Apparently it’s been raging for quite some time, but I just heard about it: the controversy of the homosexual sheep. A researcher named Charles Roselli, from the Oregon Health and Science University, has been working to discover why about 8% of rams appear to be gay (that is, to prefer the company of other rams and not to breed with ewes.) Both PETA and a wide variety of gay/lesbian groups started a firestorm of criticism, including floods of hate mail sent to Roselli. Why are they so upset? They imagine, against Roselli’s protests, that he might be attempting to discover the cause of homosexuality so that homosexual human beings could be diagnosed and, possibly, changed.
I don’t expect that such a thing could ever be done, and the whole idea of gay sheep seems fairly ludicrous to me, though I don’t pretend to have any sort of scientific background. Whether or not there are genetic factors in human homosexuality, there certainly are many psychological ones, and equivalents to these are not likely to be found in sheep. If you actually could draw convincing parallels between the sheep and homosexual people, I’d expect gays and lesbians to be thrilled with the discovery, since it would seem to show that their apparently unnatural sexual acts are, in fact, mirrored in nature. Again admitting my complete lack of scientific credentials, I’ve always found the idea that there could be “gay genes” somewhat implausible, if only because many or most homosexuals aren’t, in my experience, gay simpliciter. Homoeroticism was rampant in the Peace Corps when I served there, and only a small minority of the participants considered themselves exclusively dedicated to romancing their own sex. Many more described themselves as having preferences for one sex or the other, or said that they were merely attracted to beautiful people without taking much note of their sex. If you think that everything about a person’s character is hard-wired, I suppose you’ll have to think that sexual attractions are as well, but I’m expecting to see a pistachio-ice-cream-liking gene or a prediliction-for-kitch gene before I expect to see a credible case for the existence of gay genes.
But the thing that most bothers the angered homosexuals, evidently, is the possibility that parents some day might decide to diagnose and abort homosexual fetuses, if this were to become possible. Personally, this seems unlikely to me, because even if it were possible to identify homosexuals in utero, the people who are most willing to kill their babies tend also to be those who wouldn’t mind if their offspring turned out to be gay. But Fr. Neuhaus, whose mention of this case in the Public Square section of the most recent First Things was what originally sparked my curiosity, made another interesting point. The same publication that ran a story on this potential threat to the gay population (the New York Times of course) ran another story recently proposing that the testing of fetuses for Down syndrome should be considered obligatory for all. Though they didn’t actually explain the full reasoning behind this, it’s fairly obvious what they think should be done about the fetuses that test positive.
“I don’t have a developed moral position on gay sheep,” he writes, “but one cannot help but be struck by the reasoning. To abort a child who might have Down syndrome is a social duty, and the ability to detect the problem early is hailed as a medical advance. To abort a child because of a hare lip or because she is a girl may be distasteful to some but is a constitutionally guaranteed right. To abort a child because he or she might have a genetic predisposition to homosexuality, however, is an act of intolerable discrimination. If morality finally comes down to drawing a line, it would seem that the line with respect to the otherwise unlimited abortion license is homosexuality. As Orwell observed, all human beings are equal but some are more equal than others.”
Clara in Cornell Society for a Good time