I’m still playing catch-up on news and blogging from being on vacation for almost two weeks, but I just had to say something about gay marriage, and that something is “Congratulations!”

I was born too late to see the great civil rights movement of the 1960s, but it’s been a privilege to watch the growth of the gay rights movement. To misuse an old saying, progress seems to have come very slowly and then all at once. There’s still plenty of work to be done when it comes to sexual freedom, but this is huge.

Welcome to the new century, Mr. President, thank you for joining us.

“I have to tell you that over the course of several years as I have talked to friends and family and neighbors, when I think about members of my own staff who are in incredibly committed monogamous relationships, same-sex relationships, who are raising kids together; when I think about those soldiers or airmen or marines or sailors who are out there fighting on my behalf and yet feel constrained, even now that ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ is gone, because they are not able to commit themselves in a marriage, at a certain point I’ve just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same sex couples should be able to get married,” Obama told Roberts in an interview to appear on ABC’s “Good Morning America” Thursday.

I don’t see why Obama couldn’t have said that three years ago, but I’m glad he finally said it. By way of explanation, he said his thoughts went through an “evolution” to reach this decision.

The president stressed that this is a personal position, and that he still supports the concept of states’ deciding the issue on their own.

So…still a little more evolving to do…

I generally find anti-gay bigotry disturbing, but sometimes it’s also kind of amusing. I know that’s wrong — that gay people face real threats of discrimination and violence — but some anti-gay nonsense just makes me want to point and yell, “I didn’t know they still made people like you!”

Which brings me to Rick Perry’s culture-war campaign ad:

Aside from the fact that he’s a bit mixed up about school prayer, this is just plain embarassing. It’s like that older relative who keeps calling black people “colored” because he doesn’t realize times have changed. I immediately flashed back to an infamous Sid Davis classroom film called Boys Beware about the dangers of homosexuality. The whole thing is about 10 minutes long, but here’s a taste:

At its most basic, Boys Beware is vile crap that conflates homosexuality with predatory pedophilia. Yet it’s so disconnected from our current day and age that I can’t really get angry about it. I mean, it features a homosexual man who prowls the streets trying to seduce young boys by — I’m not making this up — taking them fishing at the duck pond. I guess there weren’t a lot of gay dance clubs.

(Boys Beware‘s odd style is pretty typical of Sid Davis’s social guidance films: The subject is alarming, but it’s shot with what Ken Smith in Mental Hygiene: Better Living Through Classroom Films 1945-1970 described as “a trancelike style, stripped of anything even remotely approaching drama or human emotion.” You never even hear the actors speaking; the narrator just describes what they’re saying. I suspect’s that’s because Davis couldn’t afford synchronized sound.)

And how can you not love the line “You never know when the homosexual is about”? If I were gay, I’d wear that on a T-shirt.

I don’t really have a point here, except that to me, Perry’s anti-gay attitude seems like something from another era. I hope it seems that way to most other people too.

Moby Kip points us to this story by Jennifer Garza of the Sacramento Bee:

Last month, Rachel Bird exchanged vows with Gideon Codding in a church wedding in front of family and friends. As far as Bird is concerned, she is a bride.

To the state of California, however, she is either “Party A” or “Party B.”

Those are the terms that have replaced “bride” and “groom” on the state’s new gender-neutral marriage licenses. And to Bird and Codding, that is unacceptable.

My first reaction was that this was just more of the usual anti-gay griping—the bride’s father is a pastor who’s trying to start a movement for couples to refuse to sign the marriage form—and it may well be just that, but it’s their marriage, isn’t it? Why can’t they be a bride and groom if they want to?

When they saw the terms, Codding wrote “groom” next to “Party A” and “bride” next to Party B and submitted their license. On Aug. 16, they married at her father’s church.

On Sept. 3, the couple received a letter from the Placer County Clerk-Recorder Registrar of Voters informing them that their license did not comply with California law and that the state did not accept licenses that had been altered.

So, they literally would have been happy writing “bride” and “groom” in the signature boxes on the license, but some inflexible clerk wasn’t going let them get away with that kind of anarchy.

