The debate regarding sexual orientation encompasses natural and social sciences, religious considerations, and legislative issues.
The implications of the debate are far-reaching. Some people maintain that legal rights, such as marriage, adoption, and protection from discrimination, should not be extended to homosexuals since their sexual orientation is a personality development and a choice (nurture). Other people claim these rights must be granted, as homosexuality is biologically derived (nature) and cannot be changed.
Some scientists speculate that discerning the origins of sexual orientation can help us unlock the mysteries of other human behaviors. Understanding which behaviors are inherited and which are adaptive may provide insight into why people behave and interact as they do.
The proposed causes of homosexuality range from distant fathers and aggressive mothers, to sexual abuse, to genes and hormones. Some people who argue that homosexuality is a choice offer reversal remedies, including therapy, prayer, and avoiding homosexuals and aspects of the perceived gay lifestyle.
Public figures, scientists and religious leaders, among others, are sharply divided on the issue. Numerous social and legal issues could hinge on whether society believes sexual orientation is an inborn trait or a choice. The pros and cons presented throughout this site explore the range of opinions on this debate.
2. Brief History of the Debate
Homosexuality has been referred to in literature and spiritual texts for thousands of years, yet it is only in the past 150 years that the scientific community has examined the cause(s) of sexual orientation.
1800's -- Germans Karl Heinrich Ulrichs and Magnus Hirschfeld, MD, introduced the theory that sexuality is inborn. Hirschfeld also proposed that sex was multidimensional, and "male" and "female" were abstractions.
In the early 1900's, these theories were contradicted by Sigmund Freud, MD, who proposed that "perversions" and neuroses were merely alternative ways of dealing with unresolved Oedipal conflicts. He believed, "The boy represses his love for his mother by putting himself in her place, identifies himself with her, and takes his own person as a model in whose likeness he chooses his new love objects."
1948 -- Dr. Alfred Kinsey, et al. published Sexual Behavior in the Human Male, which stated: "Males do not represent two discrete populations, heterosexual and homosexual. The world is not to be divided into sheep and goats. It is a fundamental of taxonomy that nature rarely deals with discrete categories...The living world is a continuum in each and every one of its aspects." The book shocked Americans, especially with its claim that 10% of the population could be homosexual.
1954 -- Dr. Evelyn Hooker presented the results of her research to the American Psychological Association, which found that in comparing personality tests between homosexual and heterosexual men, "The responses of gay and straight men...are indistinguishable; gay men appear to be as well adjusted as straights."
1969 -- New York City police raided a gay bar in Greenwich Village - the Stonewall Inn - that started a series of riots lasting nearly a week. The first night of the riots, an estimated 2,000 gays fought back against 400 police officers. The Gay Liberation Front was founded later that year, thereby marking the beginning of the gay rights movement in the United States, and allowing a more public debate over the nature of sexual orientation to emerge.
1991 -- The peer-reviewed journal Science published an article, "A Difference in Hypothalamic Structure Between Heterosexual and Homosexual Men," in which Simon LeVay, et al. stated that the hypothalamus in the brains of gay men were a different size than those of straight men.
1991 -- The peer-reviewed journal Archives of General Psychiatry published an article by J. Michael Bailey and Richard C. Pillard et al., which examined identical twins, fraternal twins and adoptive siblings of gay men. The study found, "of the relatives whose sexual orientation could be rated, 52% of monozygotic cotwins, 22% of dizygotic cotwins, and 11% of adoptive brothers were homosexual." Critics, however, noted that the siblings were raised together, which could mean there was environmental influence on sexual orientation.
1999 -- Dean H. Hamer, PhD, published an article in the peer-reviewed journal Science which proposed: "Sexual orientation is a complex trait that is probably shaped by many different factors, including multiple genes, biological, environmental, and sociocultural influences."
2003 -- Some researchers claimed that individuals can change their sexual orientation, either through therapy or prayer. The Archives of Sexual Behavior published a study by Robert L. Spitzer, MD, on homosexuals who claimed to have changed sexual orientation: "There is evidence that change in sexual orientation following some form of reparative therapy does occur in some gay men and lesbians." Opponents countered that these patients were merely covering up their true feelings with denial.
2005 -- Swedish researchers published a study that shows that homosexual and heterosexual men respond differently to two odors that may be involved in sexual arousal, and that the gay men respond in the same way as women. The researchers speculated that their findings may "suggest a link between sexual orientation and hypothalamic neuronal processes."
British researcher Qazi Rahman, PhD, noted in a Mar. 25, 2003 interview:
"Because we know that performance on these cognitive tests depends on the integrity of specific brain regions, the differences implicate robust differences between the brains of homosexual and heterosexual men and women and suggest that hormonal factors early in development (probably during the 1st trimester of pregnancy) produce these differences." Mar. 25, 2003 Qazi Rahman
Amy Banks, MD, Clinical Instructor in Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, and Nanette K. Gartrell, MD, Assoc. Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at U.C. San Francisco, write in their article "Hormones and Sexual Orientation: A Questionable Link," published in 1995 in the Journal of Homosexuality:
"Studies of men and women who experienced prenatal defects in hormone metabolism have not found a concurrent increase in homosexual behavior.
