Are Gay Marriage Opponents “Born This Way”?

Born This Way

In reading Scott Alexander’s generally-fascinating take on political tribalism and false tolerance, I was struck by this claim:

Some of it [political tribalism] is certainly genetic – estimates of the genetic contribution to political association range from 0.4 to 0.6. Heritability of one’s attitudes toward gay rights range from 0.3 to 0.5, which hilariously is a little more heritable than homosexuality itself.

In other words, he’s saying that the gay marriage opponent has a stronger genetic basis to say “I was born this way” than does the practicing homosexual. I was surprised, and more than a little skeptical, by this claim, so I did a little digging.

Unsurprisingly, there’s a good deal of controversy over the extent that your genes influence your views on homosexuality (and other moral or political questions), but plenty of studies have suggested that genes play some role. “Genetic and Environmental Influences on Individual Differences in Attitudes Toward Homosexuality: An Australian Twin Study,” published in the May 2008 issue of Behavior Genetics, concludes:

In summary, this study concerning the aetiology of homophobic attitudes revealed that familial aggregation in attitudes toward homosexuality is accounted for by genes as well as by shared environmental factors. However, when the plausible effect of assortative mating on our estimates is taken into account, familial aggregation for homophobia scores might be almost totally accounted for by genetic effects.

That is, these researchers concluded that genetics was the major factor behind what they term “homophobia.” Even if that (as I suspect) over-estimates or exaggerates the role of genetics, it seems fair to say that (1) genetics play a role in your personality and disposition, and (2) your personality and disposition play a role in how you view moral and political questions.

The researchers, without any sense of irony, openly side against traditional views of sexuality and marriage, saying:

Homophobia can be defined as ‘the fear of, aversion to, or discrimination against homosexuality or homosexuals’ (Merriam–Webster’s Medical Dictionary 2007). Although the social and cultural status of homosexuality has improved, Kite and Whitley (1996) concluded from their meta-analyses of 112 studies that many heterosexuals still hold very negative attitudes toward homosexuals and their sexual behaviour.

Both in describing the cultural shift on homosexuality as an “improvement” for “the social and cultural status of homosexuality,” and writing off the traditional views as “homophobia” (a politically-loaded pseudo-diagnosis that falsely clinicalizes moral and political views), the researchers make it clear that they think people are wrong to hold to these “homophobic” views. But they’ve just established that there’s a genetic component, which produces a bizarre result: it’s morally wrong for you to act on moral beliefs that you’re genetically disposed to about homosexuality, because homosexuals are genetically disposed to that behavior?

Such a conclusion is absurd: if it’s wrong to oppose homosexuality because certain people are “born that way,” then it’s even worse to oppose “homophobia,” since even more people are “born that way,” and the genetic link is stronger.

All of this shows points to a deeper problem. For short-term political gain, those favoring gay marriage adopted a dangerous argument: that certain behaviors are morally licit (or at least, outside of the realm of moral or political evaluation) because they’re rooted in genetics. One problem with that deterministic view is that all sorts of things, from sexual proclivity to racism to alcoholism to violence, have a genetic component. Or to put it in plainer English, some people are more naturally prone to certain behaviors than other people.

We’ve always known this, long before we knew anything about genetics. But it’s never been a get-out-moral-evaluation-free card that make your behaviors immune from criticisms. Because even if you’re biologically inclined to want to sleep with someone, you still have a moral decision to make in acting upon that impulse, or resisting it. That’s true whether we’re talking about homosexuality, fornication, adultery, or sex between spouses.


A deeper problem with determinism is that it’s self-refuting. You can’t coherently write everyone else’s beliefs and behaviors off as the mechanics of genetics. To do so would be to implicitly hold that your own beliefs (including your belief in determinism) are mindlessly determined.