You know, those of us who support same-sex marriage have had to respond over and over to the accusation that it would “destroy marriage.” That has never made sense to me. My marriage doesn’t change when other people get married, regardless of whether the other couple is a man and a woman, a man and a man, or a woman and a woman. Marriage is not a scarce resource, there’s plenty of it to go around, and gay marriage doesn’t take anything away from straight marriage.

Or so I thought, until the State of California made a liar out of me.

“Those who support (same-sex marriage) say it has no impact on heterosexuals,” said Brad Dacus of the Pacific Justice Institute. “This debunks that argument.”

I know it’s a trivial issue, but thanks to the perversity of the government of California, the bigots are technically correct. Gay marriage does hurt straight marriage. Just a little, to be sure, but now we’re going to have to listen to all the I-told-you-so ranting.

Moby Kip mentions the one thing I really don’t like about gay marriage: Software changes.

H&R Block has agreed to give $100 coupons or free TaxCut software to all gay couples who incurred additional costs because they were barred from using the company’s online tax service, TaxCut Online.

I understand how H&R Block’s programmers must feel.

One of my jobs is to maintain software that pulls data from a database of employees and their families and generates update files that are sent to the insurance companies providing their benefits.

Now that we have all this gay marriage, there are all these questions we’re going to have to answer: Do we send same-sex married people as married? Or as civil unions? Or do we need a separate category for same-sex marriages? If they used to be civil-unioned and are now married, does that count as a change in status?

The answers have nothing to do with the meaning of marriage in any cultural sense. It’s mostly a matter of figuring out how the insurance companies want us to send the data. Which means we can’t solve the problem until their programmers solve their side of the problem.

Their programmers can’t solve the problem until the lawyers and actuaries and managers make policy decisions, and those policy decisions depend on rule-making by federal and state regulatory bodies, which depend on decisions by legislatures and courts.

We’re talking months of lead-time for all those decisions to filter down to us folks who write the code. We’ll probably be making changes right up until the deadlines.

I don’t know, but my guess is that something was changing in Connecticut tax law and H&R Block’s software group couldn’t meet the release deadline to get the change out there, so they left it as an unsupported case.

Social change is hard.

George Kocan has another of his crazy anti-gay posts up at Illinois Review in rebuttal to a Wall Street Journal op-ed. Maybe I should be more upset at such a display of bigotry, but I find Kocan so over-the-top ridiculous that he kind of amuses me.

Let’s take a look:

Abuse of the language for political purposes is bad for America, even if done by courts or other governmental bodies.  A dog is not a cat and calling a cat a dog does not make a dog a cat even if the Supreme Court itself makes such a ruling.

This appeal to proper use of language is laughable from a guy who invented his own word for homosexuality, calling it “SAD”, which he says stands for “Sodomy Attraction Disorder.”

Restructuring society to accommodate personality disorders is bad for America.  Pretending that sodomy is normal and natural is bad for America, as is pretending that Jack Jones down the street is Napoleon or Sally Smith is Cleopatra.  Accepting a lie as a norm of behavior is bad for America.

Two things, George: First of all, since you’re so concerned about the meanings of words, as I’ve explained before, “sodomy” is more than just the man-on-man buttsex that you keep talking about. It includes a lot of other sexual activities that many people find enjoyable.

Second, nobody is saying homosexuality is a norm of behavior—nobody is saying everyone should be doing it—it’s just that most of us don’t see anything evil about it, and most of us really don’t mind when other people do it.

The sodomite infiltration and subversion of the Catholic priesthood, and the subsequent sexual abuse of children, is bad for the Catholic Church as is the infiltration of sodomites into American institutions bad for America.

So all those priests were abusing children because the Catholic Church has been infiltrated by The Gays? Now I’ve heard everything.

Sexual promiscuity is bad for America…

Thus begins a long littany of all the things George Kocan thinks are bad for America. Some of them may even actually exist, but I’ll just cut to the one that really amazes me:

Sexual liberation is bad for America.  Sexual liberation means social and political control.  Canadian Human Rights Commissions criminally prosecute persons who criticize sodomites.  So do various European countries.  Allowing a tiny minority to deny legally Americans the right to speak their minds is bad for America.

