If a gay gene causes homosexuality, we'll have to rewrite our basic precepts

November 01, 1995|By Mike Littwin

The premise is simple, really: If there's a gay gene in some men, as the evidence continues to suggest, then homosexuality can't be wrong.

It can't be evil. It can't be a sin. It can't be an abomination unto the Lord.

If there's a gay gene, as the guys in the white lab coats say there might be, then being gay is not a lifestyle choice. It's destiny, in the way that having blue eyes or prematurely gray hair or no hair at all is destiny.

We don't blame men for being bald. Yes, we ridicule them. We feel superior to them. We cause them to join the Hair Club for Men. But the one thing we don't do is blame them.

If being gay turns out to be no different, genetically speaking, from being bald, a blanket condemnation of homosexuality becomes, well, problematic.

This concept can't be easy for everyone. There are many thousands of years of bias -- and even laws -- against homosexuality. Many people just don't like the idea of men having sex with men. They don't like the way it looks. They don't like the way it makes them feel.

In mainstream movies, they don't show homosexual sex because of what might be called the yuck factor. For some, there's a yuck factor and, for some, there's a fear factor.

(When I was a kid, there was a great fear of homosexual teachers recruiting unwilling but unworldly students into the web of the homosexual lifestyle. Gay teachers, if they were found out, were routinely fired. I never understood why adults thought this lifestyle would be appealing to your typical 13-year-old male, whose every waking thought involves one or another part of the female anatomy. How else do you explain the popularity of the old Sears catalog?)

If homosexuality proves to be a matter of genetics, though, then bias against homosexuality would be nothing more than simple prejudice. Actually, it's simple prejudice in any case.

But a genetic answer to homosexuality wouldn't allow those who bash gays to play the moral-issue card. Given the existence of a gay gene, sexual orientation would not be simply some politically correct term, but also a scientifically correct term.

Then, when we talk lifestyle choice, we mean, say, moshing, or coffee consumption -- not homosexuality.

This is what some scientists think they may be able to prove. A few years ago, this was considered a pseudo-science, along the lines of alchemy. But in 1993, a controversial study showed the possibility of a gay gene. And, now, in the current issue of Nature Genetics, there is a new study to bolster the old one. And there are more studies being conducted around the world.

In this recent study, a team of U.S. scientists analyzed the DNA of dozens of gay brothers and found a distinctive, shared pattern on the X chromosome. You don't have to understand the science -- I sure don't -- to understand the implications.

If the science is right, all bets are off.

Not that the issue would go away. The issue is too emotional. Judges are still taking children from parents in divorce cases simply because the parents are gay. Gays (don't ask, don't tell) are still being kept out of the armed forces. Gays are still being tossed off the odd bridge.

In Florida, a group of state legislators protested Disney's recent decision to extend family insurance benefits to gay couples. The legislators said this would encourage homosexuality, which they clearly believed to be immoral. You can infer that from the raised voices.

Disney officials reacted in a calm voice. In a dispassionate voice. Disney said that offering benefits was the right thing to do.

As it turns out, Disney didn't need any scientific backing to supports its policy. Just as Bill Clinton -- who wants to pass a federal law that protects the rights of gays from, say, those employers who would fire somebody for his sexual orientation -- doesn't need scientific backing.

And yet in some places -- Colorado comes immediately to mind -- the citizens have voted to deny what are called "special privileges," and what those who are not so small-minded call basic civil rights, to gay people.

Clearly, there's still an argument about whether there is a right or wrong in terms of homosexuality.

But if there is indeed a genetic marker, that would change the argument. It would change everything.

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