The Science of Homosexuality

On November 13, 2015, a juvenile court judge in Utah rescinded his order that an 9-month-old foster child be removed from the home of a lesbian couple and placed in the home of a straight couple, citing research that says children experience greater emotional and mental stability with heterosexual parents. While the baby girl won’t be taken from the couple at this time, a hearing December 4th will determine her fate.  

The alleged research, which the judge hasn’t bothered to make public, reminded me of a study out of the University of Chicago published a weeks ago that found children raised in religious homes are less likely than children from non-religious homes to share with others; they were also more likely to judge and punish others for disagreeable behaviors.

I suppose foster children should therefore be removed from religious homes.

Clearly, even if the mystery study the judge cites is actually legitimate, it is not reason enough to remove children from foster homes. It does not constitute neglect or abuse.

And it is fueled not by concern for children, but by religious hysteria over homosexuality, in the same way conservative terror over gay marriage was not actually driven by a legitimate threat to heterosexual marriage, the so-called “institution” or “tradition.”

Many religious Americans perceive homosexuality as “unnatural” or “a perversion” based on ancient writings of primitive Middle Eastern tribes. Within the Torah, the Christian Bible, and the Koran, we find these descriptions of homosexuality, as well as barbaric edicts from God calling for the execution of homosexuals.

Fortunately, most people (but not all) no longer take such edicts seriously, preferring to focus on more ethical commandments about loving others and judging not. Many of these individuals nevertheless maintain homosexuality is a “sin” because of these ancient texts, a sin that must be “resisted,” “forgiven,” or even “cured.”

Biological research paints a very different picture, one that leads any reasonable person to conclude there is nothing more natural than homosexuality in the human species.

Homosexuality has been observed in many animal species, not just humans. It is often a very small percentage of a group’s population, as with humans, but it persists over generations. And it can actually more accurately be called “bisexuality,” rather than absolute “homosexuality.”

Male lions have sex with each other often. The entire species of dwarf chimpanzees practices bisexuality. Male dolphins sometimes stay with their male mates for years, as can killer whales. Many female Laysan Albatroses pleasure each other and raise children together, as do the males. They are “married” for life. 4-5% of geese and duck couples are homosexual couples. 8% of male domesticated sheep prefer other males, ignoring females completely; their hypothalamus, which releases sex hormones, is smaller than straight male sheep.

Petter Bockman of the University of Oslo, highlighting the difficulty of proving a negative statement like “No geckos are gay,” says, “No species has been found in which homosexual behaviour has not been shown to exist, with the exception of species that never have sex at all, such as sea urchins and aphis.”

Some 1,500 species so far have been researched and found to engage in homosexual intercourse.  

“How would this contribute to the survival of a species?” many ask. Isn’t it unnatural and counterproductive in that sense?

Simple as this sounds, some animals presumably do it because it feels good. This has nothing to do with reproduction. Female Japanese Macaques have lesbian sex much more often than sex with males, and have been observed experimenting with each other to “maximize the genital sensations.”

Other animals, like male fruit flies, simply try to mate with any member of their species the instant they are born, desperate to quickly pass on genes before death. Male flour beetles deposit sperm in each other and then mate with a female to increase their chances of passing on someone’s genes.

In some species, female couples are a response to a shortage of males — raising youth as a couple helps the young survive better than going it alone. Bonobos have a lot of both gay and straight sex, not to mention oral sex, hand jobs, orgies, kissing, and sex with youths.

Scientist think it reduces stress and cements social bonds — it makes the group feel close. Some scientists suggest homosexual males might, by avoiding females, inadvertently maintain female fertility or the female desire to mate. However, some evolutionists suggest it may be a form of population control. There is much more to learn.         

But how did homosexuality arise in the first place? While homosexuality still may not seem conducive to evolving and reproducing, even after noting most creatures that enjoy gay sex still reproduce with a member of the opposite sex, the same can be said of many mutations in genes: Most genetic mutations are not “helpful” in evolution. That is the nature of random mutation. Some will be beneficial, and will be passed on rapidly, others unhelpful, passed on in limited fashion, or eliminated from the gene pool entirely.

Homosexuality has not been eliminated, perhaps because it is helpful in a small way, as noted. In any case, evolution keeps “unhelpful” mutations in check. If all bottlenose dolphins were homosexual, and had no desire for heterosexual sex, the species would fail. But if bisexuality is the norm, or if only 5%, 7%, or 8% of the creatures reject straight sex, the species will survive.

What is clear is that there are genes that determine sexual orientation, discovered through genetic mapping and sociological studies, like looking at twins separated at birth that both turn out to be homosexual. Identical twins are much more likely to have the same sexual orientation as fraternal twins–see Levay’s work below.

A geneticist named Dean Hammer lead the way in this research in the 1990s, discovering a genetic marker on X chromosomes that homosexual men had, but (nearly all) heterosexual men did not. A breakthrough study last year looked at over 800 gay brothers, including non-identical twins, and found similar layouts of genes on the X chromosome and chromosome 8 that aren’t usually a feature in straight men.

A study in 2015 looked at 47 pairs of identical twins and found that homosexual males have a genetic structure difference in nine places compared to their straight identical twins. The presence of these differences predict homosexuality with an accuracy of 70%.  

One might also look into the work of Simon Levay, who discovered in the 1990s that a region of the gay male hypothalamus is smaller than in straight men–just like domesticated male sheep that show homosexual behavior.

What notice when studying all this is that scientists have not yet ruled out environmental factors in homosexuality, as there is increasing evidence that your environment can actually change your genes. Religious persons who insist homosexuality is a choice may delight in this, until the realization dawns that the altering of the epigenome via external influences doesn’t actually constitute a conscious choice.

What is clear is that genetics are everything; that homosexuality is, to an undeniable degree, an integral part of what it means to be human. The only thing that stands in the way of accepting this, for many people, is religion.

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