What If Sexual Orientation Were a Choice? Why Must Justice Require a Born-This-Way Argument?




     It may seem an odd or off-putting question; it may strike you as offensive. That's not my purpose. Pressing some boundaries in the interests of justice is what I'm after.

     Much of the growing support for marriage equality rests on an increasingly-held assumption among those in the West that we are, as to gender-identity, born as we find and largely acknowledge ourselves to be by our late pre-teens or earlier (and, sometimes, later). We say that we are innately gay, straight, or bi-sexual. I hold with the spreading consensus that we do not choose sexual orientation; I find it a somewhat surprising and good reflection of Justice that Western European and American majorities seem to get it.

     Still, I've a question:

     Were there still, today, among the majority here and in Western Europe, a more than simply lingering conviction that sexual orientation is chosen, wouldn't marriage equality remain a mandate for a just society?

     If we rely wholly on the born-this-way argument for the recognition of marriage rights, if we primarily anchor our demand for equality in that argument, are we not, at least in a small way, suggesting that our LGBT friends and relatives aren't fully deserving of equality under law simply by virtue of the fact that they are, as we are, adult citizens?

     I'm for equality under law. It's irrelevant to me and should be to you and to the law whether or not our LGBT colleagues, companions, and relatives ever chose to be who they are. 

Views: 285

Comment by Jonathan Wolfman on May 22, 2013 at 6:03am

The Born-This-Way argument is not wrong. I do question why it ought to be needed.

Comment by Jaime Franchi on May 22, 2013 at 6:46am

This is a really interesting and thoughtful idea Jonathan. Truthfully, I think this lends itself to the bigotry against the poor and the overweight. If it's preventable or rectifiable (in our minds), we're allowed to hold it in disdain. That's why "born this way" is necessary - it takes away the "preventable/rectifiable" argument. But it shouldn't be needed. Great post.

Comment by Jonathan Wolfman on May 22, 2013 at 6:48am


The Born-This-Way argument is useful and correct; it also mildly suggests that LGBT citizens are, in a way, handicapped, or less-than, at birth, an unfortunate implication.  So we had better make other arguments as well.
Comment by Jett Noire on May 22, 2013 at 7:02am

Hmm, good question, and one I've heard before, but glad to have a forum here.  A few thoughts:

1) Definitely, I was born this way and should've known from about age 5.  Because of the repressive environment I was in, though, I did not find the strength and courage to choose to acknowledge it until around age 25.  Still, I can only speak from the framework of having been born this way, however long it may have taken me to figure it out. 

2) In my exploratory phase I did read some literature that promoted the notion of choosing to live as a lesbian as a means of opting out of the system of patriarchy.  I think the source of some of the vehement opposition to same-sex marriage rights is an expression of the rale of the patriarchy.

3) Besides the civil rights facet of this is the challenge to conventional gender roles.  This makes the anti- crowd twitch uncontrollably.  To choose to assume some of the behaviors of the historically oppressed gender is unfathomable to some.  Or conversely, to take on the privilege of the historically oppressive gender is outrageously presumptuous.

All of which is to say, yes, why is born-this-way needed?  It may be easier to limit marriage to one man-one woman, but it is no longer sufficient.  Equal protection under the law for all citizens is for all citizens.  Period.

There is more, but that will do for a start.

Comment by Jonathan Wolfman on May 22, 2013 at 7:06am

Thanks, Jett!

Comment by nerd cred on May 22, 2013 at 7:33am

Isn't it "born this way" that makes it an actual civil rights issue? e.g., rights can be restricted if I choose to become a felon but not over something I can't control like skin color - or gender orientation.

Not that I think it's any of the government's business whether you're born this way or choosing to be this way. Social change comes slow and those who most resist change seem also very strongly tied to strict and narrow gender roles. (Something else I don't understand.) I think for many people, especially the more conservative ones, that might make a big difference in whether or not they support equality and whether they might prefer to think that people are just acting out or being perverse.

Comment by Jonathan Wolfman on May 22, 2013 at 7:38am

Cred  I see the argument. Yet wouldn't we still be for equality were this a choice?

Comment by nerd cred on May 22, 2013 at 8:19am

I would be, I'm sure you would be, not everyone who is while it is exclusively/largely not a choice would be I think.

Comment by Jonathan Wolfman on May 22, 2013 at 8:20am


Comment by Claudia Darling on May 22, 2013 at 8:23am
Many societies/cultures were organized around heterosexual marriage as a sort of civic duty. Thus gentlemen like Oscar Wilde married and had children and preserved a social facade. Whatever these gentlemen did in private was meant to be ignored as long as they were discreet. Beyond social enforcement is religion, where anything but the hetero norm is seen as sin, an abomination to God. However, if God created a person gay, then He could not be perfect. Thus gays were now seen as "sick" and they should be cured in faith-based therapy centers. All in the service of a social construct. I am hopeful that the advances in reading the human genome will reveal there is a vast array of possibilities for humanity and there must be evolutionary advantages to these selections. A cautionary note is if advancements in science make a genetic choice available to prospective parents to choose the "normal" genetic package.


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