If You Oppose Gay Marriage, Justify Your Position

Gay marriage is not just an abstract question. We’re talking about the lives of real gay people, their equality and dignity, and their right to flourish openly as who they are.

Are you in solidarity with gay people’s assertions of equality, dignity, autonomy, and marriage equality or not? It’s as much an existential question as a procedural and inside baseball question for this or that religious or political institution.

In the 1960s, it wouldn’t have been reasonable to discuss the inside baseball of the black civil rights movement and the women’s equality movement without expecting someone to raise the issue, if you opposed them, of your own justification for doing so. You wouldn’t get the luxury to just game the state of play. By your very resistance to the full equality and dignity of others, you wouldn’t have earned that. You couldn’t have expected that.

It’s the same today.

The very pressing of the issue of gay marriage by gay people insists on justification from those who oppose them and support the status quo.

Gays have experienced millenia of discrimination, violence, and closeting, and we are now living at a moment in history in which gays are asserting their equality and declaring that their essence and inclinations are neither evil nor disordered. If you say that they are, that needs justification.

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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16 Responses to If You Oppose Gay Marriage, Justify Your Position

  1. Staffan says:

    It’s not that I think it would have horrible consequences, but it begs the question of what marriage is. Should polyamorists be married, relatives? Minors?

    Disorder? The fact that people are gay at least from early childhood and that it has a low heritability makes it likely to be caused by some pathogen, in which case it would be a disorder.

    • colinhutton says:

      We have a number of close friends and relatives who are gay. As a result when I come across discussions and research into the origin homosexuality I follow them with some interest. I have never before seen a suggestion that it is “likely to be caused by some pathogen”. That strikes me as highly improbable. Can you point to any authoritative research in support of the notion, or is it simply your own pet theory?

  2. colinhutton says:

    It seems pretty straightforward to me. Arguments that gays are ‘evil’ are religious in nature and should have no bearing on the status of civil unions. Arguments that they are ‘disordered’ are contradicted by the current state of our scientific knowledge.

  3. Staffan says:

    There are studies showing low heritability (just Google), which in conjunction with how early it emerges makes the environmental factor of a pathogen most likely. Few researchers like to look for that pathogen though because Academia is highly politically biased and it could hurt their careers (there is actual research on this bias and it’s not pretty). So when you find it highly improbable due to never seen having it before and ask for “authoritative research” it shows a naive attitude rather than a strong argument. You can combine what research there is with a bit of common sense. What would make more sense of the data? If you’re interested here is a short presentation,


    • colinhutton says:

      I made the time to do as you suggest. Refreshed my memory, mainly Wikipedia, but a couple of other articles as well. In short, the extent of direct genetic inheritance is arguable and complicated by probable interactions between genes (likely complexes of genes) and the environment. Nothing new and nothing to suggest “pathogens” involved.
      The post you point to at westhunt is unworthy of someone with any pretensions to being a serious academic. He is entitled hold a pet theory, acknowledged as such, but not to provide ‘evidence’ in spurious ‘support’ of that theory.

      • Staffan says:

        I don’t know what you find on Wikipedia but studies consistently show low heritabilities. When you add that this is nothing new you seem unaware that most people (like yourself) think this trait is highly heritable when it’s in fact the only behavioral trait with a low heritability, varying between 0.1-0.4. Do you have any specific evidence to contradict this? Low heritability and low shared environment suggest. If you indeed consulted Wiki you may have noted the largest twin study on this thus far from last year, showing unique environment accounting for 0.61-0.66 of the variance. This is the factor that includes pathogens,


        For future reference, don’t do the Wikipedia-says-I’m-right argument. If you want to be taken seriously, give me a link that contains references to actual research.

        And being a serious academic is going with the evidence – not being swayed by pc zeitgeist. By that definition Greg Cochran (West Hunter) is a serious as they come.

  4. colinhutton says:

    Staffan. I might be prepared (somewhat reluctantly) to go further with our discussion, including a justification of my criticism of Cochran’s blog post, but only if you are going to stay cool and logical. I cannot be bothered putting up with stuff such as:
    “..most people (like yourself) think this trait is highly heritable”. I have never thought that and you have no basis for suggesting that I did or do think that.
    “If you indeed consulted Wiki …..” . You imply that I might have lied. I do not tell lies. I had read the entirety of the Wiki entry, including, therefore, the specific section you now point to in your response to me.
    “For future reference, don’t do the Wikipedia-says-I’m-right argument”. That is simply an insult. I am fully aware of the limitations of Wikipedia and nothing I have said relies on it as an ‘authority’.

