Texas has put gay reparative therapy back on the national stage. The state's wing of the GOP has adopted a platform supporting "conversion therapy" - which is supposed to "heal" homosexuals from their non-heterosexual lifestyle - while Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) has stated that being gay (like being an alcoholic) is a genetic predisposition that can be overcome.
Part of the controversy with this therapy comes down to whether or not people can change their sexual orientation. Are people born with an unalterable sexual orientation? Or is sexual orientation influenced by society and our environment? Or are there even conscious choices we can make to determine it?
This is a fair question, not just about sexual orientation, but every other orientation we have, too. Why do some people prefer sports over theater, or soccer over basketball, or chocolate over vanilla? Our lives chock full of all sorts of preferences - concerning food, entertainment, occupations, companionship - that are largely a mystery to us. One person likes purple over green, the other vice versa: why the difference? Is it in their chromosomes, their upbringing, or something else?
Another complication is that our preferences - our "orientations" - don't determine our behavior. We often have feelings (sexual and otherwise) that we ignore or act against. And we take this defiance of our preferences to be one of our praiseworthy traits, applauding people who show restraint, self-control, and discipline.
But there's an even bigger issue with gay reparative therapy that has nothing to do with the origin of our sexual orientation. Even if we did know "where" homosexuality comes from - or at least knew how to turn people away from it - why should anyone have to change their sexual orientation?
The answer to this question doesn't hinge on whether or not people are "born that way." Again, we have all sorts of preferences and behaviors, the origins of which are a mystery to us, but we don't have any problem judging whether they're good or bad. We may not know why some people prefer soccer over basketball or chocolate over vanilla. But we do know that they should be free to do as they please when it comes to these things, because it's not hurting anyone.
Likewise, we may not know why some people are bent toward violence to the point of committing murder. Is it genes, parenting, or a conscious choice? Even without an answer to that question, we know that the behavior is wrong, because it's intrinsically harmful.
And that's the central question that advocates of conversion therapy have to answer: why should anyone have to change their sexual orientation? Forget about where sexual orientation "comes from," what's harmful about being gay?
This is what opponents of homosexuality have so much trouble spelling out. The Texas GOP resorts the oft-used metaphor that being gay "tears at the fabric of society." But metaphors aren't proof. What actual damage are they referring to? What person is being harmed because someone else is gay? Concrete examples - not analogies - are what they need to provide, and they just don't do it.
Maybe Perry is right that homosexuality is like alcoholism in the sense that it's a behavior that can be changed. But alcoholism clearly hurts people and should be fixed.
Where's the evidence that being gay is a harmful behavior that needs to be corrected?
Alasdair Denvil graduated Virginia Commonwealth University with a B.A. in Philosophy, and attended NYU's graduate program. He has written for Facts on File and PolicyMic.