Monday, July 24, 2006

Reflections on Sexual Identity and Same Sex Marriage

There is a possibility that this entry may offend some people. I hope not and I do apologize up front but nevertheless this is a subject that continues to be a topic of political divisiveness. I ran across an article describing testimony given to the State Senate in Massachusetts, which I deemed to be an example of poor science and personal agenda masquerading as an informed and valid opinion. I didn't think it was either.

Like many Americans I am conflicted on the issue of Homosexuality, Gender Identity, and Marriage. My conflict stems from my innate American sense of fairness and equality versus my Christian cultural sense of morality. These are sharply conflicting and divisive to me but I think I am increasingly in the minority as everyone seems to be choosing up sides. Unfortunately, I am not Christian enough to come down foursquare on the side of morality but I am not sympathetic enough to the homosexual lifestyle to come down firmly on the side of gay rights – whatever those are. To cloud the issue even further I had the opportunity to read the testimony of Dr. Jeffrey Satinover to the State Senate of Massachusetts, which summarizes the arguments of those opposed to “same sex” marriage. Although this testimony by a well credentialed psychologist was intended to clarify the issue, it served to make it even murkier for me. Therefore, I will address some of Dr Satinover’s points in order to illustrate the basis for some of my uncertainty.

In opposing same-sex marriage, Dr. Satinover discussed the following claims of homosexual activists, and offered a rebuttal to each of them. The claims he challenged were--
That homosexuality has been repeatedly demonstrated to be--and is in fact--an innate, genetically-determined condition.
That homosexuality is an immutable state.
That the only disadvantages of homosexuality are those caused by social disapproval and discrimination.
That a society composed of same-sex couples raising children in family-like units will differ in no undesirable ways from a society composed of traditional family units.
The first claim Dr Satinover rejects on the basis that even though Dr. Hamer stated that he was 95.5% sure that he found a “gay gene” he later repudiated that claim on the basis he could find no Mendelian inheritance. This conclusion was later supported by two separate studies. This is now cited as being empirical proof that homosexuality is not genetic. Unfortunately these studies were not actual scientific studies but epidemiological studies, meaning they were statistical and had no basis in science unless you consider statistics a “science”. I will return to this point in a moment. Thus because no Mendelian pattern was found the conclusion is homosexuality is not genetic. However, it is also common knowledge that not all homosexuals are declared and thus any interview might not divulge whether or not a specific individual was homosexual and in fact declared heterosexuals might actually be homosexual and not willing to admit that to the interviewer, thus the Mendelian Pattern may not be observed even though it might actually be present. But there is another dimension to this issue as well.

The same techniques used to conclude there is a “gay gene” were also used to conclude that there is an “alcoholism” or “addiction” gene. The finding of this gene is not disputed and it is now generally accepted that certain people have a predisposition to addictions like alcohol even if they are not nor have ever been addicts. Thus it is POSSIBLE that some people may have a predisposition to homosexuality (and carry the gene) but are in fact not homosexual. Therefore, I submit that in spite of the conclusions by the learned doctors they have not proven their case. I then submit my anecdotal evidence supporting the genetic influence. Through the years I have been friends with several homosexuals and currently have several friends who are openly gay. In every case these people have told me that they were born that way. All of them have stated that they were always that way and never had any doubts about their sexuality even before they declared their sexuality. Furthermore, there are many married men who have had homosexual experiences but still consider themselves to be heterosexual or bi-sexual. The statistical surveys which are interview based would not always capture these people since they would have a personal interest in remaining silent – even if the survey was anonymous. Therefore, it is my personal belief that certain people have a predisposition to homosexuality but may not be actively homosexual. However, there does seem to be some evidence that if this gene is present then environmental factors come into play, just as they do with addiction. This means that if the gene is present and the person is exposed to gender bending situations they might become active homosexuals. Of course this has broad ramifications regarding adoptions, education, and acceptance, but then so does alcoholism or drug addictions. Acceptance and toleration does not mean endorsement and this is a point that seems to be lost in all of the rhetoric. The unasked question is that if environmental factors influence sexual orientation then why is the educational community so determined to expose elementary school children to alternative sexual situations? Is this exposure a recruiting exercise as suspected by those opposed to the same-sex lifestyle or an exercise in understanding as stated by those in favor of equal treatment? Like so many aspects of this issue there appears to be merit on both sides.

