‘Homosexuality is found in over 450 species; homophobia is found in only one. Which one seems unnatural now?’
Spend long enough on social media, internet forums, or real-world Pride marches and you’re likely to come across the above meme in some form or another. Faced with opponents who denounce homosexuality as unnatural, it provides a pithy rejoinder to end an argument. It goes something like this: You think being gay is wrong because it’s against nature? Well, guess what? Even the birds and the bees do it.
This argument and its basis – the naturalness of homosexuality – have become the key motif of the gay-rights movement. Indeed, such is its prevalence that it now often dominates political discussion and popular culture. From the well-worn example of Lady Gaga’s ‘Born This Way’, to the plaintive ‘I can’t change’ from the chorus of Macklemore’s pro-gay marriage song, ‘Same Love’, to a recent Australian TV advert in which a mother-to-be is informed at her ultrasound that she’s ‘having a lesbian’, the message is clear - you can’t help being gay.
Even many of those who find homosexuality immoral, or oppose gay marriage, accept that homosexuality is innate. The Catholic Church’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith published Persona Humana in 1975, which acknowledges that homosexuals possess ‘some kind of innate instinct’. Later statements from the Catholic Church steer clear of this phrasing, but still acknowledge ‘deep-seated’ homosexual tendencies. Among religious supporters of gay rights, the same logic holds. For example, the Bishop of Salisbury wrote recently in support of gay marriage, saying that it did not detract from heterosexual marriage ‘unless we think that homosexuality is a choice rather than the given identity of a minority of people’.
The desire to prove that homosexuality is natural spurs great interest in scientific research into the area. Simon Le Vay’s 1991 paper, which demonstrated differences in brain structure between homosexual and heterosexual men, was seen by many to prove that being gay wasn’t a choice, an interpretation Le Vay himself rejected. In 1993, another academic paper brought us the ‘gay gene’, an idea that has prompted ferocious arguments ever since. And little wonder: any study which looks at what might cause homosexuality is jumped on and discussed by the media as possible proof of the inalienability of being gay, even when the research itself is more reticent in its conclusions. The gay gene has gone somewhat out of fashion, but pre-natal hormones, birth order, epigenetics, evolutionary theories and MRI scans are all just part of the arsenal which is brought to bear on the thorny and elusive question of why there are homosexuals.