Shamus Khan in Aeon:
Last month, the US Supreme Court affirmed the rights of same-sex couples to marry. The decision was a major achievement for a liberation movement that began nearly half a century ago. Throughout the struggle for marriage equality, supporters drew parallels with the oppression of African Americans, be that anti-miscegenation laws or legalised segregation. Yet one stark difference between these civil rights movements has escaped notice.
African-American activists aggressively called out arguments about genetic and biological differences as legacies of racist, Nazi science. By contrast, the marriage-equality movement has embraced biological determinism. Gay and lesbian activists have led the way popularising the idea that identity is biologically determined.
The proffered perspective is that sexuality is not a choice, but a way we are born. Getting Americans to believe this was a struggle. In 1977, according to the first Gallup poll on the question, only 13 per cent of Americans believed people were born gay. Even in 1990, only 20 per cent thought of sexuality as biologically innate. Yet since 2011 support has spiked, and today just under half of Americans think that the sexuality of gays and lesbians is determined at birth. Support for gay marriage and support for the idea of being ‘born that way’ closely track one another.
While this biological determinism of sexuality has been associated with a great triumph for the gay-rights movement, it’s been a great loss for our public discourse. The battle for gay marriage has been won, and other, even more challenging battles lie before the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) movement. To succeed in them, activists and scholars must abandon the fundamental fiction they have propagated. The false belief in biological determinism does considerable damage. It marginalises some of the most precarious members of the gay community, such as the transgendered; it limits our capacity to discuss what makes a good and just community; and it leads many of us to misunderstand ourselves and society.