A DailyKos diary I read recently reminded me of something that's often seemed odd to me about arguments against same-sex marriage and gay rights in general.
The diary had mostly positive reception for its appeal to inclusiveness, but some commenters took strong issue with lines like:
[I]t is the right of every person to decide and to choose and/or change their sexuality and gender identity whenever they want without the criticism from others around them.The notion of choosing one's sexual identity as opposed to one's sexual identity being innate, is what sparked the criticism. Some commenters thought it might have just been awkward wording, and indeed the diarist later added an update, assuring that he had never meant to imply that one's sexuality (as opposed to how one opts to label oneself) could be chosen.
What strikes me as odd is that religious identity is considered sacrosanct in our society, though religion is clearly something we can choose: people often become attracted to a faith different from the one they grew up with. Yet sexual identity (and to be clear, I'm referring here to one's sexuality - not just the label) is somehow devalued by the notion that it could even sometimes be a matter of choice? How does that follow?
Why, if sexuality were a choice, should the state therefore be able to discriminate?
We know it's a founding tenet of our nation that we will not discriminate against religious choice. Why have we, for so long, vehemently rejected the idea that government should tell us that a certain religion - or atheism - is best for us? Of course, many who came to America were fleeing religious discrimination, coercion, or persecution. But even aside from that history, it just seems clear that religious beliefs can be so central to how we define ourselves, that we naturally reject the notion of anyone interfering in this realm of our lives.
Well, surely if our religious identity is understood to be a very personal matter, so too our sexual identity ought to be understood that same way. What could be a more personal facet of our being?
Clearly, over time, the idea that sexual orientation is something we are born with, has helped people who once held heterosexist beliefs, to abandon those beliefs ("Hm", such a person thinks, "I get now that just as I didn't choose to be attracted to the opposite sex - it was just normal for me - in the same way it must be just normal for gay people to be attracted to the same sex.") And it should go without saying that the notion of normalcy is psychologically critical for sexual minority youth growing up in a majority heterosexual (and still too often heterosexist) world. And it's also understandable why those who cling to heterosexist beliefs, would find rejecting this idea so important: for them, it is a dangerous idea. It bleeds support for their hidebound, discriminatory cause.
Yet, as is demonstrated by our respect for religious choice, even if sexual orientation were a choice, this does not seem like it should aid the case against gay rights.
Are there, in fact, people whose sexual inclinations do develop/change over time? Are there people who genuinely feel they have chosen what suits them, rather than feeling they were necessarily born that way?
I wouldn't be surprised. While I feel my own orientation is innate (because I can remember feeling the attraction even as a very, very young kid) and I'd bet that's how the great majority of people feel - it just seems reasonable to think that amongst the huge number of people in the world, there are likely some whose feelings about how they arrived at their sexual identity are different than the common view.
For liberals, I don't think this should be a dangerous idea.