04 March 2015
Choices and judgments
Everyone loves it when a Republican says something outrageous, it seems. There was a furor on the internet today, or an attempt to create one, over the remarks on homosexuality of Dr. Ben Carson, this cycle's token black candidate for the Republican presidential nomination. On the genuine political subject of gay marriage, he thought there ought to be arrangements short of "marriage" that gave gay couples the sort of shared rights over property, insurance, etc. that he presumes them to want when they demand a right to be married. He may be missing a point here but I leave it to homosexuals themselves to clarify the matter. Everyone can be outraged, however, over Carson's argument that prison conversions to homosexuality prove that sexual orientation is a choice and not some innate individual trait. To be clear, it's the part about prison that's outrageous. But had he left prison out of the conversation, some might still be outraged over his belief that homosexuality is a choice. There's been more at stake in this distinction than there should be. It seems to be important to some that sexual orientation is not a choice. I assume this is because once you concede that someone can choose to be gay, you also concede that they can choose not to be, while others will assume they should choose not to be. I don't see how the last point follows. The fear on the gay-rights side seems really to be that if homosexuality is chosen, it thus somehow becomes subject to judgment in a way it could not be if homosexuality were recognized as an innate trait. You can be judged for what you do, that is, but you should not be judged for what you are. To deny the role of choice is to preempt judgment. This ought to be an unnecessary argument. I'm inclined to believe that there's an element of choice in sexual orientation because my suspicion is that every human being is potentially bisexual. That element of choice may not be conscious or intellectual, since we're talking about sex and emotion, but there's certainly an element of will to it, especially if attraction runs up against any existing taboo. I doubt whether anyone is any more immune to same-sex attraction than anyone is immune to developing sexual fetishes. Many people may never experience an event triggering a fetish or a same-sex attraction, but the potential is probably there just the same. The main point is that the choice, such as it is, and so long as it involves consenting adults, is not liable to moral judgment. The better gay-rights argument isn't that you have no right to judge a person's sexual orientation because it's an innate trait, but that you have no right to judge a person's gender preference in sexual partners, period. On that understanding, so long as Carson didn't mean to say that prisoners who choose to be gay need to be reconverted or deprogrammed, he really said nothing wrong -- just something somewhat stupid.