Reuters is reporting today a study claiming male sexual orientation is determined in the womb before birth. This “sexual orientation-maternal immune response” theory suggests a mother’s reaction to her male fetus is see as a “foreign body” in her body and her immune system goes into subconscious overdrive to purge the male within her. 

The effect of that maternal immune system purging is the birth of a Gay male baby and birth order has a lot to do with this sexual orientation determination:

Past research by Dr. Anthony F. Bogaert of Brock University in St. Catherines, Ontario and colleagues has shown that the more older brothers a man has, the more likely he is to be gay. But it has not been clear if this is a prenatal effect or a psychosocial effect, related to growing up with older male siblings.

A woman’s body may see a male fetus as “foreign,” Bogaert explains, and her immune response to subsequent male fetuses may grow progressively stronger. “If this immune theory were correct, then the link between the mother’s immune reaction and the child’s future sexual orientation would probably be some effect of maternal anti-male antibodies on the sexual differentiation of the brain,” he suggests.

This “Gay in the Womb” issue raises many interesting questions. If male babies are born Gay because of a mother’s immune system response, does that mean being Gay is no longer a lifestyle choice since it is now a scientifically provable genetic marker? Would Gay males who are the only male child in the family be less protected by the law than a Gay male who is the fourth born male?

The study doesn’t address female Gay babies. Is it possible Gay men might have greater constitutional protections than Gay women because of this scientific study? Are we tumbling down a sticky well if there is no provable scientific link between the womb and the “lifestyle choice” when it comes to lesbians? How will those against homosexuality respond to this scientific study? Will they use the mother’s immune system response to suggest that, even in the womb, the Gay male child is rejected by his mother before birth and, therefore, is an aberration not to be welcomed or tolerated?

Does this study provide immediate relief for the argument against males marrying? If these Gay men were “born that way” through no choice of their own, isn’t it discriminatory to deny them marriage rights and equal protections provided to traditional male/female relationships? Would some religious conservatives try to use this study to support the idea of abortions for late birth-order rank male fetuses?

18 Comments

  1. Would some religious conservatives try to use this study to support the idea of abortions for late birth-order rank male fetuses?
    I see this as being something that could help the pro-life movement by possibily creating an alliance between the current pro-life constituencies and the gay rights movement.
    There might be some interesting intersections of various groups in the coming years, if abortion is seen as a threat to their way of life, especially if a test to determine sexuality becomes available to pregnant women.
    A similar line of thought is developing in the Islamic community.
    Writes Umar Lee:

    On an international level,since 9-11, pro-abortion groups have been using the threat of a growing global Muslim population to seek funds from the European Union, UN and other bodies to work to curtail the population growth in the Muslim World.
    There is no doubt that the organized pro-abortion groups have a world view that is anti-religion, specifically being anti-Muslim and anti-Catholic, and have a world view in which they seek to impose their social ideal on the masses.
    For any Muslim groups or thinkers not to see the likes of Planned Parenthood as a threat to the ummah is either ignorance or compliance.

    If a similar line of thought develops in the gay community, we may be in store for political pairings of the sort that may have never before been seen.

  2. I think you’d see a different type of pro-life movement.
    In some ways, it would make sense for the Democrats to move away from a hegemonic abortion position to one that would be more inclusive to take into account the sensibilities of Muslims who are pro-life, but who don’t necessarily support the GOP and possibily gays, if they feel they are threatened.
    The Democrats probably don’t have to do anything differently right now, because they probably already have these two constituencies. But, if these groups ever begin to feel forsaken …

  3. If these groups ever begin to feel forsaken …
    Any such falling out with the Democrats probably wouldn’t help the GOP, but might fuel the foundation of some sort of viable third-party that would be in tune with the peace and social justice concerns embraced by Catholics, Muslims, African-Americans, and gays.
    From DawaNet:

    An Islamic stand on this issue should not be just a judgment based on our value system.
    It should be relevant and concerned. It should be sympathetic to both, abortionists and anti-abortionists. Both are Zalim (oppressors) and Mazloom (the oppressed) here.
    The pro-choicers are Zalim as they are killing innocent beings because of the fear of poverty while they are not providing any cure for the disease by ignoring the real causes.
    Both are Mazloom as they are ignoring the true message of Allah which provides a better model for governing sexual behavior and family life. We must help the Zalim and the Mazloom both as the Prophet Mohammed (peace and blessings be upon him) has asked us to.

