Sex and the facts

Among the many dangerous ideas still floating around out there is the Bush plan to amend the Constitution to ensure that gay people can’t get married. We’ve heard rather less about that idea since it served its purpose as a wedge issue to further polarize the nation during the last election, but the “Defense of Marriage” proposal to deny the right of marriage to gays through a national constitutional amendment is a high priority for some of the busybodies intent on minding other people’s business.

Here in California, Randy Thomasson, president of something called the Campaign for Children and Families, has filed papers to place a state constitutional amendment on the ballot that would ban same-sex marriages and limit the rights of domestic partners. He hopes to have the measure on the ballot for the election of June 2006. Failing that, he’ll attempt to get the initiative on the ballot in November of the next year.

Most of the people in support of such an amendment tend to believe that homosexuality is either a perversion or an indulgence, a choice gay people make, presumably, just to annoy them. But science has been turning up loads of evidence that homosexuality is not a matter of choice, or “lifestyle,” but a kind of hard wiring that directs the lives of the people wired in that way.

Of course, the people who would proscribe the rights of homosexuals are seldom interested in science. They would prefer not to hear scientific opinion on any issue on which they’ve already made up their minds. When it comes to matters like evolution or global warming, or homosexuality, they prefer highhanded moral judgments and selective reading of the Bible to make their case.

Still, if anyone cares to check out the science, a recent study by researchers in Sweden revealed the fact that heterosexual and homosexual men respond differently to two odors that seem to be bound up with sexual attraction and arousal. The researchers exposed heterosexual men, homosexual men and heterosexual women to compounds including a testosterone derivative and an estrogen-like steroid. Various neutral smells and compounds were used as control conditions. The gay males and the females demonstrated arousal in the hypothalamic regions in reaction to the testosterone compound. Straight males did not demonstrate the same arousal to the testosterone compound but were aroused by the estrogen compound. Gay men respond to those chemically based pheromones in the same way as women do, and that suggests an innate biological basis for sexual orientation. More simply, straight men responded to the odor of estrogen in women’s urine; gay men responded to the odor of testosterone in men’s sweat.

Dr. Ivanka Savic, the leader of the study, was careful to say that the study doesn’t prove whether or not sexual orientation is hard-wired in the brain, but then that’s the way with scientists; they’re cautious, unlike high-minded moral avatars bent on denying rights to others.