Are we born straight or gay?

A few years ago I was giving a seminar on issues around sexuality at New Wine summer conference. During the questions at the end of the seminar, someone near the back asked ‘Are people born gay?’ I was aware that this can be a loaded question, so I offered a very careful answer, highlighting what I knew of research but also pointing out that the answer to that question (in either direction) did not offer an immediate answer to questions of sexual ethics, and that for many people (on all sorts of issues) the question of ‘Am I born this way?’ is personal, loaded and sensitive. I thought I had done a reasonable job—until the end of the seminar when I woman pushed through the group waiting to talk to me and started shouting, waving her hands. ‘I brought a group of gay teenagers here from my church—and you have told them God hates them!’ I hadn’t done that at all—in fact, quite the opposite—but it confirmed to me that the question of causation is one that is felt strongly and personally within this debate.

So, at one level, it was not that surprising that there was quite a bit of coverage of a piece of research published in August 2019 in Science which showed that there was no single gene that determined sexual orientation, and that cultural, developmental and environmental factors were more significant. You can read the paper for yourself, and this is the abstract that comes with it:

Twin and family studies have shown that same-sex sexual behavior is partly genetically influenced, but previous searches for specific genes involved have been underpowered. We performed a genome-wide association study (GWAS) on 477,522 individuals, revealing five loci significantly associated with same-sex sexual behavior. In aggregate, all tested genetic variants accounted for 8 to 25% of variation in same-sex sexual behavior, only partially overlapped between males and females, and do not allow meaningful prediction of an individual’s sexual behavior. Comparing these GWAS results with those for the proportion of same-sex to total number of sexual partners among nonheterosexuals suggests that there is no single continuum from opposite-sex to same-sex sexual behavior. Overall, our findings provide insights into the genetics underlying same-sex sexual behavior and underscore the complexity of sexuality.

The authors were aware that this subjected is contested, and that it is open to misuse by lobby groups in one direction or another, so they went to the trouble of producing a website, which included a helpful video.

(They had time to prepare this, since they first presented their research at a conference in October 2018.)

But there is one thing that is surprising in all this: that it is news at all. People on every side of this debate have been saying this for a long time! The fact that it is little known, and that this research could take anyone by surprise, tells us something about the nature of the debate.

My first serious reading on this issue was Thomas Schmidt’s Straight and Narrow: compassion and clarity in the homosexuality debate. It was first published in 1995, which is a long time ago in the history of the debate, but remains a good read (and I think a new edition might be on its way). In his chapter on the ‘Great Nature-Nurture Debate’, Schmidt offers a ‘multi-causal model’ in which he notes that a number of different factors contribute to the formation of our sexual identity. Not only genetics, but also (for men) birth order makes a difference. Younger male siblings are exposed to higher levels of in-utero testosterone (which affects the length of their ring finger) and makes it more likely that a younger son will not form a good relationship with his father, which will then have an impact on his psycho-sexual development.

Subsequent research on the phenomenon of same-sex relationships has confirmed this. A study in New Zealand in 2003 explored the stability of different kinds of sexual identity amongst young women and men.

There is a continuing debate about the importance of social versus biological factors in the expression of same-sex attraction. Investigation of prevalence, continuities, and changes over time among young adults growing up in a country with a relatively accepting climate to homosexuality is likely to illuminate this debate. Analyses were therefore undertaken of self-reported same-sex attraction at age 21 and 26, in a cohort of about 1000 people born in 1972/3 in one New Zealand city. Participants were also asked about same-sex behaviour and attitudes to same-sex relationships. By age 26, 10.7% of men and 24.5% of women reported being attracted to their own sex at some time. This dropped to 5.6% of men and 16.4% of women who reported some current same-sex attraction. Current attraction predominantly to their own sex or equally to both sexes (major attraction) was reported by 1.6% of men and 2.1% of women. Occasional same-sex attraction, but not major attraction, was more common among the most educated. Between age 21 and 26, slightly more men moved away from an exclusive heterosexual attraction (1.9% of all men) than moved towards it (1.0%), while for women, many more moved away (9.5%) than towards (1.3%) exclusive heterosexual attraction. These findings show that much same-sex attraction is not exclusive and is unstable in early adulthood, especially among women. The proportion of women reporting some same-sex attraction in New Zealand is high compared both to men, and to women in the UK and US. These observations, along with the variation with education, are consistent with a large role for the social environment in the acknowledgement of same-sex attraction. The smaller group with major same-sex attraction, which changed less over time, and did not differ by education, is consistent with a basic biological dimension to sexual attraction. Overall these findings argue against any single explanation for homosexual attraction.

Notice that this research is based on self-reported descriptions of orientation (rather than actual behaviours) and is inferring from the instability of identification something about causation. Put pictorially, the data on young women looks like this:

Research in Denmark in 2006 looked at the correlation between a range of factors, including age difference between parents, absence of the father, and being raised in an urban rather than rural environment with same-sex and other-sex marriage. The research aimed to avoid ideological factors by choosing a country where same-sex marriage had been accepted for a long time (thus removing any distortions arising from social stigma) and looked at biographical facts (marriage) rather than asking about self identification.

