Are homosexuals “born that way”? If so, if someone is by nature attracted to another person of the same sex, then shouldn’t they be entitled to the same rights as someone who is attracted to the opposite sex? Shouldn’t they, for example, have the same legal right to marry as an opposite-sex couple? Shouldn’t two same-sex teenagers have the right to attend a high school prom as a couple? Shouldn’t homosexuality be recognized as just as valid a lifestyle as heterosexuality, with all the same rights and benefits?
These are valid questions, and young people are asking them. I have just come back from Brazil, where I had been asked to speak to a church gathering of young people and adults on sexuality and the challenges for today’s youth. I was asked not to include homosexuality in my presentation, because government authorities in Brazil can be very intolerant of anything less than complete acceptance of homosexuality. But the first question at the end of my presentation was, “My children have gay friends. What do I tell them when they say that there is nothing wrong with being gay, that they were born that way, that homosexuality is just another lifestyle? That is what they are being taught at school. That is what they see and hear in the media.”
Is same-sex attraction biologically determined?
Over the years the media has reported that scientific studies have determined this to be so. The most well-known of these studies are the twin studies by Michael Bailey, the search for a “gay” gene by Dean Hamer, the brain studies by Simon LeVay and, most recently, fraternal birth order studies by Anthony Bogeart. What are the facts?
(i) Twin studies. If there were a gay gene, then identical twins should match for sexual orientation. A 1991 study by Bailey found that 14 of 41 identical twin male pairs (34.1%) matched for sexual orientation. In 2000, using the Australian Twin Registry, Bailey and Pillard found that only 3 of 27 pairs (11.1%) of identical male twins and only 3 of 22 pairs (13.6%) of female identical twins were both homosexual. In 2010 a study using the Swedish Twin Registry found that 7 of 71 pairs (9.8%) of identical male twins were both gay.
Why the discrepancy between the findings of the first study and the findings of the second and third? In Bailey’s 1991 study, the participants in the study were volunteers who responded to ads and announcements in the gay community in Chicago, USA. In other words, the participants in the study were not randomly chosen, and therefore cannot be considered representative of the homosexual population as a whole. It is also quite possible that individuals were more likely to volunteer if they shared same-sex attraction with a twin. A study is more likely to be valid if it is based on a large, randomly chosen sample. The 2000 study was based on a more representative sample. The 2010 study was based on a representative and much larger sample.
If homosexuality were genetically determined, we would expect the concordance rate to be 100%: if one identical twin is homosexual, then both would be — in every case.
(ii) Hamer, a scientist at the National Institute of Health (USA), searched for a gay gene. He found that more than 10% of brothers of gay men were gay compared with 3% of the general population, and in 1993 the media reported that he had found an area in the X chromosome that predisposed a male to become homosexual. But Hamer himself said, “We have not found the gene — which we don’t think exists — for sexual orientation.”
(iii) Several studies have been done to determine whether there are differences in the brain. The most well known of these studies was by LeVay, who found some differences. But LeVay’s sample was very small and he himself said, “I did not prove that homosexuality is genetic, or find a genetic cause for being gay.”
(iv) In 2003 Bogeart published a study reporting that the fraternal birth order of men correlated to increased chances of homosexual orientation. This theory hypothesizes that some mothers develop an allergic reaction to their body’s encounter with the male hormones generated by the male fetus, resulting in the incomplete masculinizing of their sons. This reaction becomes more profound the more sons a mother bears, making it more likely that younger sons will be homosexual. Again, this study was based on small, non-representative samples. Bogeart’s recent analysis of an independent and truly representative sample eight times the size of his previous studies found no older-brother effect. A study of two million Danes and another of 10,000 American teenagers both failed to find this effect.
But if same-sex orientation is not biologically determined, how do we explain the same-sex attraction of those who have “always felt this way”? And in any case don’t we need to accept their feelings and consider both homosexuality and heterosexuality equally valid lifestyles? The media does, for the most part. Most sex education programs do. One sex education booklet for 11- and 12-year olds states, “Everyone has a sexual orientation. Sexual orientation is your feelings of sexual attraction toward others. You could be attracted to people of the same sex, the opposite sex, or to people of both sexes. People of all sexual orientations can have healthy relationships and happy fulfilling lives.” Do they? What are the facts?
Are homosexuality and heterosexuality equally valid lifestyles?
Because some homosexual acts disregard normal human anatomy and function, they are physically harmful, associated with increased risks of tissue injury, organ malfunction, sexually transmitted infections, infectious diseases, and cancers. Anal-rectal sexual activity, for example, almost always involves tearing of rectal tissue, resulting in semen-blood contact. This facilitates the passing on of the AIDS virus. Having many sex partners makes gay men significantly more susceptible to sexually transmitted diseases.
One of the most exhaustive studies ever conducted, published in 2001 by researchers from Harvard Medical School, concluded that homosexual orientation is associated with elevated risk for anxiety, mood, and substance-use disorders and for suicide. The popular explanation for this is social stigma, but is that the only or even the primary cause, or does it have something to do with the orientation itself? This question has never been addressed by researchers.
Men who have sex with men have a high incidence of promiscuity and difficulty in forming lasting relationships. One large study found that 82% of gay men had sex with someone other than their main partner, compared with 26% of men in relationships with women. A representative study in Norway and Sweden, where same-sex partnerships have been sanctioned since the 1990s, found that gay male relationships are 50% more likely to break up than heterosexual marriages. Lesbian relationships in the United States are 167% more likely to break up than heterosexual marriages.
Speaking the truth in love
“What can I tell my children about homosexuality?” the mother in Brazil asked me. The answer to that question is “The truth.” But there is a second question, and it is the harder one: “How can teens speak the truth to their gay friends with compassion, without judging them, without breaking their spirit or losing their friendship?” If they love them, they dare not withhold or distort the truth about the homosexual lifestyle. They don’t want their friends, at some point down the road, to say “I didn’t know. I didn’t know . . . that among men who have sex with men the rate of new HIV diagnoses is more than 44 times that of other men . . . that the AIDS virus is 30 times more likely to be transmitted during anal sex than vaginal sex . . . that in the United States young gay and bisexual men 13-24 years of age account for 72% of new HIV infections among all persons in that age group, although they represent only 2% of the total population.”
We don’t yet know to what extent — or even if — same-sex attraction has any biological basis. We do know that it is not an “equally valid lifestyle,” and out of love we must make that truth known.
Stanton L. Jones, “Same-Sex Science” http://www.firstthings.com/article/2012/02/same-sex-science
John Stott, Same-Sex Partnerships? A Christian Perspective (Grand Rapids. MI: Fleming H. Revell, 1998)
Edward T. Welch, Homosexuality: Speaking the Truth in Love (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2000)