The Immutable Truth

BY LAMBDA@LAW.HARVARD.EDU

Both Courtney Dunbar and Lawrence VanDyke presume that homosexuality is mutable. Dunbar cites no support whatsoever, while VanDyke cites a lone study, which relied exclusively on verbal self-report of changes in sexual orientation. Moreover, many of the study’s participants were recruited through ex-gay religious ministries, and 73% felt conflict between their religion and sexual attraction. Thus, there was strong motivation for self-deception. We also question whether VanDyke actually read the study (authored by Spitzer, not Spitzner) or any of the 26 peer commentaries immediately following it. The efficacy of “reparative therapy” is anything but “substantiated.”

The scientific consensus remains the same: there is no proof that reparative therapy works, and there is abundant evidence of its harms. The American Psychological Association’s official stance is still that sexual orientation cannot be volitionally changed. But this should be painfully obvious-the high rate of suicide among gay and lesbian teens is ample evidence that, for many, sexual orientation is immutable. At some point, this simply degenerates into an accusation that the overwhelming majority of gays and lesbians are liars; that we could change if we just really, really tried.

In any event, even if we think immutability is legally significant (a suspect assumption), then the question we should be asking is not whether anyone can change their sexual orientation, but whether anyone cannot. Even the most ideologically-driven reparative therapist, Joseph Nicolosi, admits that a third of his highly-motivated clients simply cannot change their sexual orientation. How could the law possibly distinguish between gays and lesbians who could never change their sexual orientation from those who might be able to if only they went through decades of psychotherapy? And how could we apply different standards for each type, given that harms like discrimination are palpably hurtful for both? Obviously, the law cannot-and should not.

Perhaps an even more revealing question is this: did you arrive at your conclusion that homosexuality was immutable before or after you formed your substantive conclusion about whether homosexuality was wrong? As Dunbar and Vandyke demonstrate, in most instances, the answer to the latter question informs the answer to the first.

Lambda Board

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