Children who experience parental divorce are less likely to marry heterosexually than those growing up in intact families; however, little is known about other childhood factors affecting marital choices. We studied childhood correlates of first marriages (heterosexual since 1970, homosexual since 1989) in a national cohort of 2 million 18–49 year-old Danes. In multivariate analyses, persons born in the capital area were significantly less likely to marry heterosexually, but more likely to marry homosexually, than their rural-born peers. Heterosexual marriage was significantly linked to having young parents, small age differences between parents, stable parental relationships, large sibships, and late birth order. For men, homosexual marriage was associated with having older mothers, divorced parents, absent fathers, and being the youngest child. For women, maternal death during adolescence and being the only or youngest child or the only girl in the family increased the likelihood of homosexual marriage. Our study provides population-based, prospective evidence that childhood family experiences are important determinants of heterosexual and homosexual marriage decisions in adulthood.

Given this evidence, it is perhaps not surprising that gay campaigners outside the church have been very happy to accept the conclusions. Lisa Diamond is a researcher who also campaigns for gay rights, and she is quite clear that the notion that gay people ‘are born that way’ is not supported by the evidence, nor does it provide the basis for advocacy. You can watch her present her research in 2013 here:

At the end of the piece, she talks about the way that her research has been used to campaign against gay rights, which she disagrees with. But she also comments:

We can make claims for civil rights protection that don’t rely on the immutability and distinctiveness and uniqueness of these [gay, queer, bi-] groups…I feel like, as a community, the queers have got to stop saying ‘Please help us. We were born this way and we can’t change’. (43 minutes)

Diamond’s own long research article (written with others) confirms the relatively small contribution made by genetic factors.

In conclusion, the evidence [from twin studies] supporting a genetic influence on sexual orientation is consistent, although sampling biases remain a concern even for the best available studies. Our best estimate of the magnitude of genetic effects is moderate—certainly not overwhelming…

Based on the evidence from twin studies, we believe that we can already provide a qualified answer to the question “Is sexual orientation genetic?” That answer is: “Probably somewhat genetic, but not mostly so.” On the one hand, that answer is not surprising, given the evo- lutionary pressure against genes that diminish repro- duction, as genes for homosexuality likely do, especially in males (Vasey, Parker, & VanderLaan, 2014). On the other hand, we expect many people will find the con- clusion surprising, mainly because they have miscon- strued the meanings of “genetic” and “environmental.” There can be little doubt that sexual orientation is environmentally influenced. (p 76)

Within the UK, gay campaigners have long acknowledged this. In 2008, Peter Tatchell set out a multi-causal explanation of the formation of orientation along similar lines to Schmidt, though under the controversial title ‘Homosexuality: it isn’t natural‘:

There is a major problem with gay gene theory, and with all theories that posit the biological programming of sexual orientation. If heterosexuality and homosexuality are, indeed, genetically predetermined (and therefore mutually exclusive and unchangeable), how do we explain bisexuality or people who, suddenly in mid-life, switch from heterosexuality to homosexuality (or vice versa)? We can’t.

The reality is that queer and straight desires are far more ambiguous, blurred and overlapping than any theory of genetic causality can allow…

Many studies suggest social factors are also important influences in the formation of sexual orientation. These include the relationship between a child and its parents, formative childhood experiences, family expectations, cultural mores and peer pressure.

By about the age of five or six, a combination of biological and social influences seem to lay the basis of an individual’s sexual orientation. Because our sexuality is fixed at such an early age, many lesbians and gay men feel they have been homosexual all their lives and therefore mistakenly conclude that it must be genetic and that they were born queer.

Tatchell also explains the appeal of ‘born gay’ or ‘gay gene’ theories within the cultural debate:

They also see the gay gene explanation as a useful defence against the arguments of the religious right, which dismisses same-sex relationships as a lifestyle choice. But no one sits down one day and chooses to be gay (or straight). Sexual orientation is not a choice like choosing which biscuits to buy in a supermarket. We don’t have free will concerning the determination of our sexual orientation. Our only free will is whether we accept or repress our true inner sexual and emotional desires.

More recently, in January 2019, Matthew Parris noted the same thing—with the same dangers:

In what passes for the gay ‘community’, there’s something of a taboo about admitting, even to ourselves, that quite a few of us (not me) could, with a little coaxing and self-discipline, be ‘straight’. Straight men are equally reluctant to admit the converse. There exist strong reasons for this taboo among gays: first, ‘we can’t help it’ was absolutely central to our early pitch for equality, and we needed to believe it. Secondly, if sexuality really is modifiable for some, how long before someone suggests cognitive behavioural therapy minus (or even plus) the Hallelujahs?

This consistent, well-founded, and widely agreed understanding will need to inform the Church of England’s current debates on sexuality.

It is no surprise that it continues to be controversial; if parenting plays a role in sexual development, am I as a parent ‘to blame’ for the way my children have turned out? That is the painful question that all parents face on a whole range of issues.

And when thinking about my own sexuality and decisions, believing that something is genetic and that ‘God made me this way’ is more comforting that facing the complex reality of environment, nurture, culture and decisions that have shaped the way I am.