Alasdair MacIntyre explains the core problem in After Virtue:

It is clear that the Enlightenment’s mechanistic account of human action included both a thesis about the predictability of human behavior and a thesis about the appropriate ways to manipulate human behavior. As an observer, if I know the relevant laws governing the behavior of others, I can whenever I observe that the antecedent conditions have been fulfilled predict the outcome. As an agent, if I know these laws, I can whenever I can contrive the fulfillment of the same antecedent conditions produce the outcome. What [Karl] Marx understood was that such an agent is forced to regard his own actions quite differently from the behavior of those whom he is manipulating. For the behavior of the manipulated is being contrived in accordance with his intentions, reasons and purpose; intentions, reasons, and purposes which he is treating, at least while he is engaged in such manipulation, as exempt from the laws which govern the behavior of the manipulated. [….] And that imprinting [of the agent’s will on nature or society] he will treat, as Marx saw, as the expression of his own rational autonomy and not the mere outcome of antecedent conditions.

So we’re either left with two possibilities. First, we can buy genetic determinism. In this case, person A is actively homosexual simply because he’s genetically prone to, and we can’t evaluate that action positively or negatively. But if that’s the case, person B is actively hostile to homosexuals simply because he’s genetically prone to, and we can’t evaluate those actions positively or negatively, either.  And our own belief in genetic determinism is simply a belief that we’re genetically prone to, so we can’t evaluate our beliefs positively or negatively.

The other view is to recognize human free will. Yes, human freedom is impacted by our genetics, our family upbringing, our past and present social environment, and our own past choices. But person A still retains the power to act on, or resist, his sexual impulses, just as person B retains the power to act on, or resist, his aversion to homosexuals.

It’s an injustice — and frankly, dehumanizing — to reduce either the homosexual or the “homophobe” to the sum of their genes. Both of them have human agency. But that also means that their freely-chosen actions (whether to fornicate with a member of the same sex, or to mistreat someone based upon sexual orientation) are morally evaluative. We can judge their behaviors, and it’s no excuse (or at least, not much of one) to plead that they were born that way. So please, abandon the cheap “Born This Way” rhetorical ploy unless you’re willing to extend it to “homophobes,” too.



  1. Bravo, Joe. Great post and another great “talking point” when one is labelled homophobic because of moral belief. I’m still reading and rereading McIntyre’s explanation of the “core problem” and cannot make heads or tails — but I thank you for deciphering it and putting it in words I can understand.

  2. 1. The American Psychological Association and ALL legitimate science has shown, definitively, that we do not have a definitive answer as to what “causes” homosexuality. Hence, to say it is definitively genetics is inaccurate.

    2. There was a vast preponderance of homosexuals of some sort (pederasts, men sleeping with male eunuchs, and the like) in ancient Greece far beyond the proportions of what any society has today. If it were “in the genese,” what happened to them in Greece? They disappeared?

    1. Craig, on #2….interesting you should say…this is precisely the line of research of Gregory Cochran, a U of Utah professor of evolutionary medicine. He believes that if homosexuality were genetic, that natural selection (i.e., their non-propensity to breed) would have caused them to die off long ago. His thoughts are that a pathogen of some type is responsible for homosexuality. Fascinating line of reasoning and research….don’t expect it to be funded by the Open Society Institute or the Gill Foundation anytime soon…..

      And all the APA says is, that homosexuality is OK. And judging by the level of cultural anxiety, stress, anomie, and chemical aids to our society’s tenuous psychological stability, one might thus extrapolate the value of *any* APA approved hypothesis….

      1. AK,

        Interestingly enough in Ancient Greece, the gays bred. Dare I say sexuality is more socialized then we think? We hear jokes like in Greece boys are for pleasure and women are for marriage. So, if homosexuality was genetic, we would have a grade population pool to draw from where it essentially should have never disappeared. We are talking about centuries of homoerotic activity living alongside the same people procreated. They never received the memo that gays should only be with other gays. Suffice it to say, the values of ancient greece were a lot different than ours.

        Even today in Afghanistan, boy rape is a huge part of their conservative, MUSLIM culture. Are people with Afghan genes “born that way” to?

        I wrote an article about this: “Child Rape in Afghanistan Disproves Western Notions of Homosexuality”

        The whole born this way crap requires me to turn off science in my brain. Sorry, ain’t doing that!

        1. What’s also interesting, is that the Greek culture that exhibited homosexuality to the greatest extent, and probably the most of any nation in world history, were the Spartans, who were also descendants of Abraham according to the Bible:

          1 Maccabees 12:20

          “Arius king of the Spartans to Onias the high priest, greeting.

