I am here today because of a conversation I had last June when I was voting. A woman at my polling place asked me, "Do you believe in equal, equality for gay and lesbian people?" I was pretty surprised to be asked a question like that. It made no sense to me. Finally I asked her, "What do you think our boys fought for at Omaha Beach?" I haven't seen much, so much blood and guts, so much suffering, much sacrifice. For what? For freedom and equality. These are the values that give America a great nation, one worth dying for.
This is a plea for the rights of homosexuals on the grounds of freedom, equality and human decency. In my mind, this is the right way to do it. The wrong way to do it is to make the case that homosexuality is a biological phenomenon.
The reasoning looks like this:
1. Homosexuality is not a choice but determined by biological factors (genes).
2. If homosexuality is determined by genes, then a person cannot be held accountable for his or her desires. This is especially true since nothing can be done about the desires.
3. As a natural and immutable phenomenon, homosexuality should not be judged on moral grounds.
Sounds reasonable, doesn't it? I thought so, once, but now it strikes me as naive.
Once upon a time and long ago, I read a rather interesting short story.* In it, someone had discovered that homosexuality was biological and had developed a treatment for it. Unlike the Ex-Gay Groups of today with an acknowledged lack of success this was a Scientifically Proven Literary Device which did, in fact, cause homosexual characters to become heterosexual with no side effects. Though it was never illegal to be homosexual or engage in homosexual activity, the social stigma of having a disorder which could be successfully and painlessly treated led to nearly all homosexuals taking the treatment and becoming heterosexual. Infants were screened as a matter of course and treated whenever they were found to have the gay genes. The story focuses on the last homosexual man in the world, at the deathbed of his lover.
It is a poignant story about love and fidelity, as well as the isolation caused by being stigmatized for who you are when there is a painless way to "treat" the "aberration". It is also, due to the Scientifically Proven Literary Device, fairly optimistic. Most of the homosexuals took the treatment and were able to lead fulfilling lives as heterosexuals. Once the main character died, homosexuality would become nothing more than a disorder for which infants could be successfully treated. It would have gone the way of the dodo.
Let me paint a more likely scenario. Let us say that the so-called "gay gene" is discovered. Likely it will be a suite of genes that reveal a higher likelihood of homosexuality developing (I'm setting aside the idea of a sexual continuum for simplicity's sake). Prenatal screening for the gay genes becomes possible but it's unlikely that there will be any "treatment". What happens? In some cases, nothing. In others, abortions. Don't think it's likely? Consider sex-selective abortion, where female foetuses are aborted because they are female. Or perhaps I should bring up the personal anecdote of one of my lab mates. Her mother was pregnant relatively late in life with my lab mate and wanted to do prenatal testing. The doctor said he would only allow the screening if the mother promised to abort the foetus should the foetus show signs of having Down Syndrome or some other disorder/defect, as though simple information gathering was not a sufficient reason to do prenatal screening. (Her mother refused.)
Now, I am a firm believer in a woman's right to choose whether to bear a child or not and, even if I disagree with her reasons, I don't get to tell her she can't make that choice. The point I'm making is that the choice to abort is not made in a vacuum. It involves making a value judgement on whether a woman wants to bear a child with certain characteristics. Social pressure makes some abortions more sympathetic (or even desirable) than others and, furthermore, there can be a stigmatization of women who choose not to abort foetuses that are somehow "defective" or "wrong".
I don't want to turn this into a discussion of the morality of abortion and choice. I simply want to use it to point out that having a biological component and being natural is no shield to the belief that something or someone is undesirable and generally inferior (for more on this by far more eloquent people, check out FWD/Forward, a blog by feminists with disabilities). The fight for gay rights and dignity can't rest solely on the biological battlefield - it needs to be fought on the grounds that, morally and ethically, it is wrong to treat non-heterosexuals any differently from heterosexuals.
For that, Mr. Spooner, I salute you.
* I no longer remember the name of the story, nor the author. If you happen to recognize it and can send that info to me so I can update this post, you get brownie points.