But above all, as Schmidt set out nearly 25 years ago, we need both compassion and clarity in our thinking and discussion on this issue.

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60 thoughts on “Are we born straight or gay?”

  1. I read Schmidt a long while back (can’t remember where my copy is now) but I seem to recall him saying that the gay lobby is making their case essentially on the issue of rights rather than any innate sexuality. In that sense it is no different to abortion rights or any other rights based pressure group. Reasoned scientific evidence for or against is really rather secondary and is not likely to persuade.

    • It is worth remembering that he was writing from the situation in the US and observing arguments outside the church.

      Rights arguments in the UK didn’t achieve very much—after all, people don’t have the ‘right’ to do immoral things. What gave the breakthrough, at every level, is identity.

      So, if I am ‘born gay’ and my being gay is comparable to being black, then how can you possibly discriminate against me?

      Again, no-one anticipated the move to same-sex ‘marriage’; it wasn’t, as far as I can see, a concern or interest for those campaigning for gay rights. But it is granted on the basis of gay identity, not rights, and it has then created a breakthrough in terms of the status and arguments about sexuality.

      In the Church, ‘identity’ is the only argument with real weight. The idea that Christian theology might grant our ‘rights’ does not make for a strong case.

  2. I think I meant more or less what you are saying. A ‘right’ follows on naturally from an ‘identity’ . If you think that your identity has some kind of validity then you demand the right to express it. When any sense of self-evidence is lost then anything is possible hence the latest move towards identifying as ‘them’ rather than ‘he’ or she’ . Not sure that Schmidt ever anticipated how extreme it would get. His book is a very good analysis of the issues though .

  3. The original paper claiming the discovery of a “gay” gene was a disgracefully flawed piece of research by biased scientists. It’s damaged the debate for a long time. interesting to see more recent studies have shown a more complex picture. In most medical conditions we find there are genes that provide a propensity to develop an illness, but infection or environmental factors that are needed for its expression. This seems to be the nature of the human condition. As with most science there is rarely a binary choice. As you have noted a “pure” genetic cause for homosexuality would be a suicide gene that would be unlikely to continue in significant numbers. ( note to pedants reading this – I drew an analogy with medical illness, I did not say homosexuality was an illness)

  4. Good, careful article.

    There are always trumpets for a new study. Two odd things though. (1) The trumpets are sounded even when the new study says exactly the same as the earlier ones. (2) The earlier ones are never mentioned. One has to wonder about the honesty of both (1) and (2).

    In the case of this study the trumpets are merited since analysis is more detailed than before.

    Look at the equality act. It is lumping together things that are basically 100% demonstrable with something that is 0% demonstrable. The things that are 69% or 38% demonstrable have been bypassed by a rank outsider who had no right even to be in the race. Think about it. Even someone who makes a minuscule-scale and comprehensive genetic analysis cannot say at the end whether the person they have analysed self-identifies as gay or straight. Because such ways of being, such claimed essences, are not objectively real. If even that person cannot make such a call, how can the midwife or any of the rest of us? They can say ‘It’s a boy, he’s Chinese, he’s 18 inches and 9 pounds’.

    So the shocking degree of favouritism towards the self-identifying LGB allows them to ‘get in’ with 0% when the passmark for all others is 100%. Those with 69% or 38% are pushed out. That is privilege. Just like the aristocrats used to be able to captain India even when they could hardly play the game and their average was in single figures. Because of privilege. They are not like the rest of us.

    The reason for this illogic is not hard to find – people are desperate to find a way of indulging without being made to feel guilty(the sex drive is strong), and ‘born this way’ (rejected by the leading researchers such as Lisa Diamond) is the obvious means to this end.

    We are probably all tired of the recitation of the relevant discrepancies.
    Environment: Laumann (the largest and most multi-angle study known to me) found 708% & 900% discrepancy between homosexuals and heterosexuals on urban/rural (for men) and college/non-college (for women). Born this way would predict 0%. Therefore born this way is a very wrong theory indeed.

    Molestation: Laumann and the other main studies seem to average out at about a 500% increase in molestation-when-young among homosexuals. Born this way would predict 0%.

    Lesbian parenting: ASR’01 (Stacey and Biblarz) found a 400+% discrepancy between lesbian-parented and non-lesbian-parented girls in identification as lesbian. BTW would predict 0%. How inaccurate can the BTW ‘theory’ (actually not a theory but held to by people who have not done the thinking or research) be?

    Identical twins: BTW would predict that 0% ‘gay’ identical twins would fail to have a ‘gay’ twin. It is 89%.

    Fluidity: has been covered in the article above.

    One important aspect of fluidity, confirmed by the recent study, is that ‘orientation’ is just the wrong way of looking at things. But that means that the very language of gay, homosexual is highly questionable as a description of the reality. The idea was to put it centre stage and unquestionable, but that tactic has been seen through. Homosexual people, certainly when younger, have clearly more heterosexual sexual partners than the average. And fall pregnant well more than the average.

    And so it goes on.

