This started from a couple responses to posts on the main DADT repeal thread, but grew to where I felt it deserved to be my first article here on Newsvine, considering yesterday's historic vote in the Senate.
For context, the first post I was responding to included a thought experiment with an island of gay men, an island of lesbians, and an island of straight men and women, and from the results that the straight islanders reproduce, so that their population survives, while the gay and lesbian islanders die out because they don’t make babies, he concludes that there is no merit in the comparison of discrimination on the basis of sexuality to discrimination on the basis of race.
On a later post, he brings out the assertion that homosexuality is a choice.
This thought experiment is simply a tautology: populations that don't reproduce...don't reproduce. It also fails to capture the fact that there are not discrete skin color populations, but rather geographic variations in the statistical distribution of the numerous different genetic alleles contributing to skin color. The line between "white" and "black" is often quite arbitrary, but regardless, it is never justifiable to discriminate on that basis. While we don't know all the details of the biological basis of homosexuality, it is clear that there are many traits that have a heritable basis (the simplest examples being X-linked recessive traits) that don't require reproduction by the person exhibiting the trait in order for it to spread in a population. Throw in environmental interactions that lead to expression of a trait in some but not in others, and it is not difficult at all for something like homosexuality to endure in a predominantly heterosexual population.
Similarly, the role that biology plays in one's religious beliefs has barely begun to be studied, but we do not infer from the lack of a detailed biological account of religiosity that because religious practice is a choice, we are justified in discriminating against people on the basis of those practices (as long as they don't include things obviously harmful to others like human sacrifice).
The point is not whether a behavior, an action, is a choice, the point is that the orientation, the preference, is not itself a choice. Simply because you do not approve of that behavior, you think a person should not behave in accordance with their preference, but instead behave in contradiction to it, and that failure to align their actions with your approved mode of behavior is grounds for unequal treatment.
It is a little like saying that because broccoli is nutritious, everybody should eat broccoli even if they find the taste unbearable, even though they can get the necessary nutrients from other foods. Furthermore, their choice not to eat broccoli in accordance with their preference harms no one else, yet you persist in denying them equal rights unless they eat their broccoli and act like they like it. In the case of broccoli, there are in fact physiological differences in people's taste buds, due to genetic differences. The case of sexuality is much more complicated, but there are a lot of known objective, physiological differences correlated with sexual orientation. Like most real-world, complex biological phenomena, the evidence points to an interaction of genetic and environmental factors, and regardless of which set of factors predominates, there is no evidence that preference is chosen.
The important point in the analogy with race is that there is something biologically determined that cannot be changed, for which people are subject to unjust discrimination. And even if it was a matter of choice, that would not be sufficient reason to justify discrimination. In our society, we have decided that it is only justifiable to restrict an individual’s rights when their actions harm or endanger another. We do not issue drivers licenses to blind people, we lock up people who have committed violence, and we regulate against degradation of the environment. When a person’s actions result in nothing of this kind, we have no justification for infringement of their liberties.
Furthermore, because we recognize that those who differ from the majority are often harmed simply for being different, we protect them under the law, to ensure that they are afforded the same rights and privileges as everyone else. It’s simply the right thing to do.
Strong majorities of both houses of Congress, the President, Defense Secretary, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, most of the Service Chiefs, the majority of servicemen and women, as well as the majority of the American people as a whole believe that Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was wrong for our country and so it must be repealed. So in addition to being the right thing to do, repeal was also the democratic thing to do.
And so we did.