The second point made by Dr Satinover is perhaps the most controversial of all and that has to do with homosexuality as a mental disorder rather than a genetic (and unfixable) state. Dr. Satinover cites studies that show that there is a documented “cure” rate of between 30% and 70% of cases. Of course the qualifier to the study is that the cases studied were of “unwanted” sexual attraction, meaning that these people were motivated to change their sexual orientation. However, substitute alcoholism for homosexuality and you might come to a slightly different conclusion regarding “cure”. It is again common knowledge that an alcoholic or a drug addict who is motivated to change can be sobered up and become a functioning member of society. However, it is equally well known that the desire never goes away and any backsliding can return the individual to their former compulsions. The only “cure” is total abstinence. Therefore, I think that these “cure” rates are distorted because the person is not actually cured in the sense that they become heterosexual even if they marry and lead “normal” lives. They simply become non-functioning homosexuals just like alcoholics. The idea that these people are “cured” is – in my opinion at least – specious.

However, Dr Satinover goes further and states that 10% of all men have had a male sexual partner but the majority of these were under the age of 18 and that beyond that age the majority never again have a male sexual partner and that the percentage of adult homosexuals is roughly 2.8%. The 10% number is a rough estimate and the real number is probably unknown and virtually unknowable because the studies rely on surveys and interviews and the individuals may have personal reasons for not being candid. Furthermore this issue is clouded by the definition of “homosexual practice” and who is included in the 2.8%. Does this number include men who lead a heterosexual life but are in fact “secret” homosexuals? Also Dr. Satinover states that the environment can change the brain to the point where homosexuality is an acquired trait rather than a genetic one and therefore, the brain can be re-wired, but he offers no empirical evidence supporting this position in relation to homosexual attraction. In fact virtually all of his scientific support is statistical and no confounding factors are cited so the accuracy is suspect from the outset.

Of course there is another side of this issue and that is the desire to change. The statistics cited by Dr. Satinover are for those individuals who were motivated to change or at least abandon their homosexual lifestyle. However, the percentage of homosexuals with this motivation was not referenced but intuitively I think the percentage is small. Certainly not all homosexuals are overjoyed about being outside of the mainstream of society but that doesn’t mean they are either terribly unhappy or desire to become heterosexual. I think this is analogous to individuals having some other defect or handicap, life goes on and you compensate. So even if a real cure were available I suspect many homosexuals would not take advantage of it because they are quite happy as they are.

In claim four Dr. Satinover states that the typical “young” homosexual is at greater risk of having psychological and physical (i.e. AIDS) problems than a heterosexual man of similar age. But once again no reference is made to those homosexuals who are not public nor is there any indication that the psychological problems in this group might be caused by their prejudicial treatment. Also no comparison is offered regarding the incidence of sexually transmitted AIDS among homosexuals versus AIDS incidence among drug addicted heterosexuals. I suspect these are roughly equivalent and possibly the drug addicts might have a higher incidence. Plus there is no distinction made between promiscuous homosexuals and monogamous homosexuals, which I think accounts for the study being conducted among “young” men. Nevertheless, I think it is widely accepted that homosexuals in general have a higher incidence of alcoholism, drug addiction and psychological problems than the general population. What I think is missing from this study is the actual basis for this. I suspect that much of this can be traced directly to the rejection and societal pressures these individuals face throughout their lives. It is these pressures – beginning in grade school – that cause many homosexuals to adopt a heterosexual life style even though they are homosexual. I don’t see that any of these studies address this issue and it is unlikely that any of these inactive homosexuals were included in any of the studies since it is unlikely they would have acknowledged their homosexual predisposition. Therefore, I do not think Dr Satinover’s conclusions are valid because I think his sample was flawed from the outset.