I agree that criminal prosecution for bad speech is wrong, but, um, wasn’t prosecuting people for their sexual behavior wrong too? And trying to blame this on gay marriage is crazy.

Allowing a tiny minority to suppress the religious beliefs of others, as is happening in Canada and Europe, is bad for America.

Allowing any people to dictate the sexuality and family structure of others is also bad for America.

In short, sodomy and its practitioners are bad for America.

I doubt that, but I’m pretty sure that delusional nutcases who mistake their personal preferences for laws of the universe are bad for America

Arlene Sawicki of the Illinois Family Institute is concerned about, well, what the Illinois Family Instutute is usually concerned about:

Chicago parades include the famous St. Patrick’s Day Parade in March, where the Chicago River is tinted green in honor of the Irish. The Polish American Constitution Day Parade, held May 1st, celebrates the first European democratic Constitution established in Poland in 1791. The Columbus Day Parade, held in Autumn, is another ethnic celebration featuring the contributions of Italian Americans. The Von Steuben Day Parade, held in September, is the German American event of the year. Thousands of Chicagoans participate in these parades and support the causes they represent.

However, never within the celebration of these events would you find the flagrant and offensive violations of the Public Morals Laws of conduct as you do in what has become known as the annual Chicago Gay Pride Parade, held this year on Sunday, June 29th, 12:00 p.m.

Which is why I’ve never been to those other parades to take pictures, but I’m going to try to make it to the Pride Parade again this year.

By the way, I don’t know anything about Sawicki other than that she wrote this article, but she gets a point or two in my book for being consistent. One of the core values of conservatism is respecting tradition, and she respects the traditions of the blogosphere: Even though she clearly doesn’t much like the Pride Parade, like any good blogger, she dutifully links to the Pride Parade web page.

When Kip posted about the recent discovery of possible structural differences between the brains of straight and gay people, he predicted that it would make no difference to the anti-gay folks:

To the bigots, all the research in the world won’t make a scrap of difference. If it’s not biological, then it’s a “choice.” If it is biological, then it’s a “disease.” Either way, it’s wrong and deserves no equal treatment (other than in a hospital or asylum).

Case in point, a recent Illinois Review post by George Kocan that has this wonderful first paragraph:

I refuse to use the g-word, in this discussion.  I prefer SAD (Sodomy Attraction Disorder) because it describes a pathological condition in clinical and descriptive terms.  The g-word is clearly prejudicial and self-serving.  I, therefore, refer to a person suffering from SAD, a ‘SADist’ or a SAD person.

Wow. It takes a whole special kind of anti-gay bigotry to invent your own personal word to describe homosexuality.

(Also, sodomy can mean a broad range of sexual acts, most of which can also be done by straight people, and most of which are rather entertaining. It’s not all about man-on-man anal action, George.)

The post then passes through a brief discussion of genetic diseases and behavioral genetics before getting to this:

A suicide rate higher that that of normal persons seems to be associated with SAD…  If true, this could very well be a result of the influence of SAD genetics…

Or it could be the influence of all the bigotted assholes who make their lives miserable.

If students of behavior are to take the gene theory of SAD seriously, they must allow for the probability that SAD genes cause suicide and influence many of the other destructive behaviors that plague SAD persons.  Notorious SAD serial killers come to mind, such as John Wayne Gacy, who murdered some 33 young men and hid their bodies in his basement; Jeffrey Dahmer, who ate his victims and stored their remains in his refrigerator; Andrew Cunanan, and others.  The widespread use of narcotics and other psychoactive drugs in the SAD “community” may result from a genetic influence.  The extreme exhibitionism and narcissism displayed at SAD “pride” parades may also have a genetic basis.

What about ferns? Everyone knows gays like ferns. Could that be genetic? How about full, well-groomed mustaches? Colorful clothing? Track lighting? Is there a genetic basis for track lighting?