          [21] It is found in writing concerning the Spartans, and the Jews, that they are brethren, and that they are of the stock of Abraham. [22] And now since this is come to our knowledge, you do well to write to us of your prosperity. [23] And we also have written back to you: That our cattle, and our possessions are yours: and yours, ours. We therefore have commanded that these things should be told you.”

        2. Famously, Abraham had two wives. But actually, he had three. And apparently, more than one concubine, as well. Its not clear whether Hagar and Keturah are the “concubines” in reference.

          Genesis 25:1 Then again Abraham took a wife, and her name was Keturah.

          Genesis 25:4 And the sons of Midian; Ephah, and Epher, and Hanoch, and Abida, and Eldaah. All these were the children of Keturah.

          Genesis 25:6 But unto the sons of the concubines, which Abraham had, Abraham gave gifts, and sent them away from Isaac his son, while he yet lived, eastward, unto the east country.

          1 Chronicles 1:32 Now the sons of Keturah, Abraham’s concubine: she bare Zimran, and Jokshan, and Medan, and Midian, and Ishbak, and Shuah. And the sons of Jokshan; Sheba, and Dedan.

          Perhaps it was one of those. Or it could have been one of Sarah’s. Remember that Abraham was the Father of the Hebrews. That includes Esau from Isaac’s line. And the 10 lost tribes from Jacob’s line.

          1. Good point on the potential descendants of Esau, De Maria.

            On another topic completely, I’m currently reading a fantastic book titled ‘Luther’, written by Hartmann Grissar S.J. in 1917. It’s available for free online, and is in the Public Domain. From what I’ve read, so far, it’s definitely worth taking a look. It has a wealth of info., and quotes, from both Luther himself and also his early associates.

            Other’s, also, should take a look at this fascinating book, as it gives a sober analysis and critique of both his complex personality, and complex spirituality.

          2. Wow! Just got through going over the index. Sounds like it confirms the findings of the, “Luther’s own statements” pamphlet.

            Thanks, Al.

          3. The more you read, the better it gets! The author is quite just, sober and scientific in his assessment of Luther’s psychology. He pretty much ignores a lot of the ‘diabolical’ diagnosis of former centuries, and includes some modern psychiatry in his analysis, with some focus on a mental and nervous illness caused by Luther’s intense theological focus and study, combined with an obsessive compulsive personality, and mixed in with a good dose of ego mania. Luther’s own quotes are used extensively throughout, and so the authors position is supported with a goodly sum of evidence.

            It’s well worth the time to read in it’s entirety!

  3. Yes! Exactly. Beautiful logic.

    Along the same line of reasoning, I came up with this awhile back: IF I am suffering from some phobia like arachnophobia, one would be pretty much a jerk to be constantly exposing me to spiders whether by speech or action. Weeell, why would it be OK to expose me to situations that would elicit my “fear” of homosexuality?

    Not that I’m afraid; it’s closer to the revulsion I feel if someone were to eat their own nasal discharge and then expect me to celebrate it.

    1. Well put…however, to be blunt, discharge from the nasal orifice being consumed is less repulsive than the actions of homosexuals. The less said about other orifices and their unnatural use the better…

    2. Craig – Being Greek myself, I am familiar with my ethnic history and agree with you about those differing values. Thank God for those Apostolic visits to Cyprus that changed my ancestors’ paradigm. Now…I really enjoy the conservative writing of Milo Yiannopoulis for Breitbart but to say the least, his ‘flamboyance’ is not helping to separate the meme of ancient Freak from modern Greek.

      So you lean towards Nurture vs. Nature. In many cases I can see that. But we all have known boys from our youth who were a little ‘different’ and ended up living in San Fran. Is that genetic, nurture, or pathological? No clue. But…what I do know is, giving in to baser, un-Scriptural instincts, hetero or homo – whatever the root cause – is a gate of Hell locked from the inside. And I think we all know that our twisted culture, having achieved a major step towards homosexual normalization, is creeping towards inclusion of children in it’s perversion, with questioning ages of consent, etc.

      Strap in folks…we’re in for a rough ride.

      1. Let me speak for myself. My brother and I are identical twins. We are both heterosexual. My brother essentially is like Robert De Niro and he dated exclusively black women. I myself dated each color on the rainbow, but I do have a preference for Asian women. God has given me an Asian wife and y brother a black wife. Both of our wives had a preference for white men.

