Science of Homosexuality Takes a Backseat to Blind Faith

Although no one asked a certain general and Baptist preacher for their opinions on homosexuality, they told us anyway. So much for "don't ask, don't tell."


Homosexuality weathered attacks last week from both the church and state, which are supposedly separate on paper (the Constitution) but occasionally share particular views.

First came the state, when the Pentagon's top general, Marine Gen. Peter Pace, said that homosexual acts are immoral and should not be condoned by allowing gays to serve in the military. Then came the church, when Rev. R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, said that if homosexuality were genetic, it would still be evil and should be treated prenatally.

There are a great many unknowns regarding the origin of homosexuality, such as whether it is genetic, a learned behavior or both. But most researchers would conclude that Pace and Mohler are basing their opinion on bad science.

Sex and the military

The military has a long homosexual tradition. The Sacred Band of Thebes was an elite troop within the Theben army comprising soldiers and their younger male lovers. They believed lovers would fight more fiercely at each other's side, compared to soldiers and attendants with no bond. They did well in repelling Sparta but were ultimately sacked by the bisexual Alexander of Macedonia.

Despite no scientific evidence that homosexual men make poor soldiers, and considerable anecdotal evidence to the contrary, most Western nations prohibited gays from serving until the last few decades. The U.S. Army has incarcerated those found guilty of homosexual acts since the country's founding.

The U.S. military got proactive during World War II with an attempt to screen for homosexuality before induction. This was a perhaps purposeful misinterpretation of the work of pioneering psychiatrist Harry Stack Sullivan, the first to state that mental illness among homosexuals was a result of societal stigma, not the sexual orientation itself, according to Naoko Wake of Michigan State University in this month's issue of Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences. The army simply concluded that homosexuals were mentally unfit.

Don't ask, just court martial

Today, most armies allow gays to serve. Bill Clinton had hoped to lift the ban on gay soldiers, in order to differentiate the U.S. army from the armies of Nazi Germany, Russia, Iran and North Korea. Congress instead settled for a compromise called "don't ask, don't tell." Since enacted in 1993, over 8,000 gay soldiers have been booted from the military, including over 4,000 since the 9-11 attacks.

General Pace abides by the Department of Defense's 1981 directive, based on absolutely no science, that "the presence in the military environment of persons who engage in homosexual conduct or who, by their statements, demonstrate a propensity to engage in homosexual conduct seriously impairs the accomplishment of the military mission."

What the facts do show is the grave immorality of many heterosexual soldiers. Various surveys reveal that upwards of 30 percent of female U.S. soldiers are raped by male soldiers. A 2003 DoD study found that a third of female vets seeking health care experienced rape or attempted rape, and of these over a third reported multiple rapes or gang rapes.

Gen. Pace is well aware of army lingo characterizing female soldiers as either bitches, whores or dykes to describe their willingness to be coerced into sex by young men, who are admittedly under great stress in a region largely devoid of prostitution. Pace is not particularly concerned with this kind immorality, for of the 3,000-some sexual harassment cases in the past couple of years, only about 300 resulted in a court martial.

Indeed, the military has always found ways for heterosexual men to relieve sexual tension, from condom distribution for use at brothels to comfort women in post-war Japan.

The gay gene

The Bible is rather clear that homosexuality is an "abomination," as stated in Leviticus 18:22, just a few lines below the edict in Leviticus 11:10-12 stating that eating shrimp is an abomination. The crustacean passage is not much of any issue for most people, hence no demonstrators picketing Red Lobster with dire warnings that the April all-you-can-eat shrimp fest may trigger Armageddon.

Rev. Mohler was astute with his statement to fellow Southern Baptists that homosexuality might have a biological base. He was alluding to a growing body of evidence showing that at least some biological traits are associated with homosexuality, such as levels of certain hormones in the womb, left-handedness, sibling size and order, or brain patterns. Simon LeVay, a Harvard-trained neuroscientist, among others, has published numerous scientific articles and books on this subject.

The science isn't conclusive, but Mohler asked "what if?” The stance that homosexuality is a personal choice would be thrown out the window. As with a heliocentric solar system or a 4-billion-year-old earth, his fellow Baptists would have to somehow address what science has uncovered.

Risky test, little benefit

Mohler's non-scientific leap that homosexuality would still be immoral, despite biology, led to the non-scientific conclusion that prenatal treatment would be justified. This would be bad medicine. All in-utero prenatal testing and treatment carries some risk to the fetus. Testing is therefore performed only for life-threatening disorders, such as genetic diseases.

From Mohler's Christian standpoint, homosexuality would only be afterlife-threatening. Being gay is not life-threatening, aside from vicious attacks on gays by heterosexuals, some of whom are in Mohler's fold.

All of this rests on the notion that homosexuality is immoral, a concept that upright gays and valiant heterosexual soldiers disagree with.

Christopher Wanjek is the author of the books “Bad Medicine” and “Food At Work.” Got a question about Bad Medicine? Email Wanjek. If it’s really bad, he just might answer it in a future column. Bad Medicine appears each Tuesday on LIveScience.

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Christopher Wanjek
Live Science Contributor

Christopher Wanjek is a Live Science contributor and a health and science writer. He is the author of three science books: Spacefarers (2020), Food at Work (2005) and Bad Medicine (2003). His "Food at Work" book and project, concerning workers' health, safety and productivity, was commissioned by the U.N.'s International Labor Organization. For Live Science, Christopher covers public health, nutrition and biology, and he has written extensively for The Washington Post and Sky & Telescope among others, as well as for the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, where he was a senior writer. Christopher holds a Master of Health degree from Harvard School of Public Health and a degree in journalism from Temple University.