'Born This Way': What do scientists say about the origins of being gay?

Marchers in a gay pride parade in New York. (2012 file photo)
Marchers in a gay pride parade in New York. (2012 file photo)

During a July 10, 2011, appearance on NBC’s Meet the Press, host David Gregory asked Republican presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty about his views on the origins of homosexuality.

The debate over gay rights has been gaining increasing attention in the GOP primary, including news accounts about secret tapes made of counseling sessions inside the clinic run by the husband of fellow Republican candidate Michele Bachmann.

So we decided to check Pawlenty’s comments on whether there’s a scientific consensus on the origins of being gay.

We looked at two related, but distinct, comments made by Pawlenty during his interview with host David Gregory.

One statement was that "there's no scientific conclusion that (being gay) is genetic."

We found that Pawlenty’s word choice -- "genetic" -- was pivotal. The way he phrased it, he’s pretty close to accurate. But if he’d said instead that "there's no scientific conclusion that (being gay) is biological," he would have been incorrect. On balance, we rated the claim Mostly True.

The other statement was that scientists are "in dispute" over whether being gay is a choice.

This comment hinges on the difference between sexual orientation and sexual behavior. Scientists don’t doubt that it’s possible for someone who’s gay to choose, through sheer willpower, to ignore sexual impulses and abstain from homosexual activity. But scientists add that for such people, those sexual impulses don’t go away.
So, scientists argue, even if sexual behavior is a choice, sexual orientation -- the state of being gay or heterosexual or bisexual and the impulses one feels -- is not a choice. For that reason, we rated this statement False.