“Homophobia” also may have a genetic basis.  This term refers to the repulsion and disgust that normal persons have to sodomy.  The term, however, carries its own prejudicial connotation in the suffix, ‘phobia.’  It suggests a psychological condition akin to agoraphobia, the fear of public spaces; arachnophobia, the fear of spiders; or acrophobia, the fear of heights. 

Suddenly encountering a spider or a snake induces in normal persons a startle response.  Obviously, this is a protective mechanism.  Fear in many cases is a friend not an enemy.  A fear of heights or spiders can protect us from injury and even death.  Fears of various kinds, in other words, are normal and natural.  In biological terms they function as adaptations to a dangerous world.  It only makes sense that they would have a genetic basis.

Actually, as I understand it, this isn’t entirely off the wall. Fears of things like spiders and heights may well be a safety mechanism, although the evolutionary basis is unclear. There’s scant evidence that spiders were ever a serious threat to humans, so it’s hard to see how such a strong fear would have evolved.

As for fear of heights, our ancient ancestors spent a lot of time in trees, so there’s certainly strong evolutionary argument for a fear of falling. In fact, all human infants seem to instictively grab for something when a fall begins. A phobic-level fear of heights, however, would have been debilitating in tree dwellers.

Which brings us back to phobias. The thing that seems to set phobias aside from normal fears is that phobias are unreasonable fears. People with arachnophobia, for example, can have a fear response to pictures of spiders, and even though they realize it’s a picture, some part of their brain remains in high alarm all the time.

As for repulsion to homosexuality, I’m willing to believe that’s natural. I suspect that dislike for sex with the wrong gender is just nature’s way of implementing a reproduction-friendly sexual preference. It would have to be a pretty strong dislike, too, given how much fun it is to have someone touch your genitals.

What makes homophobia wrong, however, is its unreasoning nature. It’s alright to have an “ick” emotional response to gay sex, and it’s perfectly okay if you don’t want to get intimate with someone of the same sex.

But when you get up in arms about the homosexual activities of other people, you’ve crossed the line from a reasonable dislike to something like a phobia. Adam and Steve getting it on in the next room can’t hurt you any more than that picture of a spider can hurt an arachnophobe.

We’re a smart and versatile species, and we can overcome our fears. Despite our natural fear of falling, set we live and work in skyscrapers, and we ride rollercoasters and dive out of airplanes for fun. Food poisoning has been a threat for millions of years, but every day people get up the nerve to try foods they’ve never tried before. Phobias stand out precisely because they cannot be controlled by reason or will. They are a weakness in our normally extraordinary ability to change ourselves by thinking.

Revulsion and hostility against sodomy and sodomites has occurred throughout history and many different cultures.  Such a widespread behavior must not only have a genetic basis but also have an adaptive function.  Those persons and communities, that acted on this impulse and suppressed sodomy, tended to survive and thrive, while those, which failed to do so, became extinct.

As evidenced by the fact that, like the dinosaur, homosexuality no longer exists.

The fact that we’re even having this debate makes it quite clear that despite its apparent detrimental effect on the reproduction rate of homosexuals, homosexuality is not a threat to the survival of larger units of evolution like tribes or societies.

Any public policy–like for example granting legal sanction to sodomite couplings–must take such science into consideration.  Normal persons have a right to be homophobic, seeing as it is part of their genetic make-up and “who they are,” to use a popular expression.  Society and the law must recognize their right to give expression to their identities.

Of course people have a right to homophobic feelings. Nobody has the authority to force you to have only the right kinds of feelings.

But that sword cuts both ways: Just because something gives you unpleasant feelings doesn’t mean you should have the power to forcibly prevent other people from doing it. Society and the law should recognize everyone’s right to express their identities.

I know I should have just stopped as soon as I saw the “SAD” nonsense, but Kocan’s whole piece just pissed me off. I think he may himself be suffering from CRI.

A recent study (hat tip Moby Kip) suggests that the brains of gay men have certain similarities to straight women, and the brains of gay women have similarities to straight men.

