Is Homosexuality a Choice?
GREGORY: Do you believe that being gay is a choice?
BUCK: I do.
GREGORY: Based on what?
BUCK: Based on what? I guess you can choose who your partner is.
GREGORY: You don’t think it’s something that’s determined at birth?
BUCK: I think that birth has an influence over it, like alcoholism and some other things, but I think that basically, you have a choice.
Not surprisingly, Buck has been subject to harsh criticism for his claim. Some folks are critical because he considered that sexual orientation might involve a factor other than choice. Others are critical because he compared being gay to alcoholism and alcoholism is considered a disease, something negative and also something that can (and should be) treated. While Buck might not have intended to do so, his remark does raise some interesting philosophical matters.
Interestingly enough, I do agree with Buck to a degree. As Buck does point out, it certainly seems reasonable to think that a person has choice in selecting his or her partner (or partners for folks who swing that way). That sort of behavior does seem to be a matter of choice. Buck also makes the point that he thinks that birth has an influence on sexual orientation. This is certainly compatible with a person choosing his/her partner. This would, obviously enough, also apply to straight people as well. So, while I was (presumably) born straight, my actual chosen behavior and choice of partners is still a matter of choice. For example, I might have a preference for tall women with black hair, but might chose a shorter woman with brown hair as a matter of choice. Likewise, a person might be inclined towards men, but elect to partner with a woman.
Of course, Buck was not pilloried for claiming that people are influenced by factors but still have a large degree of choice. He was attacked because of the comparison to alcoholism. This comparison is actually well worth considering.
I do not think that homosexuality is like alcoholism in regards to the negative aspects. I do not think that homosexuality is an impairing disease that should be cured. However, the comparison is worth considering in other ways.
The classic view of alcoholism and addiction was that people chose their behavior and that they had failed morally because of the poor choices. The current view that is in vogue, at least in the United States, is that addiction is not a matter of choice. In one sense this is right: a person cannot consciously chose to enter or leave a state of addiction like clicking a button. But what is most interesting is that a complex set of behavior (acquiring and using alcohol) is sometimes taken as not being a matter of choice on the part of the alcoholic.
This could, of course, be the case. After all, the notion of determinism (in its various forms) is well established in philosophy. If determinism is correct then alcoholism would not be a matter of choice. Nor would homosexuality. Nor would comparing homosexuals to alcoholics. This would be because nothing would be a matter of choice. In this case, saying that alcoholism or homosexuality is not a matter of choice would not be particularly interesting since nothing would be a matter of choice.
However, not all forms of determinism are total in their scope. That is, there are views in which certain things are (or could be) a matter of choice (whatever that might mean) and other things that are not. Perhaps alcoholism is one thing that is not a matter of choice. This might mean that alcoholics have no choice at all or it might merely mean that certain people are born with an inclination towards alcoholism that they did not select. This would, perhaps, leave the actualization of the potential alcoholism to choice. Perhaps sexual orientation is the same way: people are born with various inclinations that serve to map out their potential sexuality. Then their choices and the events of life serve to actualize those potentials, making people what they are based on who they do (to misuse Aristotle horribly).
While there is excellent evidence that we are at least influenced by “innate” factors (such as genetics), it also seems that we have a range of agency. Then again, perhaps we do not. In any case, the question of the extent of our agency (our capacity for choice) is a matter of great importance, be it in regards to alcoholism, sexual orientation, or anything else.
So, did you chose your sexual orientation? Your partner? How much you drink? How much you drink with your partner?
Subscribe to comments with RSS.