientation & Homosexuality, (page 2)
Other equally respectable psychological bodies in other countries concur.
Modern psychology understands that our sexuality is core to our being. This is not dissimilar to the Christian understanding that, as we are created in the image of a triune God, we are relational beings and specifically we are designed to be in life-long partnerships.
The above APA definition establishes two important factors, 1) a person's sense of sexual identity and 2) related behaviours.
1) A Person's Sense of Sexual Identity
One's sense of sexual identity is understood to be a somewhere on a continuum between total heterosexuality on the one end and total homosexuality on the other.
Both sides of the debate throw various studies, documents and web sites at each other that supposedly offer conclusive proof that one's sexuality is either a choice or it is not. Both sides then accuse the other of not being willing to face the facts and will do anything to justify their position.
Given all these various studies, I can only conclude that there is no conclusive proof why some people's sexual identity is towards the one end or somewhere in the middle of the sexual identity continuum. However, what is clear is that
"most people experience little or no sense of choice about their sexual orientation."
APA Website (2009) Sexual Orientation & Homosexuality,(page 3)
Even the controversial "ex-gay" author Richard Cohen acknowledges that one's sexual orientation is not a simple matter of choice:
For example, anti-gay people reference an APA conference paper in a Focus on the Family Action video clip supporting the view that people can leave homosexuality. The problem I have with this video clip is that the presenter only states that people can adopt heterosexual behaviours in some cases. I still find nothing in this video that suggests the authors successfully altered the patients' sexual identity. The “treatment” was only able to change the patients' behaviour. This is an important distinction that is highlighted in a CNN article on an APA report into these treatments: Programs to change gays to straights don't work, report says
In another example, someone in a Facebook discussion proposed a study “proving” that homosexuality is a choice:
“... homosexuality is a behavior, it is a choice. Studies have been done to prove this. George Ebner and George Rice of the University of Western Ontario have found no evidence in the "X" chromosome that a person is born homosexual or heterosexual. The reason for using the "X" chromosome is males have a "X" and "Y" chromosome and females have two "X" chromosomes. Due to the fact that both males and females practice homosexuality their only choice of finding the genetic code would be in the "X" chromosome.”
I have not been able to get hold of this report, but I suspect that Ebner & Rice did not conclude from their study that, de facto all homosexuality is not genetic and, therefore has to be a choice. Nor do I think that Ebner & Rice would state that their study precludes other genetic factors that may influence one's sexuality. Rather, I believe their study merely could not find any correlation between the “X” chromosome and homosexuality. Finally, this person's defence of “choice” also failed to distinguish between identity and behaviour, which is often the case for both sides of the argument.
If we understand sin (what is right and wrong) to relate to how we behave (both thoughts and actions) towards God, ourselves and each other, then one's sense of one's sexual identity cannot in itself be a sin or evil. Sexual identity is not a behaviour. Therefore it has to be neutral of the concept of sin or what is evil.
Some may point out that God “designed” us to be in male-female relationships; anything else is a “perversion” of that design. However, we need to acknowledge that not everyone experiences the world as it is “designed”. Most blind people (and others with “handicaps”) do not regard themselves as disabled. Rather, they feel they are “other-ly enabled” and most certainly not unnatural. Just because their experience in this world (in which humans are “designed” to have sight) is different, does not make the way they exist any less valid. Their “other-ly ability” is merely a characteristic of who they are; it is neutral of the concept of sin and not a perversion of sight.
Therefore, I feel that it is important to note that one's sexual identity is merely a human characteristic; it cannot be by its nature a "choice".
2) Related Behaviours
So modern psychology draws a distinction between a person's sexual identity and how they behave according to their identity. Some Christians acknowledge this distinction with the statement, "Love the sinner, hate the sin." (In another blog I'll discuss why I have come to believe this still remains a pejorative hetero-sexist statement.)
There is little dispute that our behaviour does include an element of choice and our behaviour can change.
“Behavior […] refers to the actions or reactions of an object or organism, usually in relation to the environment. Behavior can be conscious or subconscious, overt or covert, and voluntary or involuntary.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Behavior
2.1) If we begin with heterosexual behaviour. Not all heterosexual sexual behaviour is regarded as acceptable. In the case of such behaviours as rape, paedophilia and bestiality, both secular people & people of faith generally regard these as abusive behaviours. These behaviours are based on dominance and they are not based on mutual consent. Generally, where secular and sacred are divided is on the questions of:
- Does all heterosexual consensual sexual behaviour have to take place within a loving & committed relationship otherwise it is potentially selfish, e.g., if two people consensually agree to sex on a one night stand?
- What is the nature of a loving & committed relationship in which this behaviour can take place, e.g., common law, marriage?
- How should people behave sexually when these relationships break up, e.g., divorce and remarriage?
In a modern, multi-cultural and secular society we agree to disagree on these choices of behaviour but we do not discriminate against others who disagree. Generally, heterosexuals do not loose their jobs because they had sex before they are married, they are not thrown into prison because they committed adultery, they are not given twin rooms because they book into a hotel with different surnames and unmarried titles, nor do they loose their home because they are not married or cannot afford estate taxes when their life-partner dies.
Additionally, heterosexuality is not condemned as evil because some (even if it were a majority) practise unsafe sex or have multiple sexual partners.
2.2) Homosexual behaviour is in no way dissimilar. It to involves the concepts of mutual consent, love and commitment. This is why I understand the gay community's anger when their loving & committed relationships, based on mutual consent between two adults, are compared with rape, paedophilia and bestiality. While some Christians and others may feel that same-sex behaviour based on loving, committed and consensual relationships still are a sin, it remains entirely inappropriate, prejudicial and unjust to compare these with abusive, domineering, non-consensual and selfish behaviours.
Similarly homosexual behaviour also includes elements of choice. The point here is that those whose sexual identity is homosexual may choose:
- heterosexual behaviours (and some of these may regard themselves as ex-gay),
- to abstain from either (celibacy), or
- to consensually act on their sexual identity whether or not within a loving and committed relationship.
I cannot understand why some Christians & others seem to think that homosexuality and/or homosexual behaviours are a special kind of sin (assuming they are sin), and therefore it is acceptable to introduce legislation against homosexuals, e.g., the Ugandan anti-gay bill.
This is why, as a Christian, I find myself having to support gay rights and their call for equality.
To conclude, Archbishop Tutu summed it up well:
"It is a perversion if you say to me that a person chooses to be homosexual. You must be crazy to choose a way of life that exposes you to a kind of hatred. It's like saying you choose to be black in a race-infected society." http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/7100295.stm
Therefore, I maintain that in the light of modern psychology and other considerations, for anyone to insist that human sexuality is a simple choice between heterosexuality or homosexuality is a gross over simplification. It is akin to insisting the Earth is flat and, the solar system & universe revolves around it.