The federal challenge to California’s voter-approved same-sex marriage ban has raised a number of questions about the experiences of lesbian, gay, and bisexual people, same-sex couples and families, among other issues. It seems the trial is not only addressing the constitutional nature of a law that discriminates against a minority group because of their sexual orientation. In fact, it seems as though the entire claim that LGBT people are marginalized in our society is on trial — that, and tests for every stereotype about LGBT people (e.g., the supposed link between pedophilia and homosexuality).
Is Sexual Orientation A Choice?
One testimony seems to be the crux of the trial, but generally, in my opinion, irrelevant to whether discrimination is at play in banning same-sex marriage. Prominent psychology researcher and professor, Professor Gregory Herek, was called to the stand to testify on the etiology of homosexuality and the experiences of LGBT people on Friday, January 22nd:
Plaintiffs lawyers are already done questioning their final witness, UC-Davis psychology Professor Gregory Herek, who earns the distinction of being one of the quicker witnesses thus far (although cross-examination is just beginning, and that has tended to go for hours with the plaintiffs experts). Herek testified that research shows gays and lesbians do not choose their sexual identities, as same-sex marriage opponents suggest. And he also said they are subject to social stigma.
What I find interesting is that this question must be answered. Before the rest of the country can get on board with same-sex marriage, it needs to know that lesbian, gay, and bisexual people have run out of all of their options regarding sexual orientation. If they have not given this heterosexuality thing a fair chance, we’re not just going to concede to their demands for support for this gay thing. Research on attitudes toward homosexuality and LGB people has found greater acceptance when heterosexuals believe that homosexuality is not chosen and cannot be changed. Thus, even if it may seem irrelevant to LGBT people whose rights are on trial, it matters to the majority (heterosexuals) that currently have the power to approve or disapprove of those rights.
So What If It’s A Choice?
I know, I know — if evidence ever emerged that sexual orientation was chosen, at least by those who have chosen something other than heterosexuality, we would see a lot of lost support for sexual equality. But, therein lies two problems: 1) if it is chosen, why is choosing homosexuality or bisexuality wrong, and heterosexuality right? 2) why is choice bad? The heteronormativity and homophobia remains; this homosexuality/bisexuality thing better be beyond your own control, or, if not, you’d best be choosing heterosexuality. Yet, supposedly heterosexuals do not choose to be heterosexual. That’s quite the double standard. Secondly, why do we value and celebrate choice in other arenas of the social world, yet deny freedom to choose our romantic and sexual partners? Why should rights only be afforded if it’s a condition you cannot help? So long as one’s sexual and/or romantic relationship is consensual, who are we to determine whether it should be treated as equal to other types of relationships? I am going to take the radical step here and suggest that “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” should extend to consensual sex and relationships as well. If Katy Perry wants to kiss a girl and like it, whether because she’s naturally bisexual or just because she wants to see what all of the fuss is about, why should our support for her freedom to choose boys or girls be restricted?
Calling Heteronormativity Out
In some way, I suggest our next step is to ask “so what?” If you choose to be with men, with women, both, transpeople, intersexed people, Black people, Latina/o people, Muslim people, tall people, vegans who like Britney Spears, and so forth, why are your choices and freedoms any less valuable than someone who is naturally attracted to other groups? And, why is there so much focus on the origins of homosexuality and bisexuality, though not heterosexuality? Further, why do we care so much about the gender of object choice but we are not out searching for the “cause of interracial desires”, or why some people are attracted to muscular people, or taller, or nerdy people. I cannot imagine that every aspect of our “type” is naturally occurring, but frankly, so long as our actions are consensual, it shouldn’t matter.