National Commentary

Whether Sexual Orientation is a Choice or Not Matters


My friend and colleague Bruce Garrett and I had an interesting online discussion this week over a blog post he wrote entitled “Choice: Six of One, Half Dozen of the Other.”

In his column Garrett states that former U.S. Ambassador to Luxembourg, James Hormel, is wrong in his assessment that, “The number one problem today as I see it is that people think that being gay is a matter of choice, and they somehow distinguish gay people as having made a choice to be tormented by their society.”

I happen to agree wholeheartedly with James Hormel. The “choice” question is by far the most important of all and a harbinger of whether we are accepted or rejected. A November 2004 Lake, Snell, Perry and Associates poll shows that 79 percent of people who think homosexuality is inborn support civil unions or marriage equality. Among those who believe sexual orientation is a choice, only 22 percent support civil unions or marriage rights. Every single poll on the nature vs. nurture debate yields the same results.

The religious right gets this. Why do you think they have invested millions of dollars to trick Americans into thinking one can “pray away the gay?” They know their “ex-gay” programs are nonsense. Yet they read the polls and understand that if they can convince voters that homosexuality is a frivolous sexual act that can be discouraged or reversed – they will go into the voting booth and vote against our equality. However, if sexuality is not a choice, (It isn’t) than obviously LGBT kids can’t be recruited, encouraged, taught or influenced in their orientation (all true).

Garrett makes a solid point when he writes:

Look…nobody questions the fact that race isn’t a choice and that has never made racists question their racism as far as I can tell. Hell…they have their own junk science industry proving that blacks are genetically inferior so prejudice against them is morally justified.

The difference, however, is that black children are not born into families with two white parents. Thus, it is easy to still hate people from another race and stigmatize and discriminate against them. Meanwhile, LGBT children are born into every type of home – conservative, liberal, rich, poor, black, white Latino, etc. When we come out to friends and family members they earnestly want to know “how we became gay, bi, or trans.” If the answer is that it is simply who we are – not a choice – acceptance often follows. However, if the answer is, “I chose to be gay” – well, don’t be surprised if they try to help you “unchoose” by suggesting an “ex-gay” minister or an exorcist or a shrink. That’s just well-meaning, but ignorant and misguided people, trying to “help” a friend or family member.

I fully agree that in a free country it shouldn’t matter if sexual orientation is a choice or it isn’t. It certainly isn’t the government’s place to decide how two consenting adults live their lives. However, in the real world it matters a whole hell of a lot. Every poll ever conducted on this matter backs up my point. It also happens to be true that you don’t choose your sexual orientation – it chooses you. Sure, bisexuals have the option to select a male or female partner – but the fact they are attracted to and love members of both sexes isn’t a choice. So, why play fast and loose with the facts and assist our enemies in the process? Why not simply and honestly state the truth about our orientation?

I fully agree with Garrett on one other important matter:

The reason some people are homosexual does not matter to bigots. They just hate us. That hate is what comes first. The justification for it comes later, and takes whatever shape the bigot needs it to have to justify that preexisting hate.

He is entirely correct – the true bigots cynically exploit the choice issue for political gain. These fundamentalists only care about what their stunted and backward interpretation of the Bible says, not about science or biology. Indeed, the issue was addressed by Rev. R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary:

“In the end, the scientific evidence is not morally important, though it may be medically useful. The church’s witness to the biblical condemnation of homosexuality as sin is a crucial test of faithfulness, no matter where the biological research may lead. The church must take its stand on the Word of God, and leave the genes to the geneticists.”

While we will not move much of the religious right, the “choice” issue still resonates with and moves the vast majority of people towards acceptance. If we want to win, all we have to do is tell people the truth: Sexual orientation in not a choice. It is an innate part of a person’s being and attempts to change orientation are dehumanizing and destructive.


Wayne Besen is a columnist and author of the book “Anything But Straight: Unmasking the Scandals and Lies Behind the Ex-Gay Myth.”