        But of more particular interest is myself and my brother, simply because we are identical twins. Same DNA, same womb, same upbringing, same diet, heck we were roommates in college and lived together afterwards until we were married.

        What explains the different preference?

        Clearly it is not DNA or conditions in the womb, as these would be identical.

        Nor, as Augustine pointed out, would it be the position of the stars because we were born only a minute apart 😉

        Even upbringing would be irrelevant.

        Which is it? Obviously, we have very strong preferences and we cannot “pray the” preference away (though in this case the preference is not sinful, so it would not require prayer).

        All I can say is that it is clear that there are unseen, subconscious influences on the mind. So, if you grow up in a household with sexual abuse, or in a society where it is normal, this has a profound influence on the mind. It is not the sole, determining influence however. My theory is that the first woman to want to date my brother was black, and ever since then he was never able to go back so to say. As for myself, I am not sure so I will not speculate.

        The point is that I am not confident in many things in this world, but I have complete confidence that sexual preferences are not innate. It is contrary to history and human nature. My little anecdote just adds a little more evidence to the mountain we already knew was there.

        1. Again, to me, it matters not.

          If one’s inclination – from nature or nurture – is towards something sinful, one has a choice:

          – Discount those Biblical, ignorant Bronze Age barbarians and in the immortal words of Aleister Crowley, “do what thou wilt.” I am sure it worked well for him, wherever he is.

          – Do something else.

          1. Sorry Jeff, misread the question. That’s a profound question. Let me give a simple response and we can unpack it if you want. Temptation comes from human nature. Christ shares that with us. Human nature is not inherently sinful.

            All men born of Adam inherit not only original sin, but something the Scripture calls “the flesh.” The flesh acts upon concupiscence. Christ had flesh, but not flesh of Adam, hence no inherent “body of death” that Paul laments of in Romans 7.

            So, temptation is not inherently evil, but to yield to temptation is. We men often yield by degrees, if not in act, in fantasy, if not in fantasy, in thought. If not in thought, in consideration. Ho do I “uncovet” a covetous thought? As long as man has flesh, we are always sinning in terms of degrees.

        2. “You fooled all the people with magic…

          You waited on Satan’s call..”

          Concerning Mr. Crowley…..Ozzy got it right…he could have stopped right there….

          1. Thanks for your response Craig. That is, I believe, very,close to the Catholic view. However can thoughts be considered sin if they are not consented to by the will?

          2. Jeff,

            We are getting into distinctions that I am either not informed enough about or the Bible does not speak using those terms so I may not be accurate in responding to it.

            What I can say with confidence is that sin requires consent, at some level. To say that we sin without consent is to make temptation sin, which it isn’t.

            Pardon me even bringing this up, but last night I had a series of inappropriate dreams. This is not a usually occurrence for me so perhaps God permitted them to occur so that I can better answer your question. Anyhow, in the dreams, I had to keep thinking of my wife, which eventually worked.

            Now, did I not sin because I “got out” of a inappropriate dream and thought of my wife? In my dream, I had to say no to things that I know I would want to consent to if my conscience were seared in regards to this. I cannot help but sense that the fact that I liked the sin, though I did not overtly consent to it, betrays a sinfulness that is beneath the surface…that I consented to liking what was sinful, but did not consent to act.

            Hence, I think while Christ was tempted in every way we are, He did not grapple against the flesh (i.e. flesh tainted with sin).

            But again, we are going a bit above my pay grade on this one.

          3. Great link, De Maria.

            Because of the ‘impeccability’ of Jesus to sin, it seems that those who partake in the Body and Blood of Jesus in the Holy Eucharist receive a ‘share’ of this impeccability of Christ, though of course it isn’t perfect as it was for Jesus, but rather ‘some’ resistance, and fortitude, against the wiles and temptations of the Devil. At least, this is my experience. This is possibly why Jesus says ‘my flesh is food indeed’. To be united to Christ in the manner that He taught us to be united to Him, which is particularly in the Eucharist, is to receive a ‘portion’ of the graces and gifts that He inherited from His Father in His sacred humanity.