    “If you want to be taken seriously, give me a link that contains references to actual research”. On what? What, exactly, have I asserted that justifies your demand for such references?? You seem to have conveniently forgotten that it was you who made an assertion, regarding “pathogens”, and that it was I who asked whether you could point to any research in support of that assertion. All you have done in that regard is point to dodgy blog post. Get real.

    • Staffan says:

      I’m sorry if I offended you by inferring that you view heritability as high. But how can I not do that when you reply to my comment that most studies find low heritabilities – and zero shared environment with,

      “In short, the extent of direct genetic inheritance is arguable and complicated by probable interactions between genes (likely complexes of genes) and the environment. Nothing new and nothing to suggest “pathogens” involved.”

      …when low heritability and zero shared environment is exactly the situation that suggests that pathogens may be involved!

      “You seem to have conveniently forgotten that it was you who made an assertion, regarding “pathogens”, and that it was I who asked whether you could point to any research in support of that assertion. All you have done in that regard is point to dodgy blog post. Get real.”

      I did this because you objected to my claim by saying you looked it up in Wikipedia and, as shown in the quote above, said I had no case. As this was clearly wrong even by the source you referenced I ask for some type of evidence. Is that really offensive?

      And no, all I did was point you to the largest up-to-date study on the topic the result of which is low heritability and zero shared environment – which is in line with a pathogen. You read that, by your own admission, but failed to understand it. That’s on you, not me.

      Also worth keeping in mind: you can always criticize a theory but science is not about measuring theories by some absolute standard, but a competition of theories. Do you know any other theory that would explain the data better?

      • colinhutton says:

        OK. A fair response, so lets talk a bit more. But before any arguing about differences in our views, can we first make sure we do not end up shouting at one another because of basic definitional misunderstandings.
        I take the word ‘homosexual’ as referring to both men and women (synonymous, if you like, with ‘gay’ and ‘lesbian’ )
        I take your use of the word “pathogen” to mean its dictionary definition, ‘disease-producing agent, especially a virus, bacterium, or other microorganism’. (That does not include biological or environmental factors such as pre-natal hormone levels, chemicals, drugs etc.) (a further definitional complication might arise with some agents, such as bacteria which live in our guts. It seems to me they do not normally qualify as “pathogens”, but what about when they get into our bloodstream? But we can leave that aside for the moment).
        I take ‘heritability’ to mean the extent to which a particular trait in an individual can be attributed to their inherited genes. My (undoubtedly simplistic) understanding is that this is easily quantified when a ‘single’ deterministic gene is responsible (eg eye colour), but gets complicated and necessarily approximate when multiple genes are involved and when they interact with environmental factors (eg IQ or ‘g’ “is somewhere between 50% and 80% genetic”).

        Now, going back to my initial reading of your very first comment.

        ‘Slippery slope’ type arguments are, as in your comment, almost invariably weak (but I did not raise the issue).
        I had/have no disagreement with low heritability and early onset.
        “Pathogen” piqued my curiosity as I had never seen it (as defined above) raised as a possibility. Hence my query to you. I do not think it is impossible, but stand by “improbable”. Am happy to discuss further. (I concede that the phrase “pet theory” was unnecessarily provocative).
        I did/do disagree with “disorder” since my carefully considered view is that homosexuality is a natural element within a very wide spectrum of human sexual drives and behaviors. I did not directly raise this issue, but I infer from the general tenor of your later comments that you probably simply dismiss this view as p.c. But perhaps my inference is unfair. Am happy to defend/discuss further if you wish to.

        How are we going? Any progress?

  5. Staffan says:

    Thanks for clarifying : )

    I should do the same and point out that I usually refer to male homosexuality as women are less rigid in their sexuality making it harder to measure. As you’d expect from that women have some shared environment (family etc) as an influencing factor.

    A pathogen can be anything causing disease but here I also take it to mean some type of microorganism.

    Heritability doesn’t get complicated by complicated genetics. A lot of genes appear to contribute to intelligence but the heritability is not disputed, it’s around 80 percent. The reason you find 50 percent mentioned in textbooks is that many models can’t separate environment from measurement error. They then summarize it as 50/50. High quality studies that reduce error typically land around at the higher estimate. It’s very misleading but also very common.

    My argument for a pathogen is partly low shared environment, but this is not conclusive evidence as it could be some toxic thing in our modern environment. But there are other clues. For one, we know there have been gay men at least since antiquity, which pre-dates most of the toxic stuff in the modern environment. But there is a lack of homosexuality among hunter-gatherers, who when asked about it can’t understand the concept. This suggests that it should have been introduced sometime after agriculture but long before the industrial era. And agriculture meant crowding and living in proximity to domesticated animals with more disease as a consequnce.

    Another clue is homophobia. This trait is in fact highly heritable suggesting it may be an evolutionary adaptation to protect children against infection. We know the prevalence of homophobia matches prevalence of infectious diseases in general, much higher close to the equator.