The brain features in question have their roots in early brain development, suggesting that environmental and social conditions played little roll in their formation. This is one more piece of evidence that homosexuality has causes in physiology and not culture.

That then raises the question of whether homosexuality has a genetic cause, which leads quickly to the question of how such a thing could be possible. After all, evolution favors traits that increase the likelihood of reproduction, which would seem to rule out homosexuality.

More to the point, evolution tends to eliminate traits which impair reproduction. Even if homosexuality is a lifestyle choice rather than a built-in preference, evolution should have pushed the development of the human brain to take away the choice. A brain that is resistant to homosexual urges would be more likely to reproduce. It should be an evolutionary advantage. So even if there isn’t a gay gene, there should be an anti-gay gene, and everyone should have it.

So, why are there still gay people?

Nobody knows for sure, but the most common speculation is that homosexuality is due to a recessive gene. In humans (and most animals) the genes for every genetic trait come in pairs. When a male and a female mate, each parent passes one of each pair of genes on to the child, which therefore has one randomly-chosen gene from each parent.

Typically, some of the genes are recessive, meaning that if the other half of the pair is different, they are never expressed—they have no effect on the individual carrying them. The classic example is blue eyes in humans: Blue eyes are recessive, so two brown-eyed people carrying recessive blue-eyed genes have a one-in-four chance of both passing on the blue-eyed gene and having a blue-eyed child. But if either one passes on the brown-eyed gene, the child will have brown eyes. On the other hand, two blue-eyed parents both have two blue-eyed genes, so their child can only have blue eyes.

(Caution: If you’re a blue-eyed man with a blue-eyed wife, and you’re now looking at your non-blue-eyed child with suspicion, don’t go making accusations just yet. There are other factors affecting eye color besides the blue/brown gene.)

If there is a recessive gay gene, a straight person could carry it without being gay. He or she would have a 50/50 chance of passing the gene on to a child, where it would also be recessive. The only way the recessive gene would be able to express itself and turn the person gay is if he or she received the same recessive gay gene from both parents.

A number of genetic diseases such as sickle cell anemia and Tay-Sachs disease are carried this way. Only when a child receives the recessive gay gene from both parents—a one-in-four possibility even if both parents are carriers—does he or she get the disease.

If it seems like I’m comparing homosexuality to a genetic disease, it’s because from an evolutionary point of view it might as well be. Dead from Tay-Sachs disease or childless from homosexuality, either way, your genes don’t make it into the next generation. (Well, not quite, as I’ll explain later.)

In addition, a recessive gene can sometimes still have an effect on the organism that carries it, and sometimes that effect can be advantageous, which allows the evolutionary process to select for it.

The classic example of this sort of genetic behavior is sickle cell anemia. Carriers of the gene experience few sickle cell symptoms, but have a much greater resistance to malaria. Within the human population, especially in Africa, the advantages of malaria resistance apparently outweigh the comparatively rare disadvantage of sickle cell anemia, so the disease persists.

It’s possible to imagine that carrying the gay gene confers some advantage. My personal theory (with absolutely no supporting evidence whatsoever) is that the gay gene could really be the seductive empathy gene: Men who carry this gene have a better understanding of what women want in men, and therefore they are better at seducing women. This confers an evolutionary advantage because the seductions lead to pregnancies, and half the children also carry the seductive empathy gene.

However, if the woman is also a carrier of the seductive empathy gene, then there’s that one-in-four chance that the child will receive both copies of the gene. This will give him such a complete understanding of what women want in men that he wants it himself. Thus, gayness.

(I should emphasize at this point that I totally made up the seductive empathy gene as an example of why the persistence of the gay gene is not a contradiction of evolutionary theory. There’s no proof for it at all…although it would explain why so many women have gay friends…)

As with eye color, reality is probably more complicated than this.

If there is a gay gene, it seems unlikely that it is 100% effective. Even if it was recessive, perfect effectiveness would produce a simple pattern of inheritance that probably would have been detected by now. I think it’s more likely that the genetics of gayness produce a tendency toward gayness, an increase in the probability of gayness, perhaps even resulting in differing levels of gayness.

