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From mental disorder to civil-rights cause

Psychiatrist and Princeton law professor traces the advances of the gay-rights agenda in science and the law to a common source: political intimidation

PRINCETON, N.J.-A big contributor to the gay movement's political success is the portrayal of homosexuality as an orientation over which individuals have no control. Jeffrey Satinover, author of Homosexuality and the Politics of Truth (Baker Books, 1996) and other books, has practiced psychiatry since 1986 and come to a different understanding, which he explained at a recent conference of the Witherspoon Institute here.

Dr. Satinover is a graduate of M.I.T. (Humanities and Science), Harvard (Clinical Psychology), and Yale (Physics), and received an M.D. from the University of Texas Medical School. He presently conducts research into complex systems at the National Center for Scientific Research at the University of Nice in France and teaches civil liberties and constitutional law part-time at Princeton.

WORLD: You've argued, against today's conventional wisdom, that the idea of "sexual orientation" is a fiction. What's the scientific evidence?

JS: A nationwide University of Chicago study of sexuality in America in 1994 concluded, ". . . it is patently false that homosexuality is a uniform attribute across individuals, that it is stable over time, and that it can be easily measured." Studies across the globe that have now sampled over 100,000 individuals have found the same.

We now know that in the majority of both men and women, "homosexuality," as defined by any scientifically rigorous criteria, spontaneously tends to "mutate" into heterosexuality over the course of a lifetime. The proportion of people who adopt a homosexual identity and the length of time they persist in holding on to it are affected primarily by environmental factors clearly identifiable in these epidemiologic studies. These factors-deemed "cultural" or "demographic"-include effects such as social networks, education, early sexual experiences, childhood sexual abuse, and cultural beliefs.

WORLD: How and why did the American Psychiatric Association misrepresent the evidence concerning homosexuality?

JS: In 1957, with quiet political support largely from the prominent UCLA psychiatrist Judd Marmor, Evelyn Hooker, an experimental psychologist (her expertise was with mice, not people) at UCLA, published a scientifically bogus paper that supposedly showed no differences in the psychopathology of homosexual and heterosexual males. In the late '60s she chaired a task force that excluded anyone who believed that there was anything in the least problematic with homosexuality-meaning she excluded the entire body of clinicians who until then had devoted their careers to the subject. She similarly ensured that all its mental-health members were collaborators of Alfred Kinsey.

Under the guise of its being a "mental-health" panel, and using the false cover of the Kinsey Report (which claimed to be scientific, but which even then had been long condemned by the American Statistical Association as invalid), Hooker's Task Force issued a set of "policy" recommendations based on the claim that homosexuality had been shown to be normal, a degree of bisexuality was the universal norm, and whatever unusual distress homosexuals might display was due to social prejudice. The elimination of all forms of social prejudice against homosexuality was a "mental-health" prerogative for the nation.

By the early '70s, Judd Marmor was on his way to the vice presidency of the American Psychiatric Association. He and a number of allies in the APA arranged to have outside gay activists disrupt APA meetings to protest the persistence of homosexuality as a diagnostic category within the APA's list of disorders. Eventually, these protests led to a series of meetings with the APA's "nomenclature committee" at which "research" was presented purportedly demonstrating no connection between homosexuality and psychopathology. These presentations were tendentious, the "research" consisting largely of Hooker's bogus work and Kinsey's data. With that, along with political pressure and the "civil-rights" argument, homosexuality was removed from the diagnostic manual.

Anyone who actually reads the studies examining the association between homosexuality and psychological disturbance will find a very strong association. What has never been clear until, perhaps, recently, is why. Perhaps the same problems that cause increased psychological distress also cause homosexuality. Perhaps homosexuality is an intrinsic psychopathology. Perhaps the social stigma experienced by being homosexual causes the psychological distress. Perhaps some unknown proportion of each. Perhaps some unknown proportion of each and a complex, nonlinear interaction among them over time. None of the early studies addressed these very obvious questions. They merely presumed the ideologically correct responses.

