Ongoing political controversies around the world exemplify a long-standing and widespread preoccupation with the acceptability of homosexuality. Nonheterosexual people have seen dramatic surges both in their rights and in positive public opinion in many Western countries.
In contrast, in much of Africa, the Middle East, the Caribbean, Oceania, and parts of Asia, homosexual behavior remains illegal and severely punishable, with some countries retaining the death penalty for it. Political controversies about sexual orientation have often overlapped with scientific controversies. That is, participants on both sides of the sociopolitical debates have tended to believe that scientific findings—and scientific truths—about sexual orientation matter a great deal in making political decisions.
The most scientifically plausible causal hypotheses are difficult to test. However, there is considerably more evidence supporting nonsocial causes of sexual orientation than social causes. This evidence includes the cross-culturally robust finding that adult homosexuality is strongly related to childhood gender nonconformity; moderate genetic influences demonstrated in well-sampled twin studies; the cross-culturally robust fraternal-birth-order effect on male sexual orientation; and the finding that when infant boys are surgically and socially “changed” into girls, their eventual sexual orientation is unchanged (i.e., they remain sexually attracted to females).
In contrast, evidence for the most commonly hypothesized social causes of homosexuality—sexual recruitment by homosexual adults, patterns of disordered parenting, or the influence of homosexual parents—is generally weak in magnitude and distorted by numerous confounding factors.
We hope to eliminate, or at least to reduce, longstanding arguments that mix the wrong scientific and political questions. If we can do so, perhaps more progress can be made in resolving unavoidable rather than unnecessary conflict. Thus, we have ambitions to convey basic science accurately and to influence political discussions rationally.
The science of sexual orientation is in the public interest for at least two reasons. First, as we have noted, such science is frequently—if not always correctly— used to support political, social, and moral conclusions regarding homosexuality.