The Morality of Sexual Orientation

by | Feb 28, 2008 | Life | 0 comments

Some of you may have seen the recent news that researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago have been able to control the sexual orientation of fruit flies, by exposing them to a chemical. Specifically, they were able to induce homosexual behavior in previously heterosexual male fruit flies. You can read the press release here.

You may wonder what this has to do with morality. I’ll begin by mentioning briefly that in the early to mid 1900’s it was felt that homosexuality was due primarily to aberrations in psychosocial development, and so theoretically could be “cured” with appropriate psychotherapy. That view has been displaced by the belief that sexual orientation is largely “hard-wired” genetically. Homosexuality is no longer considered by mainstream psychiatry to be a mental disorder.

However, there is still very influential religious and social teaching that homosexuality is “sinful”. And a great many are caught in the intensely stressful situation of feeling compelled to do what they have been taught (and believe) is wrong. They feel themselves “sinners”, “bad” or even “possessed”. People have tried to be “deprogrammed” from homosexuality with intensive therapy and conditioning. Some even claim to have succeeded. These non-mainstream programs continue to the current day.

Which leads me back to this current tidbit. What if sexual orientation is in fact biologically controlled, and not psychologically determined? It seems to me that most of us reserve moral judgments to those things about which we have some control. For example, if a parent steals to feed her family, when she has no other way to do so, most of us find that morally acceptable. Likewise, if we are faced with life-threatening violence, we are allowed to use violence to defend ourselves. In other words, when we have no choice we can do what we have to do, morally if not always legally.

For now, I would argue that if sexual orientation is biologically determined, it should favor the moral acceptability of homosexuality; on the grounds that it is not a matter of choice, but is determined by our genetics. It remains to be seen what will happen in the future if (when?) a pill is available to change that orientation, and it truly does become a matter of choice.

Quite frankly, I imagine psychiatrists will do a booming business “helping” people “cure” their homosexuality, as it will once again be an “illness” that can be treated. Unfortunately, that will likely make the underlying moral considerations more difficult for those affected, and not less.


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