    The key would be finding an effective leader to pull all of these groups together.

  4. You propose a fascinating argument, Chris. It would be terrific to have a three party system in America but I just don’t know if it would work on a national level. It takes a lot of money to run for office and the people who make the rules and control the money do not want a third choice out there.
    It might take something as divisive as abortion to create a third way of thinking.

  5. Hi David,
    You are right about a third party not having much of a chance. The election laws are designed to preserve the two-party system.
    But, things are unsettled enough that there could be opportunties for third parties to make huge differences. The GOP is split because some don’t think President Bush is conservative enough.
    I’m not sure if the Democrats are organized to take advantage of the confusion on the GOP side.
    Maybe a third party that threatened to shake things up could influence both sides.
    It probably won’t happen, especially on the abortion issue, since the issue is hot for some, but doesn’t burn hot enough for most people, especially with an on-going war.

  6. You know I’m thinking now Warren Buffett should have taken his $30 billion and started the “American Party.” That kind of money is the only way to influence change in a third party run.
    Ross Perot tried and failed and spent a lot of his personal fortune trying to make it work.
    Buffett money behind the right candidates could have made even more of a difference in the world than the excellent work his money will provide for the health of the world under the Gates Foundation.

  7. Wow, what a bizarre thread. Thanks for posting. It annoys me that people are trying to come up with excuses for homosexuality. They don’t believe that people have a choice? “Hello, sir. I can’t help but notice that you’re gay. You must be a weak imbicile because you couldn’t overcome your natural tendencies.” Every person has a choice to make regarding their sexual orientation. For some people that choice is easier than others. I think that if I didn’t have Jesus in my life, I could plausibly be bi-sexual. However, I made a choice to be hetero and now have a wonderful husband. (Please understand, also, that while I do not condone homosexuality, I do see homosexuals as people whom God loves. They’re not freaks, they’re simply missing out on what God’s incredible plan is for them.)

  8. Hi AG —
    Thank you for your blunt and honest comment.
    I think as time goes along we will discover homosexuality is even more a genetic indicator rather than one of personality choice between one thing or another.
    The problem I have always had with the “it’s a choice” argument — from a purely human and non-denominational point-of-view — is who would actively choose that life? Homosexuals are condemned and socially tortured and accused and castigated for not being strong enough of mind or masters of their own constitutions to resist temptations of the flesh and mind.
    I realize it will be expensive and culturally dangerous for some to accept homosexuality is scientifically ordinary and expected but that’s what keeps humankind moving up the slope of knowledge instead of declining downward into the tar-pit of where we have been before.