Overall, the data do not support a causal connection between hormones and human sexual orientation." 1995 Amy Banks, Nanette Gartrell
Kenneth S. Kendler, MD, et al., in the American Journal of Psychiatry article "Sexual Orientation in a U.S. National Sample of Twin and Nontwin Sibling Pairs", wrote:
"In accord with findings from prior twin studies, resemblance for sexual orientation was greater in monozygotic twins than in dizygotic twins or nontwin sibling pairs. These results suggest that genetic factors may provide an important influence on sexual orientation." 2000 Kenneth Kendler
Jeffrey Satinover, MD, wrote in his article "The Gay Gene?" published on the Campus Crusade for Christ International website Leadership U on July 13, 2002:
"There is not any evidence that shows that homosexuality is 'genetic', and none of the research itself claims there is. Only the press and, sadly, certain researchers do-when speaking in sound bites to the public.
Homosexuality may run in families but you get viruses from your parents, too, and some bad habits. Not everything that is familial is innate or genetic." July 13, 2002 Jeffrey Satinover
The Traditional Values Coalition stated on its website in a 2003 article, "Born Gay":
"In summary, the most credible research to date on homosexuality -- and research conducted years ago -- demonstrates that no one is 'born gay.' The homosexual is suffering from a developmental problem, which frequently starts out in childhood as gender confusion, family dysfunction, or molestation." 2003 Traditional Values Coalition
Thomas A. Eccles, MD, et al., in a 2004 study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health "More Normal Than Not: A Qualitative Assessment of the Developmental Experiences of Gay Male Youth", stated:
"Few (2 of 13) participants reported overall developmental experience markedly different from nongay peers....Family dynamics were not substantively altered by open gay self-identification ... General developmental dysfunction is not inevitable for gay adolescents, nor is identifiable personal or family pathology directly related to sexual identity." 2004 Thomas Eccles
The ACLU, in its website article titled "Fight Discrimination Against Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Workers By Supporting the 'Employment Non-Discrimination Act,'" stated:
"Across most of the United States, it is perfectly legal to fire someone from their job solely because of their sexual orientation. Federal law could remedy this sorry state, but for the last several years, Congress has been unable to agree on legislation that would outlaw discrimination in the workplace based on real or perceived sexual orientation.
People should be judged at work by their performance, not by whom they choose to love." Dec. 16, 2004 ACLU
The Family Research Council (FRC), in its Dec. 20, 2000 website article "Homosexuality Is Not A Civil Right," by Daniel S. Garcia and Robert E. Regier, state:
"Essential to the homosexual agenda is the idea that homosexuals are fighting for basic civil rights denied them by an oppressive society. This argument strikes a sympathetic chord among many Americans, whose decency and sense of fair play demand that all people be treated fairly.
However, a closer look at the truth about homosexuality and the political goals of the 'gay rights' movement shows that homosexuals are not an oppressed minority, that opposition to special legal protection for homosexuality is not bigotry, and that extending such protection is dangerous to individuals and society.
...What homosexuals are actually calling for is not equal protection but special protection." Dec. 20, 2000 Family Research Council
Faris Malik, manager of two Muslim-oriented gay websites, "Born Eunuchs" and "Queer Jihad" wrote in 1999:
"Qur'an does not prohibit using, as passive sex partners, the ancient category of men who by nature lacked desire for women, since such men were not considered 'male' as a result of their lack of arousal for women. This kind of man is often known as 'gay' in modern times, but in the ancient world he was identified as an anatomically whole 'natural eunuch...'
Furthermore, the Qur'an recognizes that some men are 'without the defining skill of males' (24:31: 'ghair oolaa il-irbati min ar-rijaali') and so, as domestic servants, are allowed to see women naked. This is a reference to natural eunuchs, i.e. gay men." 1999 Faris Malik
CHRISTIANITY Rev. Walter Wink, ThD, Professor of Biblical Interpretation at Auburn Theological Seminary, wrote in a 2003 article:
"Where the Bible mentions homosexual behavior at all, it clearly condemns it. I freely grant that. The issue is precisely whether that Biblical judgment is correct. The Bible sanctioned slavery as well, and nowhere attacked it as unjust. Are we prepared to argue today that slavery is biblically justified?...
In the light of that [God's] supernal compassion, whatever our position on gays, the gospel's imperative to love, care for, and be identified with their sufferings is unmistakably clear." 2003 Walter Wink
Rabbi Harold Schulweis writes in his undated article, "A Second Look At Homosexuality," (accessed Mar. 16, 2004) and published on his temple's website:
"On both moral and Halachic grounds it is wrong to take one or two verses in the Bible, stripped of their historic context and devoid of medical knowledge, and apply them to punish innocent people who cannot deny their basic instincts, impulses and sexual attractions.
