Nature Vs. Nurture Question Sets Up Stigmatizing False Dichotomies For Understanding Sexual Orientation

Often polls show how the public is leaning on a particular issue, but other times they reveal how the respondents and sometimes even the pollsters have the issue all wrong. Gallup released a poll last week about where the public stands on what makes a person gay. Apparently they’ve been asking the question for some time, and there’s been a pretty even split between “nature” and “nurture” for the past 10 years:

Gallup uses the poll to conclude that people who believe same-sex orientation is inherent are more likely to support LGBT equality. However, the question has two serious flaws that actually contribute to the continued miseducation of the public. First of all, same-sex orientations and opposite-sex orientations form through the same process, so by asking about gays and lesbians as though they are different reinforces the belief that they actually are somehow different. Secondly, the answer to the question is not either/or; as scientists best understand sexual orientation, it is a “complex interaction of environmental, cognitive and biological factors.”

Most importantly, the answer to the question should be moot, and as a result, Gallup’s interpretation of the result are perhaps not entirely accurate. Given that sexual orientation is influenced by both biology and environment, how people answer the question does not actually address whether they think it is a choice or “inherent.” Sexual orientation is influenced by the environment and it is inherent, so the answer to this false dichotomy does not paint the whole picture.

Continued open discussion of the reasons for sexuality prove only to be an outlet for doubters to continue making their unfounded case. Like evolution and the age of the earth, scientists are no longer debating the causes of sexual orientation, so it should be up to journalists to be educating, not casting more doubt.