  9. Dear David,
    It is my understanding that there have been several similar studies made to indicate that homosexuality is determined from the womb. “Scientific experts” from both the homosexual movement and those in opposition of it seem to have sharply differing views on the research or “research” made.
    It would be interesting to me to review the research notes made and see how these conclusions are drawn.
    Pertaining to this specific article, it intrigued me that Dr. Bogaert made a point distinguish a difference between birth order of biological siblings and adopted siblings. However the article did not give much detail with what the research entailed so as to leave me with the following questions:
    1. Could the parents of the adopted children have treated the adopted children differently? If so, the environment could still play a role in the determining factor.
    2. Does having a female sibling alter the results? There are times when parents hope for a girl and will then live in denial dressing a boy as a girl for sometime.
    3. How is causality determined? Does a mother’s immune system attack the fetus therefore making it “gay” or does it attack it because it is? (This is something “those against homosexuality” in the third paragraph from the bottom of your article might consider before so blatantly using it against them… but that may be expecting too much. However from my understanding, many of those opposed to the homosexual is the “Religious Right” who purport to believe that life begins at conception, so the thought of abortion should not be an option. They seem more prone to wish to “correct” or “rehabilitate” those in the homosexual lifestyle.)
    4. Is 944 people a large enough group to make an evaluation of the whole?
    5. Was the research done by survey only? If so, how can one conclude that the mother’s immune system was the point of causality? Such inference without actual tracking of these 944 men in the prenatal state could prove highly detrimental to the mental health of mothers whose son may be having doubts about their sexual orientation / preference.
    Your article also provokes several lines of thought. According to some conservative groups, there are some people that have “come out of the homosexual lifestyle” and these people are paraded around as examples showing that it is a choice. There are others who argue that “no one would choose the homosexual lifestyle” because it is difficult and people are so prejudiced against it. However, people often fail to realize that even if there are people that “choose to be homosexual” it does not negate the possibility that there are those who are born as such. Nor does research indicating a link between homosexuality and prenatal occurrences emphatically refute the possibility that some may choose it as a lifestyle.
    Whether or not laws will be passed on this issue in protection of homosexuals based on this line of research is still to be determined. Laymen arguments for protection such individuals could be along the lines that one should not discriminate against someone who was genetically predisposed to being short. Laymen arguments against it may fall along the lines that there has been research to show that there are persons who are genetically predisposed to violent behavior, is their expression of violence then to be protected under law as each is perceived aberrant behavior (or at least homosexuality used to be thus classified in psychological references)?
    If I am not mistaken, regardless of whether or not a link has been established the womb and homosexuality in men, the underlying principle of your article is here to promote social awareness and an understanding of human rights over the preconceived notions of “normalcy” and “accepted behavior”, which in my opinion has been done quite well.

  10. Thanks for the comment A S! This is a fascinating topic for me. What makes us? How are we formed? Why are some people different from the norm? The answers are never easy but they are always fine to discuss in order to better understand each other.
    Your questions are excellent. 944 is a fine sample size. Generally anything 700 or above is considered statistically acceptable if the sample was correctly generated and I’m certain it was based on Dr. Bogaert’s reputation as a scholar of merit.
    Here are a sampling of some of Dr. Bogaert’s scholarly articles on sexual orientation. He’s been around a long while:
    http://scholar.google.com/scholar?q=Dr.+Anthony+F.+Bogaert
    Here is an earlier study by Dr. Bogaert in a similar vein as today’s topic we’re discussing:
    http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayAbstract?fromPage=online&aid=354091

    Birth order is correlated with male sexual orientation, but the reason(s) for this relationship is unclear. In the present study, data from a Canadian sample of homosexual and heterosexual men (N=604) were used to present evidence of two independent birth order interactions – one with height and the other with parental age – predicting sexual orientation in men. If these findings prove reliable, it raises the possibility that different aetiological factors underlie the birth order/sexual orientation relationship in men.

    I agree we become more human by accepting the humanity in others in whatever form it takes without any codicils or invocations or condemnations. We’re all just trying to find a life and no one wants to worry if our neighbors are loving us with acceptance or not.

  11. Thank you for the links. On a bit of a tangent, I like the phrase you used “accepting the humanity in others” much more than the idea of “tolerance”. The idea of tolerance to me has a negative connotation. It is as though the person tolerating the behavior of the other person feels somehow superior to the tolerated person.

  12. David, thanks for bringing up the great questions. I understand that homosexuality is a tough thing to associate oneself with. However, that factor has never kept people away from something they’ve believed in. There are many places that Christianity isn’t popular, so who would choose to be Christian? But I believe it’s a vital part of who I am, so why betray myself for the sake of comfort? I think that’s very similar to a homosexual’s struggle in society. If they believe that in order to be true to themselves they need to come out, then they will.

  13. I am straight buy my twin brother is Gay – we are heterozygotic (non-identical). Surely this adds credence to the view that sexuality is genetic rather than caused by conditions in the womb?