Is the question of whether homosexuality is "a choice" at all morally relevant? Does it bear, e.g., on whether homosexual lifestyles are morally permissible, or whether gay marriage should be allowed? Many people seem to think so, including many of those who support gays and lesbians.

The question of whether homosexuality is a choice may be morally relevant. If, as is commonly--although not necessarily correctly--assumed, agents are only responsible for what they choose or do, then only if homosexuality is a choice can one be responsible for being a homosexual, and consequently, subject to moral or religious sanction for being a homosexual. The question of whether homosexuality is a choice, while a vexed one, remains unsettled, although it does appear that the balance of evidence currently seems to favor the view that homosexuality is not a choice.

Although the question of whether homosexuality is a choice may thus well be taken to have moral significance, and although it has been linked to the issue of the legality of gay marriage, it is not clear to me that the issues are indeed related. The issues might be taken to be related in the following way. If marriage is supposed to reflect the 'natural' suitability of the partners in question, then, if homosexuality were indeed a choice, homosexuality would not be a 'natural' condition, and, consequently, homosexual unions would not be natural, and should not therefore be permitted. (By parity of reasoning, if homosexuality were a natural condition, then homosexuals could marry.) To my mind, however, the conception of the institution of marriage presupposed here is mistaken. The legality of homosexual marriage should, to my mind, turn on only on the question of whether the people in question are qualified to enter into the contract recognized as marriage by the state. Insofar as the parties in question have attained the 'age of consent'--the appropriate age to enter into such a contract--they should have the right to so contract. (By contrast, two underage homosexuals or heterosexuals, or one homosexual or heterosexual of legal age and another who is underage, or a person of legal age, regardless of his or her sexual orientation, and some animal, may not legally enter into such a contract.) Since, to my mind, the question of the permissibility of gay marriage is a question of whether gay people may legally into a state-sanctioned marriage contract, the only relevant question, to my mind, is whether the parties in question are indeed fit to contract. It's irrelevant, on this view, whether the identity of the parties in question is natural or artificial--that is, a matter of artifice, or choice.

Just one footnote to Sean. If homosexuality is a choice, it's not, as Richard Mohr once pointed out, like the choice of what sort of ice cream you're going to buy. Here's a thought experiment to try. Think of someone you find sexually attractive. Now try to choose not to have that response. Part two: think of someone you don't find sexually attractive. Now try to choose to be attracted to them. Step three: repeat steps one and two for broad categories of people where you find you have pretty stable patterns of attraction. If you are anything like me, you'll find that the attempt to choose doesn't get you anywhere.

Just how we end up being sexually attracted to the people we're attracted to is not easy to say. What seems pretty clear is that it's not in any ordinary sense a choice,

Of course, having predilections is one thing; that may not be a choice. Acting on them is another; that usually is a choice. If a case could be made that it's wrong for homosexual people to act on their attractions, then the fact that their orientation is not a matter of choice wouldn't simply excuse them. In fact, however, the arguments I've seen are pathetically bad. A bit more carefully, there are of course lots of situations that call for not acting on our attractions. But that said, the idea that there's some special problem about homosexual attraction is a lot harder to defend than some people seem to have thought.

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