    I applaud the emphasis on birth order (3rd and 4th sons will grow up in a more averagely male environment too, which may affect the nature of their first and formative experiences). The genetics / environment dichotomy is a false one. There is intrauterine experience. There is early childhood experience, which strongly affects one’s sense of essence, of who one really is. There are watershed/formative experiences so striking as to constitute discontinuity with what went before. There are even formative experiences that happen to take place at formative ages. There is an age, say 20-25, when it becomes unlikely that one’s sense of essence will change a lot subsequently, having previously been more fluid.

    Importance of early family experiences: Yes! Obviously the nature of these in an unhealthy sexual-revolution culture (which is e.g. high-divorce, something that was found to be a top correlate) will be markedly different from their nature in non-sexual-revolution cultures. No wonder homosexuality (in the sense of people acting at variance with their bodies) apparently increased, because children’s entire healthy formation cycle was messed with by the sexual revolution and the havoc it caused in families. No wonder people get the sense of ‘this is who I am’. Yes – because your family has been that way (messed up by the sexual revolution) for as long as you remember, and even earlier. Healthy, happy development has been tampered with.

  5. “Again, no-one anticipated the move to same-sex ‘marriage’; it wasn’t, as far as I can see, a concern or interest for those campaigning for gay rights.”
    – Actually, the very bright and prescient US Associate Justice Antonin Scalia predicted in a dissenting comment to Lawrence vs. Texas that the SCOTUS ruling would lead to same-sex marriage. I think that was in 2003.

      • Antonin Scalia, you may know, was a strict constructionist as far as the US Constitution went, meaning that the text of the Constitution means what it meant to those who wrote it, and whatever is not commanded (or forbidden) by the Constitution is not commanded (or forbidden) for the United States. Since the Constitution is silent on abortion, he refused to find unconstitutional any laws the States chose to make on these. Similarly with laws on sodomy. So he always argued the Roe v. Wade was decided wrongly, and when the USSC threw out anti-sodomy laws (Lawrence), his riposte was that the Constitution said nothing on the matter and by discovering a so-called “right” to sodomy, the USSC had opened the door to making same-sex marriage inevitable by following exactly the same reasoning.
        (The Supreme Court of the UK opened up a comparable can of worms recently by arguing without reference to actual stature law or convention.)

        • No, it didn’t: it based its ruling on long-settled principles of English common law, both constitutional (extent of the royal prerogative has been reviewable for centuries; and the Law Lords opened it to merits-based review in the ’80s) and administrative (the reasonableness test was cooked up in the ’40s). It hasn’t come close to striking down Acts of the Westminster Parliament: just the opposite, it’s expanded the scope of parliamentary supremacy.

          • I said statute law and convention. The supreme court didn’t refer to either. I refer you to the critique by professor John Finnis of Oxford who eviscerated the judgment.

          • It rested on “convention” throughout, namely, the precedents I listed. I’ve read the piece you’re presumably referring to, and note that Finnis doesn’t delve into the sweeping implications of the Law Lords’ 1985 ruling that courts can subject the royal prerogative to judicial review. But regardless, he doesn’t claim that the court doesn’t refer to convention: just the opposite, he argues that they’ve misapplied both it and statute law. Personally, I’d put more weight in a unanimous bench than a retired academic.

          • Professor Richard Ekins, Professor of Laws at Oxford University in Prospect online journal, supports and amplifies John Finnis’s attack on the Supreme Court ruling, saying it was a creation of new law and interference in politics where a court should not go. In short, political questions have political solutions in the British constitution and this was a wrong move unfounded in law. The best minds in British constitutional law are united against this ruling.

  6. For a bear of a small brain, for clarity, the consensus of several scientific studies now conclude that whilst sex is genetic, sexuality is clearly not. Is that the sum of this?

    • Yes. But some of the detail is worth attending to, even for bears.

      The two things that have struck me most is in the 2006 Danish study, the correlation not only with absent father or large age gap between parents, but whether or not one was raised in a city. It shows that some aspect of early culture and experience contributes to the formation of our sexuality.

      The second is the huge instability in same-sex attraction in women in their 20s from the NZ study. 88% of other-sex attracted women felt the same five years later—but only 38% of same-sex attracted women felt the same five years later. That has massive implications for stability of relationships.

      • Thanks Ian – yes, I was struck by that NZ study – massive implications as you say

        How do you interpret the Danish findings?

      • The NZ stats are from the Dunedin Health Study, the largest and longest longitudinal health study in the world, attempting to track 1000 individuals born in 1972 throughout their lifetimes. I had a nutritionist friend who was once of the early researchers in this massive study, tracking the weight and eating habits of children.
        One of the significant indications of the study is that habitual use of marijuana for many years seems to have a high correlation with the incidence of psychosis among those in their 30s and older. The first evidence of this began to appear about 10 years ago from NZ psychiatric health records. I am always reminded of this when we hear so much pro-pot propaganda today, with advocates arguing that marijuana use is no worse than alcohol for mental health. The Dunedin Study suggests otherwise.