    This is not to say that gay people are bad or that homophobia is good because it’s natural. Psychopathy is highly heritable and makes a good case for being an evolutionary strategy, thus being “natural” but I for one do not approve of it, and I suspect gay people add something to our culture in a positive way. It’s always important to distinguish factual statement from value judgments.

    • colinhutton says:

      A very delayed reply. Despite progress (we understand one another better) I found it difficult to decide whether and how to continue. Let me explain. My overall view is that the honest answer to almost all of these issues should be ‘we don’t know’. The results and inferences drawn by one research project are contradicted by other such projects and criticisms of the methodology or inferences are thrown about. I doubt there is any consensus even on what the ‘politically correct’ view is. Arguments and debates (especially in the blogosphere) on subjects where there is currently insufficient scientific knowledge and no consensus on even the basic issues, don’t go anywhere. Hence my reluctance, mentioned previously. It has now finally occurred to me that if I think of this as a conversation (no winner/loser or point scoring) not a debate, then I would find it quite interesting to exchange some more views. But perhaps not interesting for you. Let me know. (It would be a bit cheeky to continue using this space for what is already off-topic, but Santi is a tolerant host)

      • Staffan says:

        Well, there is a consensus in that no studies find high heritabilities. Then you have critics who complain that the research is flawed, but all research is flawed to some degree and the newer study I mentioned is pretty good. Above all critics need to make a decent study contradicting this. That’s as close to consensus we can get most of the time.

        As for pc consensus, my impression is that this is the born-this-way claim – which clearly contradicts all research since it suggests high heritability.

        So there really isn’t just a bunch of opinions. The evidence is all in one direction. Some people are uncomfortable with that and complain, but they don’t do any research of their own, which would be the first thing I’d do if I had any confidence in my point of view.

        Im not sure what a “conversation” would be about. Me, I just want to figure out what the facts are. I cant make compromises with people who have nothing to back up their claims with. BTW, its not about winning or losing. I just go with the evidence. I didnt hold this view until I became familiar with the evidence.

  6. colinhutton says:

    More progress thanks Staffan. Continuing, then, with somewhat random observations.

    I hadn’t ever read that homophobia was heritable, which is an interesting notion. I first checked the dictionary definition to see whether it covered both fear and hatred. Oxford and Webster agree that is both. So far so good. Webster, however, defines it as ‘“Irrational” fear……’.etc. Furthermore, the “irrational” has been added sometime in the last few years. Now *that* is pc gone mad! Insofar as its heritability is concerned, I don’t see how researchers can separate nature from nurture. It is unconvincing to point to the homophobia displayed by school children. By then it could be nurture and, anyway, schoolkids naturally gang up against any kid who is different or unconventional in any way.

    My example, previously, of the heritability of IQ was badly chosen and/or badly expressed. I myself have no doubt that it is at least 80% heritable. I’ve read stuff by and about Rushton & Jensen, Eysenck, Pinker, Ridley etc. I raise it now in regard to ‘scientific consensus’ and ‘pc’. Attacks on those people are almost invariably ad hominem and not against the reliability of their methodology and conclusions. Good evidence, I think, that the *science* is settled regarding IQ and the ‘everyone is born equal’ is the pc view. I contrast that with what I see in the arguments on origins of homosexuality. Incidentally I would have agreed with you on the question of what the pc view on this issue is, until I read the stuff at the end of the Wikipedia article we were arguing about. Those differing views *were* new (and hence interesting) for me.

    It seems to me that the case for a pathogen would be stronger if homosexuality were not heritable at all. I then wondered whether it was possible that a pathogen could ‘mimic’ heritability. If the pathogen were not easily transmitted, requiring multiple instances of early close contact, such as occurs within families, then it might *appear* to be heritable. What do you think? (If infection is postnatal that possibility could be determined by its occurrence, or not, in male identical twins separated at birth. Perhaps too few examples of those to do reliable research).

    However, I still think a pathogen/microorganism is unlikely. But that leads to Cochrane’s post and discussing that would be time-consuming. Happy to continue this later if you wish to (but see below!). In the interests of promptness, however, enough for now. But only after a digression on an interesting (to me, anyway) thought I had while we were arguing earlier. (Digressions are permissible in “conversations” 🙂 )

    We are all of short of time, so why do we invest time in argument. The dominant reason is to obtain a positive return on that investment in the form of persuading/recruiting/converting someone to our point of view. Now, I assume that you are probably in the range 30 – 40 years old. If so, there is a major imbalance in our respective cost/ benefit ratios. In my favour! I turn 70 next year so I am effectively irrelevant to the future. Conversely, if I persuade you of something, I have influenced the next 30-40 years, even if to an unknown extent. Even a “conversation” such as ours has an element of intent to persuade in it. So, if my estimate of your age is correct, investing your time in a response would be a poor investment!

