Commentary Magazine


Same-Sex Marriage and Science

To the Editor:

After reading John Podhoretz’s editorial about same-sex marriage, I remain baffled by one aspect of how conservatives deal with this issue [“The Limit,” June]. Namely, I don’t understand why they don’t reference the science.

Why is it that same-sex marriage has no historical precedent in any culture? It’s not because of intolerance. It’s because the modern concept of sexual identity has no precedent.

The term homosexual was coined in 1869 in Germany, in response to a sodomy law. It really was a classification based on behavior, or a “condition,” and that’s how it stayed for a good hundred years. In terms of why people engaged in that behavior, there was never one definitive answer (and there probably never will be). But for many years, homosexuality was seen as largely driven by psychology. This view has gone out the window as far as most liberals are concerned, but many traditionalists, including this one, believe that there was and is much validity in those theories.

Instead, media and activists now push an “essentialist” view of sexuality, the belief that sexuality is equivalent to race, despite the lack of conclusive evidence to this effect (and despite the fact it makes no evolutionary sense).

The American Psychological Association has written that many scientists see sexual orientation as due to a complex interaction of biological, psychological, and social factors going back to early childhood. This is probably the best summary of the scientific literature.

In 1991, Steven Goldberg, of City College’s Sociology Department, wrote a book entitled When Wish Replaces Thought: Why So Much of What You Believe Is False, in which he stated that he didn’t know of any researcher who believed that homosexuality is purely biological. Nine years later, despite seemingly endless studies designed to find a biological cause for homosexuality, the American Psychological Association said that no such study had ever been replicated.

The University of Chicago published the highly regarded Laumann study, “Sex in America,” in 1994, which seemed to point to environmental and social factors as primary influences of sexual behavior.

Francis Collins, the man who mapped the human genome, suggested that the heritability rate (propensity) for homosexuality was 30 percent—not statistically significant.

One can still support same-sex marriage, but the judges, governors, and legislatures that are doing it unilaterally—sometimes with the best of intentions—have little understanding of the science. That’s why we’ve gone from nothing to same-sex marriage, with no stop for civil unions in between.

My main concern, as someone from a religious background, is that the false view of sexuality as being completely driven by biology will continue to be used as a weapon against traditionalists. For instance, a Catholic charity may be forced to shut down its adoption department because it won’t serve same-sex couples. This is largely the result of behavior being transformed into identity.

One can be empathetic and still be honest. Conservatives should speak up about this and not cede the science to the left.

Shalom Stavsky
New York City




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