      • I don’t think you have drawn the correct conclusion. Human behavior is not binary: yes or no, genetic or environment. The studies have confirmed a clear genetic component but not an absolute genetic determination. That does not mean that your readers can state with scientific support that sexual orientation is a matter of choice. Twin studies have shown that there is a much higher likely hood of twins sharing the same sexual orientation even when raised in different social environments.* This does not mean that sexual orientation is determined by genes either. The evidence points to a complex and changing interrelationship between biology and sociology, which is what the video described. Some people feel an unchangeable lifelong attraction to one sex over another, some people have no preference and some people are surprised by a change of attraction in a specific situation, this does not mean that everyone can move freely between orientations. None of this contradicts what we understand from sociology or genetics (this language does not fully describe the variety of what we need to think about). Whatever our meta narrative, we must listen carefully to our neighbor’s narrative of their human experience. This is especially the case if their story contradicts our meta narrative. Some people desperately want to change what they feel is an endogenous drive but fail to do so, despite strong social pressure to change. This leads to great distress. Showing them the video won’t help, it just adds to the distress.

        *‘recent, complex statistical procedure on large Australian twin samples has shown that the distinction between hetero-sexuality and homosexuality is not arbitrary, but that latent taxa underlie these preferences’ (Gangestad, Bailey and Hastin 2000).

        • ‘Some people feel an unchangeable lifelong attraction to one sex over another, some people have no preference and some people are surprised by a change of attraction in a specific situation, this does not mean that everyone can move freely between orientations.’ I don’t think I would disagree with any of that. Same sex attraction is quite a different phenomenon in men and women, being more deep-rooted and less changeable than in women.

  7. We await ‘Living in Love and Faith’ to see whether the report takes seriously the view that same-sex inclination, like all other sinful inclinations, is a result of the Fall of Man.
    Phil Almond

      • Penelope – you dont believe in the fall do you?

        If indeed, SS attraction isnt biological/genetic, and is influenced by various nurture/societal factors, then presumably the environment, post fall, must be seen as a factor?

          • I do. All sexuality is fallen. Homosexuality isn’t “especially” fallen whatever it’s aetiology.

            But you think that one-night stands can be morally good, so I don’t think your views in this area can be seen as reliable.

    • I think the C of E has been clear for quite a long time that same-sex *inclination* isn’t even sinful, let alone a result of the Fall.

        • Issues, Some Issues, Lambeth 1.10, Pastoral Statements etc all make a distinction between orientation (*which is what I assume you mean by inclination) and practice.

          • Andrew
            Are you therefore agreeing that same-sex practice is sinful? Do you agree that Article 9 is true when it says that because of the Fall we are all ‘of (our) his own nature inclined to evil’ and ‘the Apostle doth confess, that concupiscence and lust hath of itself the nature of sin’? Can you show where the CofE has clearly stated that same-sex practice is not sinful?

            Phil Almond

          • Phil: I do not agree that all same sex practice is of necessity sinful.
            I agree that we are all inclined to evil.
            The C of E is pretty vague about sex and sin but this is as close as it gets to clarity:
            15. In Issues in Human Sexuality the House affirmed that, while the same standards of conduct applied to all, the Church of England should not exclude from its fellowship those lay peope of gay or lesbian orientation who, in conscience, were unable to accept that a life of sexual abstinence was required of them and who, instead, chose to enter into a faithful, committed sexually active relationship.

            16. Consistent with that, we said in our 2005 pastoral statement that lay people who had registered civil partnerships ought not to be asked to give assurances about the nature of their relationship before being admitted to baptism, confirmation and holy communion, or being welcomed into the life of the local worshipping community more generally.

            Presumably if the C of E thought same-sex practice was invariably sinful it *would* exclude those who practiced it from the sacraments and the fellowship of the church. And it has at least been very clear that it does not. So I assume that means it is not condemning it as sinful.

          • Andrew,
            The Church of England does not exclude sinners. If it did, no-one could attend! The extent to which it should excludes ‘notorious livers’ from the Holy Communion (which is part of the BCP) is an interesting point. I wonder when that last happened. In all principal services there should be an act of penitance when forgiveness should be sought.

            However, it does require a different standard for its ministers – in particular those who hold a licence or equivalent. They are required to set an example of holy living. At the moment, the Church is clear that those in a same-sex marriage should not hold a licence. So, that is a negative view of same-sex activity.

            This is not confined to same-sex relationships. If someone comes forward for ordination who is married and he, she or her partner is divorced and the former spouse is still alive, then a ‘Canon C4 faculty’ must be sought before the candidate can be accepted in case the new marriage could cause a scandal (for instance, if the new relationship was the cause of the breakdown of the first marriage).

          • Andrew, David is quite right. It is only because it is sinful that this is prohibited to those who are ordained, who are expected to have reached a greater level of maturity in faith.

          • BUT it is clear that those in ordained ministry are permitted to have same sex civil partnerships and indeed so long as they are celibate bishops are permitted to have a same sex partnership. So it is clear (as I was answering Phil above) that it is not about inclination but practice.

            It is also worth noting that those in lay ministry, and holding a bishop’s licence, are permitted to be married in a same sex partnership. Presumably lay ministers are considered mature in the faith? Ordained ministers make up about 1% of active church membership. They are by no means the only mature Christians.