  7. Staffan says:

    “It seems to me that the case for a pathogen would be stronger if homosexuality were not heritable at all. I then wondered whether it was possible that a pathogen could ‘mimic’ heritability. If the pathogen were not easily transmitted, requiring multiple instances of early close contact, such as occurs within families, then it might *appear* to be heritable.”

    No heritability at all would require everyone to have the same type of genetic defence against pathogens. We know this is not the case as for instance people in tropical regions have malaria defence that northerners lack. There are many other examples. There is also the distinction between shared and unique environment. If everyone in a family is exposed to a gay bug then that would be shared environment, which research shows is close to zero (although slightly higher for lesbians).

    As for influence, yes you have the age estimate about right and your argument is valid. But I discuss things to scrutinize my own ideas as well. The only way I can enjoy life is by understanding and seeing things in a new light. Otherwise it’s all repetition. So critical thinking is of the essence and opponents help me with that. A young opponent may have new ideas; an old opponent has had more time to think things through. I can benefit from both.

    Besides, plenty of people live to a hundred these days and with genomic meds, who knows how long? You could live to 150 for all I know : )

    • colinhutton says:

      I note what you say about genes/heritability. Interesting, but I think you are oversimplifying. Next time we see a Danish couple we know – he and she are both biologists, until recently in the field of medical research – I will enjoy bouncing these ideas off them – before we have shared too much schnapps.

      This could be an appropriate stage to sign-off from our conversation, but I’m going to test your patience by adding some observations. Without expecting a detailed response, but I hope you will confirm reading it. I might influence you! For 100 years!

      We share some interests. I know you follow hbdchick. I found her a couple of years ago, I think via half sigma. I use her as a great resource. Not regularly, but when I’m looking for something interesting, but not too challenging, to read up on. So I have followed her referrals to interesting looking posts at blogs such as those of Steve Sailer, Jayman, dr jamesthomson and others, including at least once to a good one at west hunters. One of the philosopher blogs which I go to when I am feeling ‘strong’ is focused on biology-related matters. http://evolvingthoughts.net/about-2/. Try him. You may find him interesting.

      Cochrane’s post at west hunters:

      Assuming a microorganism:

      As I understand it, humans have a harmless and often symbiotic relation with a range of microorganisms. It is a “pathogen” only if it causes a disease. The well known mouse example is obviously pathogenic for the mouse and the evolutionary path for the microorganism and its mode of transmission are well established. The same applies for bilharzias. I know. I spent 20 years of my life in sub-tropical Africa. His use of these as analogies provides zero clarification for the origin and ‘life history” of his hypothetical pathogen. They serve only to emphasise that he regards homosexuality as a ‘disease’. His gratuitous asides “Presumably with diagrams” and “Isn’t that just too damn bad” add nothing to the discussion, other than to show that he is homophobic. (I presume he would argue that he inherited that attitude and has no choice but to be that way!). As to “It doesn’t exist in most hunter-gatherers”, he relies presumably on reports (“research”) by anthropologists. Going all the way back to Margaret Mead, theirs is the social “science” most riddled with academic infighting as well as religious, political and confirmation biases. Entertaining stuff, but close to zero scientific credibility.

      The gay and lesbian couples we know have a normal range of abilities and attributes. If anything I would judge that on average their relationships are more stable and their social skills better developed than those of the hetero couples we know. Great assets for dinner parties! (My own theory is that in hetero couples the personality of one of the pair often becomes suppressed/subservient to the other. Less so in homosexual pairings). All anecdotal not evidence, but, for my part, I do not view homosexuality as a ‘disease’. Which is also why I regard its origins only as quite interesting, not very interesting. Whatever the mix of genetic, environment, nurture, or microorganism, (which I guess will be established in due course) well, ‘so what’.

      I seldom engage with other commenters. Except when they generalise about atheists and I then feel free to poke a sarcastic stick at them – as you may remember from a couple of years ago : ). However I enjoyed this conversation.

      • Staffan says:

        I find the HBD sphere interesting too, although not as much the ones that are narrowly focused on race in a political context.

        I still feel as though you have a problem with the concept of disease because you misconceive this as a value judgment. For all I know we are all skewed by bugs, developmental noise etc. But regardless of that, it’s either a disease or not, independently of what Cochran or anyone else thinks of homosexuals.

        I have little experience with gay people so my view is rather agnostic, although as I said earlier, they may well add something that the rest of us can enjoy.

        I enjoyed our conversation too. It’s nice to disagree with someone in a civilized manner. That’s a big reason I read this blog.

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