For decades now, scientists have searched for a gay gene. Some LGBTQ individuals have found the search validating—arguing that they’re “born this way” gives them solid grounds for access to a variety of civil rights protections. Others have worried that if a “gay gene” is discovered, prenatal genetic testing will be used to identify and eliminate fetuses that have it.
Over the past few years, I’ve increasingly felt that the terms of this debate leave something to be desired, for two reasons.
First, LGBTQ people’s access to civil rights shouldn’t be continent on whether they are “born that way.” What does it matter if some people prefer to marry individuals of the same sex? Who does it harm? What reason is there to limit people’s freedom of choice in this area?
The same can be said for gender. What harm does it cause if someone wants to live as a gender they were assigned at birth, or nonbinary? Trans people are often required to prove that they felt the way they do from a very early age, and individuals who transition and then transition back are treated as proof that no one should be allowed to transition.
Why not let people make their own decisions about their gender and sexuality, without querying whether they were “born that way” or demanding some sort of proof from them?
I’m don’t mean to belittle the importance a genetic marker has to many LGBTQ people, or the importance it may have for civil rights legislation. That said, it strikes me as backwards to suggest that a group’s rights should be contingent on some sort of genetic proof. Why not simply allow all people to make their own decisions about how they live and who they love?
Second, evangelicals don’t care whether there is a gay gene. I’ve seen civil rights activists use an appeal to an immutable genetic cause underlying sexual orientation to argue that religious conservatives must give up their bigotry and accept same-sex orientations as natural and therefore not sinful. For many evangelicals, however, that argument is simply not going to work.
In a recent Answers in Genesis article, Ken Ham addressed a study finding not a gay gene, per se, but some potential genetic markers. Ham responds as follows:
Obviously, this study has been very popular and generated a great amount of discussion. But it raises a fundamental question: If researchers did find some irrefutable link between homosexuality and genetics (which they have not in this study), would it ultimately even matter?
Well, no, it wouldn’t, because genetics doesn’t determine morality. Just because someone is predisposed to something because of genetics (e.g., alcoholism has been argued to have a genetic component), background, or environment, it doesn’t mean that particular desire or action is moral.
Telling evangelicals that there is a “gay gene” is tantamount to telling them that we have discovered genetic proof of our sin nature. God did not have to create Adam with a latent gay gene, either. Evangelicals do not believe that humans today are necessarily genetically the same as humans before the fall. Evangelicals like Ham hold that animals changed after the fall as they gained the tools needed for their new predator/prey relationship. Given that this is when sin entered the world, it would be unsurprising if humans gained new genetic predispositions to sin.
I am not a lawyer. I don’t know how important the argument from genetics is to civil rights legal arguments or legislation. It may be that our laws are set up such that only groups with immutable characteristics can be granted civil rights protections. If that is the case, by all means, the search for a “gay gene” should continue (or a “trans gene” or the equivalent).
But if the motivation for the search is to prove to bigots that being gay is natural and that gay people should therefore be accepted the way they are, this feels like effort expended on a very tenuous hope. To bigots, “natural” does not necessarily mean good. In fact, to evangelicals in particular, natural is quite often synonymous with sinful.
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