          • Andrew,
            It is my understanding that Readers/LLM (i.e. lay ministers who hold a bishop’s licence or PTO) are not permitted to be in a same-sex marriage. There was a case in the diocese of York, if I recall correctly, when a Reader had his PTO removed because he entered a same-sex marriage.

            Here in the Diocese of London, the lives of those coming forward for licensed lay ministry as well as those coming forward for ordination need to be conforming to ‘Issues in Human Sexuality.’ There was a recent case when someone was not accepted for training as an LLM because of this. It was not a same-sex relationship issue. However, unlike potential ordinands, remarriage following divorce is not an issue.

          • Andrew
            I am glad that we agree that ‘we are all inclined to evil’ assuming that you are agreeing with Article 9 when it says that because of the Fall we are all ‘of (our) his own nature inclined to evil’. But you did not comment on my point about concupiscence. Article 9, according to Canon A5, is part of the official doctrine of the Church of England.
            Phil Almond

          • Phil: Ian has confirmed on another thread that the C of E does not, in its majority view, affirm the inerrancy of scripture. It’s hardly going to affirm the inerrancy of the 39 articles, written as they were at a time of great religious and political turmoil with grave anti catholic passion. That much is very clear.

            David: clearly practice varies from diocese to diocese, but nowhere do I see a C of E statement that says same sex activity is universally sinful and Christians of the C of E must not under any circumstances do it. Instead we read that even the house of bishops have a variety of views about it and the much lauded Lambeth 1.10 says exactly the same – we are not of one mind.

  8. Important as genes, parenting & culture are, I suspect they are nothing like as important as Neuroplasticity. As young people learn (e.g. an instrument, sexual responses, computer skills), they lay down new neurological pathways, which are reinforced by repetition, so that the activity becomes ‘instinctive’ and subconscious. Once such pathways are laid down, they can only be re-routed by deliberate intention and perseverance. Adolescence, continuing into early 20s, is the most vulnerable time in personal development. It is now believed that we can lay down new pathways throughout life, but it gets much more difficult as you get older.

    • And what we are learning these days is that the adult brain – certainly the male brain – continues to develop later into the 20s than was previously thought. A hyper-sexualised culture that encourages sexual experimentation at an age when the sex drive is strongest could only serve to habituate young people into destructive behaviours. The point about Neuroplasticity is well taken, and I like to compare it to the kind of software we choose to run on a computer: after a while a computer will come to operate in a certain way because its program has been fully embedded. Nobody is “born” homosexual anymore than anyone is born with a predisposition to speak Chinese. But certain life circumstances will make it likely that a certain individual grows up speaking Chinese. A child of African or Indian or white European parentage will speak fluent Chinese – if he or she is brought up in Beijing. Sexual affections are not genetic in the way one’s skin colour or type of hair is.
      Everything I have read over many years has indicated that the development of same-sex attraction is multi-factorial and overwhelmingly environmental in character. There is no *single* cause – but then there *never* is in anything relating to the psychological development of persons. Neil Whitehead’s book to which I included a link elsewhere discusses a whole range of factors, which do include a poor relation with one’s father, sexual abuse, poor body image, and the sense of being emotionally distant from one’s same-sex peers.
      Anybody who does historical and cross-cultural studies knows that the actual incidence of homosexuality in a particular place and time is driven by social and cultural factors. This was obvious in ancient Greece, in Sparta as well as Athens, which contrasted so markedly with the Jewish world.

  9. Thanks Paul. As you point out both sides have known this for years. It has barely made a dent on public discourse though. Here is a current BBC news article published a few weeks after the BBC itself covered the recent research.

    “I’m more convinced than ever that the reason I’m gay is not because I was bullied – and it’s not because I chose to be gay. It’s because I was born gay, and no-one needs to explain it or ask why.”

    The journalist writing the article (and quoted above) is a LGBT correspondent for the BBC

  10. Your anecdote of the woman at New Wine is, in my experience, typical of the hysteria that makes sensible, grown up discussion about homosexuality so elusive.

    • My experience was different. I tried to alert people to statistical indications of danger. For this purpose I was passionate. A woman came up to me at the end and said ‘You obviously feel very strongly about this. Is that because you yourself are gay? I do hope so, because I have never met a gay person and am very much trying to.’ ‘I’m dreadfully sorry, but actually I’m not.’ A cautionary tale that people remember your emotion better than any of your content.

  11. A correction to the article: there is no evidence of which I am aware that has linked the fraternal birth order effect (the more older biological brothers a man has, the more likely he is to be gay) with father-son relationships.

    The idea that poor father-son relationships is a cause of homosexuality is a myth that needs to die.

    The birth order effect is far more likely to be biological, and resulting from different exposure in-utero to chemicals, antibodies and hormones.

    See, for example, Bogaert, Anthony F et al. “Male homosexuality and maternal immune responsivity to the Y-linked protein NLGN4Y.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America vol. 115,2 (2018): 302-306. doi:10.1073/pnas.1705895114.

    • Thanks for the comment Jonathan. I am not sure why it needs to be either/or; greater exposure to in-utero testosterone makes younger sons more masculinised, and this could easily contribute to poor father-son relationships.

