Monday, November 10, 2008


I am a Californian, and thus am part of the collective Californian shame that is Proposition 8. Furthermore, I decided (before I had heard of Prop 8) to register to vote in New York, rather than in California; that increases my personal guilt over the matter--after all, my vote was a vote that wasn't cast on behalf of the LGBT community.

I'm watching the LGBT/fellow traveler community pull back, and consider their strategy. Some are reacting with anger. Some are turning to the judiciary; the ACLU promptly filed a lawsuit to have Prop 8 declared unconstitutional (a long shot) and a movement was born to demand the IRS review the Church of Latter Day Saints' nonprofit status (with good cause, from a tax-law perspective). Others are counseling outreach (and I agree with them completely, aside from any other consideration), saying that what we failed to do was to reach those communities who were in favor of Proposition 8 and really convince them of the right of homosexuals.

One aspect of the debate which sticks out to me is this obsession over whether homosexuality is a choice or is genetic. I strongly believe that genetics determines sexual attraction. The question is, can we reach people who think homosexuality is a choice?

I would like to think that the science and the testimony of homosexuals (every gay person asks the same question: "Do you really imagine me one day waking up to decide to become a part of a marginalized community at the age of eight?") would eventually reach all of those who currently oppose the rights of LGBT. But what I resent is the implication that, if homosexuality were a choice, that it would be banned.

Take, for instance, adultery. Adultery is something that is inherent in us, but the specific action of adultery is a choice (in the way that a homosexual can decide whether or not to partake in sex in particular instances--they're not compulsive, after all). Adultery is no longer banned in most countries; in the United States it varies from state to state with various penalties (Michigan: life sentence; Maryland: $10 fine). But ever since the landmark case Lawrence v. Texas struck down sodomy laws, it has been questionable whether even those few adultery laws hold.

Of course, we're not talking about Federal bans on LGBT marriage. But we are talking about withholding rights from people who are in the LGBT community. The question on that issue should not revolve around whether or not its a choice.

Let's invent, as a mindgame, some sort of ridiculous law that uses the same logic. Let's say that California said that "in order to register as a member of the Democratic Party, you must be married to a person who is also registered as a member of the Democratic Party." After all, people who survive in bipartisan marriage must have some divided loyalties.

Clearly, you can choose to change your party registration. You can also choose to marry, but not have the rights and privileges accorded to someone who is happily married to a fellow Democrat. All the Californian government is saying is that some bipartisan marriages will not be recognized. Even though the element of choice enters into the equation, it is irrelevant: the Californian government should not force you to choose between your desire and your rights.

That's why the interracial marriage argument is so interesting: it compares gay marriage (which involves a non-chosen sexuality) to interracial marriage (which is a choice). But why are they actually comparable? Because love is a private matter. If you are in love with something, you may have a choice in terms of your action, but love is an emotional state that cannot truly be tamed.

The point that I'm laboriously working towards is that even if we can choose to overrule our emotions, it is not healthy to do so. When Thomas Jefferson amended "Life, liberty, and the pursuit of property" to "the pursuit of happyness," the implication is that you should not have to choose between the law and your own happiness, whether that should be peace of the home (the little-used Third Amendment and the privacy rights in the Fourth), or of opinion and association (the First Amendment).