Thursday, September 20, 2012

Choice and the ‘gay gene’

Opponents of marriage equality often base at least part of their opposition on their belief that homosexuality is a choice. One of their New Zealand leaders claimed it had to be a choice because the Human Genome Project mapped the human genome and didn’t find a “gay gene”. The thing is, they weren’t looking for one.

On April 14, 2003, the Human Genome Project announced they had completed mapping the human genome—but mapping it is nowhere near the same thing as understanding it. In fact, it will take decades—or even centuries—before we work all that out—what genes do, how they work with each other, and so on.

The mapping project is kind of like this: Imagine walking into a huge library, row upon row of shelves, filled floor to ceiling with thousands of books, each one wrapped in blank paper. You set about numbering the books and writing down where they are (which row, which bookshelf, etc) and compiling an index so you know where that book is. However, since all the books are wrapped in blank paper, you don’t know what their title is or what’s inside them. THAT is what the Human Genome Project accomplished—the mapping of where those “books” are.

Since then—AFTER the genome was mapped—researchers identified some specific genes that do some specific things, like the gene that creates lighter skin colour (identified in 2008), or the gene that causes nearsightedness (identified in 2010). Again, the functions of these genes were found AFTER the human genome was mapped.

All of which means that the fact that scientists haven’t found a “gay gene” doesn’t mean one doesn’t exist. Over time, as the function of more genes is identified, we may know whether such a gene exists or not, but we’re a very long way from being able to say either way.

Here’s another wrinkle: Even if there is no single “gay gene”, that doesn’t mean sexual orientation isn’t genetic. Think of that library metaphor: Some of those books may contain references to other books; by themselves they may not have all the information, but taken together, they do. In a similar way, a combination of certain genes could be involved in determining human sexuality.

So, the rightwing politician was factually wrong and misleading when he said that the Human Genome Project didn’t find a “gay gene”—they weren’t looking for one because it wasn’t their job.

The fact is, the preponderance of evidence is that human sexuality has, at the very least, a genetic component, something even that same politician finally admitted. The larger point, however, is this: It doesn’t matter.

Religion is 100% choice, and yet we don’t forbid couples of certain religions, or without any religion, from having a civil marriage. Similarly, we don’t forbid couples with certain political views from marrying. So, even if homosexuality really was a mere “choice”, that fact alone would NOT be a logical reason for denying civil marriage to same-gender couples.

So, why or how some people turn out to be gay or straight may be an interesting thing for scientists to research, but it has no relevance in determining whether same-gender couples should be allowed to commit to each other in civil marriage the same way that opposite gender couples can. The only choice, the only logical option, is to choose marriage equality.

Previous posts in this series:

Marriage is not being ‘redefined’
Why civil unions aren’t enough
There is no ‘slippery slope’
The people DO decide
Religious and personal freedom alike

Next up: Marriage is not about children

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