Opinion: The origin of homosexuality

POSTED: 11/1/13 11:38 AM

Ever since Prime Minister Sarah Wescot-Williams said that it is about time to have a debate about marriage for all, some people have gone ballistic while others follow the developments with amused bewilderment.

So far, developments in St. Maarten have been close to non-existent, apart from the lone remark by the Prime Minister who believes in equal treatment and in democratic principles. The net result of this philosophy is obviously that for the time being marriage between two men or two women won’t happen in St. Maarten. The proof is in the pudding: the civil registrars just received new attire for wedding ceremonies, but they did not get special attire to celebrate a wedding between two men or between two women. A little pink ribbon or a rainbow sticker will have to do for the time being – if ever the occasion arises.

In the meantime, Mark van Vugt, an evolutionary psychologist and a professor at the free University of Amsterdam has a message for Russell Simmons who almost choked on his breakfast after reading that Kingdom Relations Minister Plasterk subsidizes homo emancipation in the BES-islands. “It is nonsense to believe that information could promote homosexuality,” Van Vugt wrote in an opinion piece in the Volkskrant. His analysis feels like a useful building block for the debate that our Prime Minister wants to entertain.

“It is a turbulent year for the international gay and lesbian rights movement. Russia approved a law in June that prohibited giving information about homosexuality to minors. That resulted in tremendous indignity across the globe; several celebrities like the British comedian Stephen Fry called for an international boycott of the Olympic Games in Sochi in 2014. This week President Poetin did an about face: “Olympic athletes are welcome in Sochi, irrelevant of their sexual inclination.”

Evolutionary scientists are asking themselves: what is this fuss all about”? They have made progress in the research into homosexuality. This shows that exclusive homosexuality is not a choice for a lifestyle (that could be stimulated by information) but a biologically anchored sexual predisposition.

There is still a lot of discussion among biologists about the origin of homosexuality and they still have not found evidence of a homo-gen or a homo-brain. Still, scientific research shows that there is an important genetic influence on homosexuality. First of all we find in several countries and in different cultures in the world a relatively stable minority – around 8 percent – with an exclusive homosexual inclination. Among them are twice as many men as women. Research furthermore shows that homosexuality runs in the family. Finally homosexuality has been established in several other animal species that are in different degrees related to humans – like baboons, dolphins, penguins and even worms.

There are therefore strong indications that homosexuality is a part of someone’s genotype. Evolutionary scientist (among others the eminent American psychologist David Barash) speculate about the origin of homosexuality. According to a Darwinist analysis the sexual inclination that stands in the way of having children should have disappeared from the population a long time ago. But this is not the case. There are five scientific explanations for the start of homosexuality.

Some scientists claim that homosexuals provide important help to brothers, sisters and other family members. By foregoing their own posterity homosexuals are able to free up more time to assist their close relatives with whom they share obviously several genes. The evidence for this relation-hypothesis is mixed.

British research compared homosexual and heterosexual men and did not find a significant difference in the assistance they gave to family members – like babysitting and financial aid. But in a traditional society like Samoa (that is more like the society of our ancestors) homosexuals support their families significantly more and they are considered full-fledged members of the family and the community.

Another version of this relation-hypothesis is that homosexuals (as unmarried people) have a high position in the community – think about monks in the Middle Ages – and that they are able to provide support to their families this way in terms of standing.

A second theory poses that homosexuality started in our evolutionary history because it benefited the group. Possibly groups with a large number of homosexuals had fewer children but this meant that scarce goods like food and water lasted longer. Especially in times of scarcity (and they happened quite often in the distant past) this was possibly important, another explanation is that groups with relatively many homosexuals worked smoother because there were fewer conflicts about sex partners who (as the Trojan wars show) could tear a group apart. Up to now strong evidence for this group=theory is lacking but it remains an interesting thought.

A third theory claims that male homosexuality is determined by the sexual preferences of women. The argument here is that it is better for women to marry homosexual men because of their possible better cooperative and emphatic qualities. A relationship with a homosexual man could then result in a better relationship and better care for children.

Research shows that many women are attracted to homosexual men, especially because they are less threatening and aggressive than the average heterosexual man.

A forth and more technical explanation for the stable percentage of homosexual genes in the population is that these genes possibly contain hidden benefits. Though there is negative selection on homosexual genes (because their carriers do not produces as many offspring compared to heterosexual genes) there could still be benefits. If the genes for homosexuality also result in the individual being of more than average intelligence, or of a better general health, these genes could spread among the population for other reasons. We do not know enough about this right now.

Lastly there is another interesting possibility that geneticists are currently researching. Homosexuality occurs because the genes that code for it have a different effect when the man or the woman is the carrier of these genes. When homosexual genes occur in male family members, in could result in fewer children. But if the same genes occur in women they could lead to more children. There is some scientific support for this theory.

Research shows that the mothers of homosexual men on average have more children than mothers of heterosexual men. The family members in the line of the mothers (sisters) also have more offspring. Why is this?

Recent research shows that there are genes that suppress androgen, the male sex hormone, in the womb of the woman; this would make the female fetus more feminine (and therefore more fertile) and the male fetus less masculine (and therefore less fertile).

These are some of the current scientific theories about the origins of homosexuality in humans. Some of these theories explain the male variant better than the female one, because there is much more exclusive homosexuality among men than there is among women.

All this suggests that it is nonsense to believe that information could promote homosexuality, like some countries and religions do. Homosexuality is a given among mankind and among several animal species. Why it exists and what its functions are is an interesting scientific enigma that deserves further research.”

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