      The 2006 Danish study does indicate that the quality of father-son relationship appears to be important. I am away from my study, but will check on Schmidt’s early argument when I am home.

      But I would add that there is a prima facie reason why this cannot be discounted. The basis of our psycho-sexual understanding is the prior identification of ourselves as male or female. In boys this must involve a detachment from identification with mother, and an attachment of identification with father. I think this is quite widely understood to be a key issue in the psychological development of men, and account for a range of different mental health outlooks and outcomes. It would be odd is it was not also closely related to sexuality, not least because feminine socialisation and strong bonds with mothers are common phenomena amongst gay men.

      • Ian, there is no evidence that poor father-son relationships exist. In contrast, a number of studies have looked for (and NOT found) any social causal factors of the birth order phenomenon.

        The Danish study says nothing about the quality of father-son relationships.

        Your comments on psycho-sexual development sound as if they are based on Freud. Let us just say that his work was not peer reviewed, and are generally not considered as scientific.

        Your comment that ‘feminine socialisation and strong bonds with mothers are common phenomena amongst gay men’ again fails the basic scientific test of actual evidence rather than anecdote and stereotype.

        Why does this matter? Because you blame the parents. The parents may have a role in how any sexuality is ultimately expressed (or suppressed), but there’s remarkably little evidence for any other parental effect.

        • Amazing. Nearly every statement you make in this comment is either wrong or beside the point, as well as a sweeping generalisation devoid of evidence. Why aren’t you in politics? Or maybe you are.

          • Brian, you took the words …. So much of the liberal discourse consists of broad simplistic generalisations to vilify and demonise “heretics” – and deflect people from inconvenient facts.

          • Statement 1 about lack of social factors in fraternal birth order effect: see Bogaert AF (2006) Biological versus nonbiological older brothers and men’s sexual orientation. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 103:10771–10774. See also Bogaert’s comment in the paper I cited: ‘FBO [fraternal birth order effect] is independent of potential confounds, such as maternal age, and likely operates during prenatal life and not childhood.’

            Statement 2: find me anything the Danish study says about the quality of father-son relationships as a factor for orientation. Prove me wrong.

            Statement 3: this does sound like Freud to me. I am very happy for Ian to point me to the scientific studies he had in mind if I am wrong.

            Statement 4: Show me the scientific evidence.

            Statement 5: see the end of Ian’s article for his comment about parents and parenting.

        • “Ian, there is no evidence that poor father-son relationships exist.”
          What planet are you on? They are EVERYWHERE. Rattling out the mantra of “science” doesn’t intimidate me because I know how imprecise and slippery social science is, based on subjects reporting their own perceptions according to a set of questions some researcher uses. ‘Social science’ isn’t comparable to laboratory chemistry or physics where the goal is repeatable experiments. Human beings are subjective, conscious, imprecise, changing and can never be pinned down. They are not chemical experiments.
          “Your comment that ‘feminine socialisation and strong bonds with mothers are common phenomena amongst gay men’ again fails the basic scientific test of actual evidence rather than anecdote and stereotype.”
          You mean he hasn’t cited some American university study or some such. Do I have to cite a university paper before saying ‘rocks fall to the ground when you drop them’? Same-sex attraction is multi-causational and anything we say about it is a generalisation to which one can always think of an exception. But when I at least think of the boys I taught over many years in mixed schools who developed homosexual attractions, this descriptor was certainly true.
          “Why does this matter? Because you blame the parents. The parents may have a role in how any sexuality is ultimately expressed (or suppressed), but there’s remarkably little evidence for any other parental effect.”
          ‘Blame’ is a morally loaded term which we leave out here, because it implies some culpable failure. But it is beyond dispute that children develop their sexual feelings and understandings in the mystery of the interactions (or lack thereof) with their parents. How else could it be? And how does a boy learn to be a man in the absence of any significant father figure in his life?

          • I was clearly imprecise (though I thought my meaning was clear in context). I mean that there is no evidence that poor father-son relationships exist as a cause of homosexuality.

            Here is a quotation from the leading peer-reviewed scientific review of the causes of sexual orientation on whether poor father-son relationships are significant causally (having already noted that those putting forward this theory did so without scientific evidence, and that the study that has been done (Bell et al, 1981) did not find this:

            “The hypothesis that pathological parent-child relation- ships cause homosexuality has generated little scientific research, and almost no recent research. We believe that this is primarily because the hypothesis has little scientific promise.”
            (Bailey et al, 2016, 84).

            I use “blame” because that is strongly implied in Ian’s writing.

            You say “it is beyond dispute that children develop their sexual feelings and understandings in the mystery of the interactions (or lack thereof) with their parents”.

            This is, when it comes to sexual orientation of males, simply wrong. Again, from the summary section of Bailey et al (2016,87):

            “We would be surprised if differences in social environment contributed to differences in male sexual orientation at all.”

            Beyond that you are resorting to prejudice, stereotype and anecdote over evidence; ironic, given that you have accused me of simplistic generalisations.

