Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Sexual Orientation is not a "lifestyle" or "choice"

Last week the two candidates for election as Virginia's next governor agreed to disagree about a number of things... among them sexual orientation. Tim Kaine said that he did not think that being gay is a "choice;" Jerry Kilgore said that he wasn't sure but that he thought being gay is a "choice" or "lifestyle."

For me, it is clear that Tim Kaine is right and Kilgore is wrong.

It is clear to me for the same reasons that I have always "known" that my brother's autism was NOT caused by my parents -- first, personal experience and, second, the clear weight of medical and scientific research.

As a college student in the 60's, I listened to an abnormal psych professor lecture about the environmental/family/social causes of autism. I stood up and told him he was wrong. My brother was clearly born autistic. He was completely unresponsive to his surroundings as a baby (my mom thought he was deaf); he didn't cry until he was two; and his savant skills (drawing in three dimension without instruction, an amazing rote memory, perfect pitch) were apparent before he was three. Moreover, many of his mannerisms (rocking, spinning, using his hands to create lights and shadows) were very reminiscent of behaviors of college friends who were stimulating their brains with a variety of chemicals at the time ... the difference, it seemed to me, was that my brother was "tripping" without any outside chemicals but clearly as a result of something going on with his brain chemistry. Later, and now universally accepted, scientific evidence proved that I was "right" and the professor was "wrong" about the causes of autism.

Similarly, throughout my life, I have observed and listened to the stories and experiences of my gay and lesbian friends about their journeys of self-discovery and acceptance of their sexual orientation ... journeys that always began with awareness in childhood of their difference, whether understood fully or acknowledged at the time. I came early to the conclusion that, like my brother's autism, sexual orientation is something that one is born with... it is not learned or chosen.

The growing weight of scientific evidence increasingly supports my conclusion and Kaine's position. Studies of genetically identical twins have found strong evidence that genes or other pre-birth factors clearly play a role in defining a person's sexual orientation.

"Nobody in science now believes that sexual orientation is caused by events in adolescence...Homosexuality is an early, probably prenatal and irreversible preference." Author and geneticist Matt Ridley in Nature via Nuture at page 159.

Read both sides of the debate and see what you think.

I am confident that you'll understand why I cried the night the Virginia House of Delegates passed the Virginia "defense of marriage statute." I was sad that history inevitably will judge my friends among the delegates who voted for the bill in the same way that history now judges the legislators who voted for Virginia's now discredited miscegenation laws -- as bigots.