The stalemate over gay marriage in the state Senate has rekindled the old debate about whether homosexuality is genetic or acquired, or maybe even perversely chosen.
First up was a letter writer from Saratoga Springs who asserted: "It is a fact that a person who is attracted to the same sex is genetically predisposed."
Next was a Bible-reader from Delanson who declared in a letter that appears in today's paper: "There is no study that proves this assertion," and further, "It [homosexuality] is contrary to basic biology, evolutionary science and it is proscribed by every major religion in the world."
This matters because if homosexuality is based on genes it would presumably be as unjust to discriminate against people who carry those genes as it is to discriminate against people because of their inherited skin color.
If it is merely a preference, maybe we can flog them out of it.
I regret that I cannot resolve the matter myself, since my credentials in genetics are exceedingly thin and I can do no more than a layman's Google search, but such a search does turn up some interesting material.
Principally it turns up a study of 7,600 twins in Sweden which concluded that genetic factors explain from 18 to 39 percent of a person's sexual orientation, shared environment explains from zero to 17 percent, and a person's unique environment explains from 61 to 66 percent.
Unique environment includes "circumstances during pregnancy and childbirth" as well as later experiences, so to my way of thinking it would, to that extent, also be something over which a person has little or no control.
(Reference to this study can be found in the Wikipedia article on "biology and sexual orientation.")
I realize there are plenty of studies, and people tend to pick them to conform to whatever they already believe, but this one seemed sufficiently balanced and broad-based to merit some trust.
I interpret it as offering a little something for everyone. Yes, genes play a role, but so does environment, so does experience.
So the assertion by writer No. 1 that a gay person is "genetically predisposed" seems fair enough, even if genes are not the whole story, and the comeback by writer No. 2 that "no study proves this assertion" is accurate only in the very narrow sense that no study proves it once and for all but wrong in the broader sense that many studies, not just the one I cited, support it.
But imagine a Bible-quoting believer demanding a study in the first place. Isn't that cute?
Believers assert the most outlandish things, basically the existence of a whole parallel universe populated by invisible beings who care about us and influence us, but when someone proffers the modest proposition that homosexuals are genetically predisposed, they demand a study.
How about a study of hellfire? How about a study of virgin births? How about a study of risings from the dead? How about a study of a thousand other fantastic claims that religious people routinely make with a straight face and expect the rest of us to swallow?
As for the argument that homosexuality is proscribed by every major religion in the world, well, maybe it is. I don't know. It is certainly proscribed by literal Judaism, literal Christianity and literal Islam. I'm not aware of any proscription in Buddhism or Hinduism, but I admit I have not researched the matter.
But so what? What the blazes did ancient desert priests and shamans know? If you had told them the earth went around the sun rather than vice versa they would have scalped you and made a burnt offering of you.
St. Paul, quoted by letter-writer No. 2, was famously down not just on homosexuality but on heterosexual marriage as well. What kind of a guide is he?
As for Moses and Muhammad, they were perfectly happy with slavery and the stoning of non-virgin brides. If it's moral guidance you're after, you might as well turn to Julius Caesar or Ramses II.
I do not comment on a Bible-quoting Christian's raising as an objection that homosexuality is contrary to evolutionary science, such opportunism being too embarrassing to contemplate. Bits of the Bible are contrary to evolutionary science too, I believe.
In my brief delving into the literature I did not encounter any study that shows homosexuality, or any other kind of sexuality, to be a free choice, so I leave that suggestion aside.
It does seem to me that homosexuality requires an explanation, just as the giraffe's neck requires an explanation, it being so implausible on the face of things, but a person of sober disposition does not consult ancient oracles for solutions to such puzzles any more than a person of sober disposition applies leaches for relief of fever these days.
We have come a long way in the last few hundred years, and the proof is that the New York State Legislature, the nearest thing we have to a living dinosaur, is coming along also, an inch at a time.
The idea that that barely-breathing body should be within one vote of approving something so radical as gay marriage would have been unthinkable just a decade ago.
But don't get me wrong, I do enjoy the debate.