            I believe that the power of the Eucharist to help reduce sins and temptations, when received in good faith and in innocence of any mortal sin, gives the strength to enter into ‘eternal life’. This is why the Fathers of the Church stressed that priests should always be vigilant to visit those Christians who were close to death, so as to provide them with ‘Holy Viaticum’, which is for the most part the Holy Eucharist, wherein we receive inconceivable graces, and helps, in this life.

            Again, interesting link.

          4. Thanks, Al.

            It was interesting to me because Jesus was capable of sin. Which is just one step away from denying His Divinity.

            But that’s the sort of trap that Sola Scriptura sets.

          5. Thanks for you response Craig. I and many others have had an experience like you described. I believe we are meant to overcome sin and death. Christ showed us the way. Are you familiar with the concept of Spiritual Warfare?

            Here is the best illustration of sexual temptation I’ve read.

            “S. Catherine of Sienna has left a somewhat similar record. The Evil One having obtained permission from God to assault that pious virgin with all his strength, so long as he laid no hand upon her, filled her heart with impure suggestions, and surrounded her with every conceivable temptation of sight and sound, which, penetrating into the Saint’s heart, so filled it, that, as she herself has said, nothing remained free save her most acute superior will. This struggle endured long, until at length Our Lord appeared to her, and she exclaimed, “Where wert Thou, O most Dear Lord, when my heart was so overwhelmed with darkness and foulness?” Whereupon He answered, “I was within thy heart, My child.” “How could that be, Lord,” she asked, “when it was so full of evil? Canst Thou abide in a place so foul?” Then our Lord replied, “Tell Me, did these evil thoughts and imaginations give thee pain or pleasure? didst thou take delight, or didst thou grieve over them?” To which S. Catherine made answer, “They grieved me exceedingly.” Then the Lord said, “Who, thinkest thou, was it that caused thee to be thus grieved, save I Myself,“hidden within thy soul? Believe Me, My child, had I not been there, these evil thoughts which swarmed around thy soul, and which thou couldst not banish, would speedily have overpowered it, and entering in, thy free will would have accepted them, and so death had struck that soul; but inasmuch as I was there, I filled thy heart with reluctance and resistance, so that it set itself stedfastly against the temptation, and finding itself unable to contend as vigorously as it desired, it did but experience a yet more vehement abhorrence of sin and of itself. Thus these very troubles became a great merit again to thee, and a great accession of virtue and strength to thy soul.”

            Excerpt From: St. Francis de Sales. “Introduction to the Devout Life.”, 2010-08-31. iBooks.

          6. Craig,
            Romans 7 is an interesting passage in the bible. The spiritual warfare I was speaking of was the that of Christ in the desert. He was tempted by the flesh, the world, and the devil.

            As an aside. Romans 8 would seem to support the school of thought that man in his original state was in indifferent to sin “for without the law sin was dead.” It is similar to John 15:22 “If I had not come, and spoken to them, they would not have sin; but now they have no excuse for their sin.”

          7. Jeff,

            Concerning John 15:22 I always understood it as follows:

            “Were the Jews then without sin before Christ came in the flesh, because Christ had not spoken to them? By sin here He means not every sin, but a certain great sin, which includes all, and which alone hinders the remission of other sins, viz. unbelief. They did not believe in Christ, who came that they might believe in Him. This then they would not have had, had not Christ come; for Christ’s advent, as it was the salvation of the believing, so was it the perdition of the unbelieving. ” -Augustine

            God bless,

  4. Lady Gaga did a group discussion Yale to discuss a study conducted by her Bornthisway Foundatation on “emotional intelligence.” I provided a link to the video here.
    She talks about overcoming her genetic predisposition to mental illness by exercising her “choice” to say no to things that she feels violate her integrity. There are 3 minutes of the video worth watching 37:28- 40:14. She talks about curtailing free speech, and imposoing a “standard of morality” on social media. The audience seemed to approve. I wonder what Gaga morality would look like? The whole clip is over an hour. It’s informative, but I wish I could get that hour back.

  5. I have made this argument on many occasions but not based on any study, only my own “feelings” which I was born with. I remember the first time I ever saw two men holding hands walking down a street. I stopped and looked around at them to confirm what I just saw. It was repulsive. “So that is homosexuality” I thought. That was in college in the 70’s.

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