One of the least helpful aspects of the current debate on the legalisation of same-sex marriage concerns the level of uncritical thinking around the issue of sexual orientation.
One side, lets call then side A today, argues that sexual orientation is a genetic predisposition to romantic feelings towards a particular gender. They assert that this predisposition is present at birth and usually finds expression around puberty. There is lots of scientific evidence for side A in humans and animals. The corollary of side A is that orientation is just like race or gender and should therefore be protected or at least not discriminated against.
The other side, who today will be side 1, argues that sexual behaviour is a choice of the free will, which when repeatedly exercised forms habits and enduring preferences. They assert that these choices / habits are influenced by environmental factors from birth and usually find expression around puberty. There is lots of scientific evidence for side 1 in humans and other sophisticated mammals. The corollary of side 1 is that orientation is just like a religion or an ethical belief such as vegetarianism and should fall outside of the scope of the protection or prohibition of the law.
There are Christians who hold side A and side 1 positions on the science. Their positions, not unstrangely, typically coincide with their theological presuppositions on sexual morals, although they do not coincide cleanly with their hermeneutical stances, as you can find both pro- and anti- arguments in the Bible.
My beef with this whole set-up is that when it comes to most other issues in life we have come to realise that nature and culture, genetics and experience come together in irrational ways to construct our beliefs, preferences, choices and identity. The idea of free will has taken quite a bashing in the academia of psychology in recent decades. How much am I really making choices every moment of every day, and to what extent am I doing (a) what I have always done, (b) what the advertisers want me to do, (c) what I see my peers doing, (d) what I was born to do, (e) what I have come to like doing, (f) what I’d rather not do, but have got into that habit of doing, (g) what I explicitly think I chose to do, (h) what seems to me to be the only thing to do, (i) what my nation regards as normal,(j) what I do after having a really sugary meal, (j) what I do when I hear a really provocative comment …etc.
Our choices, actions, preferences and orientations are not some robotic code which were written into our hard drive when we were programmed. Nor are we making thousands of balanced informed choices every day. We just get through life carried along by the big tides and smaller currents and occasional swimming a few strokes in one direction or surfing a wave in another. Most of the significant events in my life arose from some pretty flukey coincidences. Certainly the chances of my meeting with Katie shortly before we fell in love were highly improbable. The chain of events that lead to my current job were a mixture of chance, my own efforts and the preferences of others (they liked me more at interview etc).
Anytime I hear someone polarise the debate into “I was born this way” or “You chose this”, I feel we have lost something significant. Life is a muddle of strong and weak forces. I don’t hold that free will is a complete illusion, but I do think that most of us overestimate the extent to which we are in control of our lives.
The final point on this post for now is that in the modern west, whether it “exists” or not, sexual orientation has become a thing. It is a thing that people feel is important to them. As such we should tread carefully before relabeling their thing as something we think it is rather than something they feel it is. To do otherwise is an act of violence, and unworthy of the followers of the Man of Peace.