The Science of Gayness: Does it Really Matter?

| Thu Jun. 19, 2008 2:49 PM EDT

As California same-sex couples lined up to get married, so did the protesters. But more and more, the battle over homosexuality has moved from the social studies department to the biology classroom. A study published this week showed that gay men and straight women's brains are symmetrical, while straight men and lesbians' brains are asymmetrical. Also, gay men and straight women's amygdalas (the part ruling aggression and fear) have similar connective patterns.

So what does this mean? According to the lead researcher, Ivanka Savic, it's "robust" proof that there are biological differences between gays and heterosexuals. But even Savic admits that the study can't tell whether these differences are genetic or the result of the fetus getting too much or too little testosterone while developing in the womb.

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Truth is, we still don't know what (if anything) actually causes gayness. And even if there is a genetic "switch" that makes a kid gay or straight, for females, it doesn't really seem to matter. Women, as we've reported earlier, have a habit of sliding through a few sexual orientations throughout their lifetimes. One study tracked 79 women who described themselves as "non-heterosexual." After 10 years, 30% of the subjects were lesbian, 29% were bisexual, 22% wouldn't label themselves and 7% were straight. And even those that identified as lesbian occasionally slept with men.

Some right-wingers are supporting the scientific pursuit of a gay gene in hopes that it could be fixed before birth. Aside from the questionable ethical implications about such a pre-birth intervention, to me the search seems moot. Even if there is a "gay" gene, I doubt that having it would mean that one would be definitely, 100% gay. Some people have the gene for Type 2 diabetes but because of environmental factors will never develop the condition. A gay gene could work in similarly, and inevitably, some people will be gay despite lacking the gene. And while we're looking for genes, what about the bisexual gene or the transgender gene?

Science may answer some questions, but it's not going to tell us exactly why some people are gay. And it's definitely not going to tell us whether they should be able to get married.

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