The final point raised by Dr Satinover in his testimony dealt with children in same sex family situations. On this point I agree with Dr. Satinover. Certainly a child is better off being raised in a family with a mother and a father, but unfortunately Dr Satinover doesn’t go far enough. A child is infinitely better off being raised in a family composed of his biological parents. When that bond is broken through divorce and the child is raised with a step-parent, it isn’t as healthy for the child but better than being raised in a single parent home. Dr. Satinover would have you believe that a child is better off in an orphanage or a foster home than in a same-sex family environment. I simply don’t think this is true. Dr. Satinover offers no statistics or studies showing these comparisons and I would suspect that a child is better off in a loving same-sex situation than he would be in an orphanage or foster care. I absolutely agree that a child is better off in a home with his biological parents and a situation with a step-parent may be a good alternative – but not necessarily. Evil step-parents abound and it is quite possible that a child would be better served in a same-sex family situation than living with an evil step-parent. – And this brings us to the real point of Dr Satinover’s testimony, which is same-sex marriage.

This subject is where the emotion and conflict enter and where reasoning seems to exit stage right. On the one hand we have the Constitution and the innate American belief in equality. Specifically the state must treat all citizens equally, but we all recognize that the state also has the right to enforce certain restrictions. Consequently, the state is not compelled to issue driver’s licenses to everyone but they are compelled to state the conditions under which the license will be issued and then enforce those conditions equally. However, these conditions cannot be capricious or based on ethnicity, religion, political belief, etc. and the courts have struck down laws denying marriage licenses to mixed race couples. So now the question before us is can the state deny a marriage license between individuals of the same sex?

The people arguing against same sex marriage base their argument on moral grounds that a marriage is sanctioned by God and is the “natural” state for man and woman. Furthermore, sanctioning same-sex marriage would undermine the whole institution of marriage and be detrimental to society as a whole. Marriage in every culture has historically been between heterosexual couples and there is no precedent for same sex marriage in any culture or religion. But it is this last point that really represents the sticking point – religion.

Marriage is a religious rite and is sanctioned by God and thus “render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and things that are God’s unto God” is the basis for resistance. Essentially the state cannot impose its laws because God’s laws supercede those of the state. This argument was the crux of the battle between St. Thomas Becket and Henry II of England, over whose laws prevail – God’s or the State’s. This debate has raged for centuries and is the basis for the separation of church and state in the American Constitution. So this raises the question of marriage and marriage licenses.

If marriage is a religious rite then can (or should) it be regulated by the state? Should the state be involved in determining who can participate in what is acknowledged as a religious rite? Those in favor of same sex marriage say no and those opposed say yes. However, it seems to me that the entire argument is actually over one word – marriage – not the legal act of uniting but in the religious rite of marrying. Therefore, I submit that the state has the authority to issue licenses for civil unions that would legally join two individuals of any sex. This license would enable them to conduct a civil (and secular) ceremony presided over by a state authority like a Judge. This license would also enable a religious authority to preside over a religious ceremony. The end result of either of these ceremonies would be a civil union giving the participants equal rights under the law. Obviously rights under Canon Law would vary and an example would be that while the state recognizes divorce the Catholic Church does not. To the state a divorced person can remarry but to the Catholic Church they cannot. So the separation of church and state is preserved. So I am conflicted on this issue and find myself on both sides. I seem to support civil unions but am opposed to gay marriage.

To return to my earlier point, I wish to address the growing use of statistics as an alternative to science. Dr Satinover’s testimony was based almost entirely on statistics rather than empirical science, but Dr. Satinover isn’t alone in this use of statistics, it is widespread and in my opinion it is beginning to discredit science. Several years ago I did a research project for a major auto manufacturer regarding forecasting and statistical analysis. I read numerous research papers written by a gaggle of PhD’s and had personal interviews with two of the leading academics in statistics, one at Penn State Wharton School of Business and the other at Dartmouth – Amos Tuck School of Business. What struck me at the time was that all (100%) of the papers dealt with improving the accuracy but not one (0%) covered any verification of the forecasts they had already made. There was not one follow-up or any evidence that any of the studies had ever been verified in any way, yet all of the effort was devoted to improving the accuracy – over what?

I raised this question in my personal interviews and was astonished to have both Professors tell me to their knowledge there had never been any verification of any statistical study. As a person trained in mathematics and having earned my living throughout most of my professional career by manipulating numbers I know that numbers can be twisted to say anything. The point here is that much of Dr Satinover’s “evidence” opposing homosexuality and same-sex marriage is statistical and thus subject to distortion and manipulation. This can be seen in the omission of facts, confounding factors, or selective reporting. While Dr Satinover’s testimony may have been interesting it is neither compelling nor totally factual. In my opinion he did not make his case.

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