          • I mean that there is no evidence that poor father-son relationships exist as a cause of homosexuality

            To be fair that’s a very unusual use of the word ‘exist’ (I too was confused by your original). Existence is generally a property that something possesses, or does not possess, in itself, rather than in relation to other things. If you have any counter-examples in common usage I would be interested to hear them as I can’t think of any.

            For instance you wouldn’t say that Sydney ‘doesn’t exist as the capital of Australia’. Although technically accurate, it would be a very odd way of phrasing it, and ‘poor father-son relationships don’t exist as a cause of homosexuality’ is oddly-phrased in exactly the same way.

            So more usually your original idea would be expressed as ‘there is no evidence that poor father-son relatinships are a cause of homosexuality’.

          • Or, alternatively, ‘there is no evidence of the existance of a link between poor father-son relationships and homosexuality’ might be the most common and clearest way of putting it.

    • It seems to me that:

      (1) Hormonal levels in utero will not continue the same as more and more sons are born;

      (2) Average maleness of a given nuclear family will always alter with the birth of every new son;

      (3) Hormonal levels and birth order are neither of them factors intrinsically or a priori unrelated to father-son relationship – that is for the studies to decide.

  12. What can I add to what’s already been said? Just a few things perhaps.
    (1) No-one’s born ‘gay’ and no-one’s born ‘straight’ because no-one is born with any sexual desires, thoughts or feelings whatsoever. Commonsense will often tell us what it takes years of research for the great god Science to finally stammer.
    (2) No-one is ‘gay’ in that they are in their essence different from others. A person may have different feelings to others, granted, but not BE different. We are all either male and female made in God’s image – and we are all fallen. We all feel a multitude of different things throughout our lives, but we have to learn not be captured by our feelings and let them dictate our behaviour – easier said than done, granted, but necessary to overcome our natural self-centredness. If every time I felt irritated by someone I gave them a good verbal blast of what I felt..well, I’d be very,very difficult to live with (my wife says I’m very difficult, not very, very difficult!).
    (3) Language can lead us unintentionally into difficulties (I only know English – it may be easier in other languages). When we say ‘burglars’ we mean someone who burgles, ‘smoker’ someone who smokes, and so on. If we say ‘he is a burglar’, we don’t mean that he is ontologically different from non-burglars, as in men, women and burglars. They are not a separate sub-division of the human race. And so with ‘homosexuals’. Unfortunately, English allows us to say, perfectly grammatically, ‘he is homosexual’, when what we really mean is ‘he is a homosexual’ (ie someone who engages in same-sex erotic behaviour). Behaviour is the issue, not feelings or essence, because behaviour is subject to God’s moral law.
    (4) Verbal engineering always precedes (or accompanies) social engineering: hence ‘gay’ which is really nothing more than a badge of identity, but which propagandists use to obfuscate things and to make us believe we are talking about a person’s essence. If you use the term ‘gay’ you are conceding a lot of ground to the activists.

    I’ll finish with this insight from Mark Steyn:

    “In the old says, there was ‘sodomy’, an act. In the late 19th century, the word ‘homosexuality’ was coined: a condition. A generation ago, the accepted term became ‘gay’: an identity. Each formulation raises the stakes…one can object to and even criminalise an act; one is obligated to be sympathetic toward a condition; but once it’s a fully-fledged 24/7 identity, like being Hispanic or Inuit, anything less than whole-hearted accceptance gets you marked as a bigot.”

    • Pretty much in agreement with this. Sexual feelings are not inscribed into neonates, they have to be learned. Some of our genetic inheritance may make some outcomes a bit more likely than others (just as being tall may make becoming a basketball player more likely) but it’s hardly destiny. Otherwise there would be complete concordance between identical twins and this is definitely not so. Further, anyone who does historical and cultural studies knows that the incidence of homosexual practice can rise and fall according to social pressures. In ancient Sparta, for example, it was part of the education of youth. In parts of pre-Christian New Guinea it was likewise encouraged for social reasons, until Christian missionaries fought against it. It was present also in court circles in Buganda in the 19th century and led to the first Christian martyrs there.
      By way of comparison, one has to ask why the rocketing levels of teenagers today reporting gender dysphoria. What has caused this? Surely the cultural climate in which these young people have been raised.
      However our sexual feelings develop, it is actual behaviour (including experiences of abuse or using pornography) that reinforces those feelings until people begin to equate ‘feelings’ with ‘identity’. Given my genetic endowment, I could never have become a high jumper or a sprinter. But any of us could have developed in any direction affectively given the “right” (or wrong) circumstances, over which we may have little control as adolescents.

  13. Seldom in this area of human behaviour is the role of the will mentioned. Of course we are subject to all manner of biological and environmental inputs but, unless we assent to the bleak narrative that human beings are essentially reactive machines, we cannot avoid accepting that there is always choice and that we can exert a surprising level of control over what we do if we so choose. And, as has been mentioned above, what has once been chosen can become progressively easy as a repeated choice until it becomes ingrained – either for good or ill.

    I should have thought that this area of the will is something fundamental to the understanding of living the Christian life; surely it should be a central theme in Christian discussion of something like sexuality and sexual activity? But perhaps it’s at odds with today’s fondness for victim narratives – ideas which seem to have spread far too easily into the Christian world.


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