Friday, June 29, 2007

Homosexuality and Choice

CNN reports about a doctor who is trying to determine if it is possible to infer a person's gender and sexual orientation by knowing how he or she walks ("Step by step, researcher looks for sexuality clues").

This researcher seems particularly interested in proving (not 'discovering', for the reasearch seems to be starting with the assumption that the conclusion is true, and simply needs evidence to support it) that a person does not choose his or her sexual orientation.

This question may be interesting to some from a scientific point of view.

However, from the moral point of view, nothing follows from it.

Assume that we discover that the disposition to rape has a biological origin - that rape-desire is not chosen. We would still have reason to condemn it and to inhibit it wherever it is found. The morally relevant characteristic is not whether people choose to be rapists, but whether the disposition itself is evil.

Now, as a desire utilitarian, I also hold that the badness of a desire depends on its disposition to thwart the desires of others. A desire to rape would be bad. However, since homosexual desire can be harmonized with the homosexual desires of others (homosexuals can have mutually fulfilling sex), there is no reason to condemn it.

This is the crucial moral question - not the question of choice.

In fact, even if homosexual desire is not chosen, homosexual actions are still intentional acts. A person cannot end up in bed with somebody of the same gender and say, 'Oops, I must have tripped. I did not mean to do that.'. Well, he or she could say this, but it would be odd. No, a person does choose to approach somebody of the same gender, does choose to lead the interaction in the direction of sex, and does choose to engage in sex acts. Homosexual acts are as much a choice as any other act that we can be held morally accountable for.

Another way of expressing the idea that 'choice' has no moral relevance is to ask the question, "Would it be morally permissible for a heterosexual to engage in a homosexual act?"

The heterosexual may not want to - but the question of moral permissibility does not depend on desire. I have no desire to walk non-stop to New York this morning; yet, it would be morally permissible for me to do so.

If a heterosexual may permissibly engage in homosexual acts, then the degree of choice in homosexual desire is morally irrelevant. The acts would be permissible even for those who do not have a desire to engage in them. Indeed, this is what it means for an act to be morally permissible.

The most sinister aspect of this focus on choice is that this 'choice' assumes that homosexuality is wrong. The only reason to question (in a moral context) whether homosexuality is a choice is when one assumes that it would be wrong to choose to be a homosexual. If choosing to be a homosexual is not wrong, then what does it matter that (for some) it is not a choice? It assumes that homosexuality is bad, but seeks to acquit homosexuals on the grounds that this bad thing was forced upon them.

In fact, I hold that homosexuality is truly morally permissible, meaning that there is no 'badness' (moral or otherwise) in choosing to be a homosexual. If some doctor invented a pill tomorrow that 'cured' homosexuality, I would side with those who would refuse to take it. I suspect that there would be a lot of them, because homosexuality - though it starts out as a sexual orientation, becomes (for some) an identity. To 'cure' their homosexuality would be similar to killing the person that exists in a body and putting a different person in that body.

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