New scientific research into the factors which influence male sexual orientation could have profound consequences for generations to come.
Researchers at Northwestern University, Chicago, have recently published findings from a study of 400 sets of twins which reveal that homosexual men share a similar genetic make-up, different from that of heterosexual men. Dr Michael Bailey, who led the study at the Chicago institution, discovered that gay men shared genetic signatures on part of the X chromosome – Xq28. This follows the work of Dean Hamer in the 1990s, who identified an area of the X chromosome which seemed to influence male sexual orientation. Hamer’s study is one which is generally credited in the field, despite his vagueness in describing the influence that said ‘gay gene’ actually has.
Additionally, Canadian scientists found in 2013 that the number of male older siblings a man has increases the chances that he will be homosexual. Research at Brock University, Ontario, suggested that the immune response produced by a pregnant mother is increased after having each son, leading to increased odds of producing more feminine traits in the brain of the developing foetus. Each older brother raised the odds of a man being homosexual by one third.
These studies both find that homosexuality is far more heavily influenced by biological factors than previously thought, as opposed to environmental ones. The results of Bailey’s study show that genetic factors may account for 40 per cent of the chance of a man being homosexual. Although this percentage may not seem very high, it could still lead to a pre-natal genetic test which could indicate whether a foetus has a genetic disposition to homosexuality. This innovation may be a new an achievement for the world of science in the sophistication of genetic studies, but it bears profound ethical consequences for society in the future.
In a Western world which strives to ensure equality regardless of sexual orientation, the need for a genetic screening process which attempts to determine whether a foetus is likely to be homosexual or not evades me. In order for homosexuals to be properly accepted into society and for true equality to become a reality, potential tests such as these only encourage an attitude of a not-so-harmless curiosity which, sadly, still exists. The idea of the screening seems to be yet another case of science going too far purely because it can.
As well as being extremely discriminatory in principal, it is important to consider the possible effects of genetically screening for homosexuality on a child’s life and whether they would be treated differently by their parents, either consciously or subconsciously. It is also worth considering whether women would consider abortion simply to in order to avoid having ‘gay babies’. Implications such as this must be heavily considered if genetically homosexuality tests are to be developed, especially because scientists cannot yet say whether they would be accurate.
The renewal of the ‘gay gene’ debate and the potential for genetic tests for screening homosexuality in unborn babies is but a harsh reminder of our society’s morbid, potentially eugenic, preoccupation with a person’s sexual orientation. It begs the question: why do we need to determine why a person is gay? The answer is that we do not. A society of equality should not concern itself with a baby’s sexuality before it is even born. The recent findings at Northwestern University are a victory for the study of genetics, but another indication that our fascination with it could go too far.