WORLD: How have Supreme Court decisions fit in with such misrepresentation?

JS: The mental-health organizations have submitted briefs to courts at every level, and have profoundly corrupted our understanding of human sexuality tacitly via their general influence. They influence judges' understanding before they become judges so that when a man or woman becomes a judge he is, for all purposes, an ignoramus with respect to homosexuality, full to the brim with sentimental platitudes.

These platitudinous outlooks "feel" deep, but are astoundingly shallow (the concept "sexual orientation" is an example-it is a "stopthought" that won't bear five minutes of serious scrutiny before dissolving into a welter of contradiction). But when a judge is handed an amicus brief that bears at its end a list of say five or 10 well-respected national or state mental-health professional organizations-he's impressed. Then he starts reading, and it's "The Emperor's New Robes." In learned-sounding terms, he's fed back all the nice-sounding pieties with which he's become familiar and comfortable. He doesn't have to stop and think for a second. He just has to be "nice."

So, over the years, the concept of "sexual orientation" has worked its way into the culture and up the court system to the level of the U.S. Supreme Court and in certain key state Supreme Court cases, especially in the Goodrich case in Massachusetts. The key U.S. Supreme Court cases are Romer and Lawrence. Leaving specific variations aside, all three approach homosexuality from the point of view of civil liberties-a misframing that goes all the way back to Hooker and the history I've mentioned.

It has been critical for the mental-health guilds to stand before the courts and say, "You see, your honors, we in particular, who are the very experts of what constitutes a mental disorder, proclaim that sexual orientation should not be discussed as a condition that is problematic and changeable, it is a normal and immutable state of the human being and therefore should be discussed in civil-rights terms, like race."

WORLD: How should the understanding that homosexuality is not a stable trait affect public policy?

JS: The entire legal argument (same-sex marriage, homosexual rights) rests upon the civil-rights argument, and this is based on the concept of "suspect class status." That's a technical term referring to the idea that you can define a group of people in some reasonable, meaningful way, and this definitional "boundary" results in their being subject to invidious discrimination.

The obvious example is being black. The way "suspect class status" is determined isn't totally mathematical, but it isn't totally fuzzy either. There's a good deal of common sense to it. We want to avoid having people cry "discrimination!" just when it suits them, in order to game the system. For example, I couldn't apply to the University of Michigan Law School as "black" under the recently decided affirmative-action decision because, having just returned from two weeks in the Caribbean, I've got such a terrific tan.

Since, to quote the University of Chicago study, "it is patently false that homosexuality is a uniform attribute across individuals, that it is stable over time, and that it can be easily measured," you have absolutely no basis whatsoever for building a "suspect class" out of it.

WORLD: How should that understanding affect the way individuals react to those who identify themselves as homosexual?

JS: What you're left with are human beings, no different than you or me, who are, of course, sexual beings. Like you and me, their sexuality is broken in a broken world. The notion that "homosexuals" are in effect a "different species" (different genes) is ludicrous beyond belief. There is not the slightest evidence for that as anyone who actually reads the studies (not reports on the studies) knows.

Of course as one grows and changes, one "grooves" a pathway that becomes embedded and increasingly difficult to alter. Of course a different innate disposition places one at a different "risk profile" for all sorts of different paths in life. So what else is new? It is also true that people do sometimes want to change, and some do and some don't. This is true of everything. It's also true that few good things in life are easy, and no achievement is ever perfect.

That said, we should remember that homosexuality has risen to the top of the social-policy agenda because of the utter wreck we all have made of family life over the past 50 years. This horror cannot be blamed on anyone but us.

Marvin Olasky

Marvin Olasky

Marvin is editor in chief of WORLD News Group and the author of more than 20 books, including The Tragedy of American Compassion. His latest book is World View: Seeking Grace and Truth in Our Common Life. Follow Marvin on Twitter @MarvinOlasky.