(In this case, the gay gene wouldn’t have to be recessive.)

It’s also possible that gayness is controlled by multiple genes. There are several possibilities for how this could work, and all of them could be present at the same time.

Gayness may require a combination of genes to produce a gay individual, so that individuals without all the genes will not be gay. Some hereditary diseases work this way.

Or the gayness genes could add: The more gay genes you inherit, the gayer you are. Other human traits, such as height or skin color, seem to work this way.

Or maybe gayness has several different possible genetic causes. The genetics of hairless cats works this way: There are three breeds, arising from three unrelated genetic mutations.

Or maybe gayness isn’t one thing. There could be different types of gayness caused by different genes. White fur on cats works this way: any one of three different genetic mechanisms can cause a cat to have white fur. It may be that variations in behavior of individuals within the gay community are tied to different genes. For example, male and female homosexuality may have unrelated genetic causes.

Our observations about the evolutionary possibility of a gay gene are further complicated by the fact that we’ve evolved intelligence and culture, both of which tend to mask our evolved behaviors, and both of which have resulted in spectacular changes in the human condition. We no longer live under the conditions in which we evolved, and the gay gene might have had very different effects on humans in a state of nature than it does in our modern world.

Gay people today often feel strong pressures from society to hide their sexual preferences. I can only imagine that these pressures would have been far stronger in the restricted and stiflingly small tribes wandering the African veldt. It’s possible that gays felt irresistible pressure to mate and reproduce like everyone else. Social culture could have overridden genetic preference.

(That’s not uncommon: Heterosexuals often engage in homosexual acts while they are imprisoned, and many heterosexual couples in wealthy societies choose not to have children.)

Finally, there is an argument that homosexual members of a group may contribute to the evolutionary fitness of other members through kinship selection.

As a matter of genetic math, our genetic relationship to our siblings is exactly the same (50% matching DNA) as our genetic relationship to our children. Given the evolutionary imperative to spread our genes into future generations, we can do so either by ensuring that our children live long enough to reproduce, or that our brothers and sisters do. Similarly, our nieces and nephews are the evolutionary equivalent of our grandchildren.

As a consequence of all this kinship, a gay individual in a family can effectively reproduce his genes in future generations by helping his family to survive and thrive. Since some of them would also carry the gay gene, it too would survive into future generations.

I should emphasize that the evidence for all of these hypotheses is slim at best, and it’s not like I’ve done a massive amount of research to write this. I just find it fascinating that an apparently anti-reproductive trait like gayness could evolve at all. I’ve had a draft of this post sitting around for years, and I’ve started to work on it every time something relevant has been in the news, but I kept rewriting it, and the story always got stale before I could finish. The title was always the same though.

After yesterday’s ruling from the California Supreme Court that gay marriage could not be banned, the Illinois Review posted a press release from the Alliance for Marriage Foundation. It begins:

The Alliance for Marriage Foundation urged the people of California to constitutionally protect marriage in their state, while calling upon Congress to pass AFM’s federal Marriage Protection Amendment in the aftermath of a California Supreme Court decision striking down marriage.

They almost lost me there, with the absurd idea that permitting gay marriage somehow amounts to “striking down marriage,” as if people in California couldn’t get married any more.

The metaphysical implications are baffling: How can other people’s marriages diminish mine? I really don’t get it. As far as I’m concerned, some state could legalize human-to-livestock marriages, and my own marriage would feel no less secure.

Anyway, the rest of the article goes on to make what might be a slightly better point: The courts have no business inventing a right to gay marriage. That should be left to the voters of California and their elected representatives.

Of course, those same voters and their representatives ratified the California constitution, which includes language opposing discrimination because of sexual orientation.

Every week, Kip Esquire posts a Sunday CuteTuber, which is video of some cute guy he found on YouTube. I usually don’t watch them because, well, my taste in men runs more toward women. But something about the way he wrote up the latest one made me curious, so I checked it out.

Wow. A moving moment from the Sunday CuteTuber. Didn’t see that coming.