To inflict punishment upon the innocent violates the spirit and intent of Jewish law....Faith and religion are matters of choice. The non-Jew can freely become a Jew by choice. The non-Jew can convert, but the homosexual cannot convert his/her sexual orientation." Mar. 16, 2004 Harold Schulweis
Muzammil H. Siddiqi, PhD, Religious Director of the Islamic Society of Orange County, wrote in a 2004 article titled "Islamic Manners in Dealing with Homosexuals", on IslamOnline.net:
"Homosexual behavior is sinful and shameful. In Islamic terminology it is called 'al-fahsha' (an atrocious and obscene act)...
There are agencies and lobby groups that are working hard to propagate it and to make it as an acceptable and legitimate lifestyle. For this reason it is important that we should speak against it ...
Those who insist on this lifestyle, consider it legitimate and feel 'gay pride,' we should not associate with them and should not take them as friends." 2004 Muzammil Siddiqi
CHRISTIANITY The Church of Latter Day Saints (Mormons) wrote in a Mar. 1996 church statement on homosexuality, "Same-Gender Attraction":
"[T]he devil, who has no body, seeks to persuade mortals to corrupt their bodies by 'choos[ing] eternal death, according to the will of the flesh...which giveth the spirit of the defile power to captivate, to bring [them] down to hell, that he may reign over [them] in his own kingdom...
All of us have some feelings we did not choose, but the gospel of Jesus Christ teaches us that we still have the power to resist and reform our feelings (as needed) and to assure that they do not lead us to entertain inappropriate thoughts or to engage in sinful behavior." Mar. 1996 Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints
Rabbi Barry Freundel of Kesher Israel, a modern Orthodox synagogue in Washington, D.C., stated in a 2001 article in Moment Magazine:
"The Orthodox gay movement is organizing around something that is unacceptable. It's like saying we're a group of Orthodox Sabbath violators or Orthodox ham eaters.
The prohibition against homosexual sex comes from Leviticus: 'Do not lie with a male as one lies with a woman; it is an abhorrence' (18:22)." 2001 Barry Freundel
Joseph Nicolosi, PhD et al., in a 2000 study in Psychological Reports, stated:
"We present the results of a survey of 882 dissatisfied homosexual people whom we queried about their beliefs regarding conversion therapy and the possibility of change in sexual orientation. ...
Of the 882 participants, 726 of them reported that they had received conversion therapy from a professional therapist or a pastoral counselor. ...
Before treatment or change, only 2.2% of the participants perceived themselves as exclusively or almost entirely heterosexual, whereas after treatment or change, 34.3% perceived themselves as exclusively or almost entirely heterosexual. ...
As a group, the participants reported large and statistically significant reductions in the frequency of their homosexual thoughts and fantasies that they attributed to conversion therapy or self-help. They also reported large improvements in their psychological, interpersonal, and spiritual well-being." 2000 Joseph Nicolosi
The American Journal of Psychiatry published a 2000 article by the American Psychiatric Association Commission on Psychotherapy by Psychiatrists, which stated:
"...[A]necdotal reports of 'cures' are counterbalanced by anecdotal claims of psychological harm. In the last four decades, 'reparative' therapists have not produced any rigorous scientific research to substantiate their claims of cure.
'Reparative' therapy literature also tends to overstate the treatment's accomplishments while neglecting any potential risks to patients." 2000 American Journal of Psychiatry
John R. Diggs, Jr., MD, in his 2002 report for the Corporate Research Council, The Health Risks of Gay Sex, stated:
"It is clear that there are serious medical consequences to same-sex behavior. Identification with a GLB community appears to lead to an increase in promiscuity, which in turn leads to a myriad of Sexually Transmitted Diseases and even early death." 2002 John Diggs
Gregory M. Herek, PhD, in a 1991 article in American Psychologist titled "Avoiding Heterosexist Bias in Psychological Research" stated:
"Phenomena should not be assumed to result from sexual orientation simply because they are observed in the gay community. Alcoholism, for example, is a serious problem in some sectors of the gay community. Attributing it to homosexuality per se, however, exemplifies the fundamental attribution bias...It explains behavior entirely in terms of personal characteristics while ignoring situational factors." 1991 Gregory Herek
Kurt Freund, MD, et al. in their article "Pedophilia and Heterosexuality Vs. Homosexuality," published in 1984 in the Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy, conducted a study of 457 male sex offenders against children. They wrote:
"Approximately one-third of these sexual offenders directed their sexual activity against males." 1984 Kurt Freund
Carole Jenny, MD, Head of the Division of Child Maltreatment at Brown University, in a 1994 article titled "Are Children at Risk for Sexual Abuse by Homosexuals?" published in Pediatrics, wrote:
"...[A] child's risk of being molested by his or her relative's heterosexual partner is 100 times greater than by someone who might be identified as a homosexual.
The children in the group studied were unlikely to have been molested by identifiably gay or lesbian people." 1994 Carole Jenny