George Claassen

Being gay 'is genetic'

2005-09-16 09:08

Why is science being ignored in the raging debate about the position gays should or could occupy in practising religion?

I ask this because many religious people condemn the gay minister of St Stephen's Dutch Reformed Church in Cape Town, Laurie Gaum, for being openly gay and agree with their church commission's decision to defrock him because of it.

And listening to hundreds of self-righteous callers on radio talk-shows who use only their Holy Books to condemn homosexuality as sinful while ignoring science, I once again want to emphasise the call for a return to rational thinking that I argued in this column last week ("Switch on the baloney detectors").

Moreleta Park's Dutch Reformed Church in Pretoria wages an astonishingly naive and hypocritical campaign against gays, with its ministers and anti-gay church members openly proclaiming gays can be "cured" from their "sickness" - by converting to Christianity, or praying long and hard enough.

Even worse: many people sitting in judgment make no distinction between gays and common criminals and other sinners, again trusting only the archaic views of their Holy Scriptures.

Biological traits cannot be overruled!

As if biological traits can be overruled and ignored that easily! Where is science in all of this? And what do scientists say about the phenomenon of homosexuality? Why do theologians and many religious people continue to ignore the findings of science about homosexuality?

It's a disgrace that the whole debate in the NGK, and other churches, as well among Muslim communities, continues to apply the norms of dated Holy Books written in the Dark Ages between 2 000 and 1 500 years ago.

And in a scientific age when modern science has found ample evidence that being gay has a biological foundation. That gay people are not abnormal, but a biological variation that cannot be prayed and forced into a heterosexual state of mind.

A young man, Matthew Shepard, is tied to a fence and beaten to death in Wyoming because he is gay; more than 50 gays, some of them young boys in their puberty, are "legally" executed on the orders of Iranian mullahs because of their genetic sexual orientation.

Laurie Gaum is evicted as minister because his genes do not conform to the mental framework of genes prescribed by the NGK. Just three scandalous examples.

The evidence

Let me give attention to only two scientific studies. There are hundreds of others readers can easily find on the internet.

It is outrageous that the results of two laboratory studies, published as far back as 1991 and 1993 in Science, are still ignored by religious fanatics. Simon LeVay, "A Difference in Hypothalamic Structure Between Heterosexual and Homosexual Men," Science, Vol 253, No 5023 (August 30, 1991), pp 1034-1037, and Dean Hamer et al, Science, Vol 261 (1993), pp 321-327 have come to conclusions that clearly show a biological link in the sexual orientation of people.

LeVay, a neuroscientist at the Salk Institute for Biological Sciences in San Diego, California, conducted autopsies on 19 gay men, 16 straight men, and 6 heterosexual women at 7 hospitals in New York and California.

He dissected the forebrain of the deceased and found the hypothalamus gland in both the women and the gay men were less than half the size of those in the straight men.

LeVay concluded that his study "suggests that sexual orientation has a biological substrate" - which refutes the so-called reparative therapy - "God can heal you" - so many anti-gay, pro-the-Holy-Books-at-all-costs-religious people propose to gay people.

The National Cancer Institute study lead by Hamer, a Harvard trained geneticist, looked at 40 families with two gay brothers. Hamer and his team found evidence in 33 of the pairs for a genetically maternal influence in the determination of male homosexuality.

According to Hamer there was a clear "correlation between homosexual orientation and the inheritance of polymorphic markers on the X chromosome," which gay men receive from their mothers.

Readers can also do a survey of other similar studies by scientists such as LeVay, J Michael Bailey, Richard C Pillard, Dennis McFadden and Edward Pasanen, to mention just a few of the surveys refuting the absurd and unscientific arguments of religious fundamentalists.

A good overview of the debate can also be found in the article Gays and Genes by Andrew Hacker in The New York Review of Books, March 27 2003.

May I repeat my plea: give science its rightful place and allow the voice of scientific reason to be heard.

  • George Claassen is science editor of Die Burger, South Africa's largest Afrikaans daily paper.

  • Send your comments to George or discuss this column now in our debating forum.

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