One of the keys to understanding the current legal impasse over gay marriage is the distinction between “sexual preference” and “sexual orientation.”
In last week’s ruling on same-sex marriage, the New York State Court of Appeals defended its decision to uphold the status quo by arguing, “A person’s preference for the sort of sexual activity that cannot lead to the birth of children is relevant to the State’s interest in fostering relationships that will serve children best.”
Let’s ignore for the moment the fact that heterosexuals indulge in many sexual practices that “cannot lead to the birth of children,” and even, by means of birth control, intentionally thwart the procreative capacity of vaginal intercourse. I want to focus on the use of this word “preference.”
I have a preference for Diet Coke. Now, when I go into a store, there are many beverage options available to me. But I almost always have Diet Coke. It’s what I like.
I think there is something wrong with people who like Diet Pepsi. Yes, I have tried Diet Pepsi, and I didn’t like it. I suspect people who drink Diet Pepsi either have never tried Diet Coke and, therefore, don’t know what they’re missing, or, there is something wrong with them that could probably be cured by therapy. They were probably raised by parents who gave them Diet Pepsi. Or possibly they came from broken homes, or were abused by priests. Or maybe someone gave them Diet Pepsi while they were at camp as a teenager. Any or all of these explanations are plausible.
But sexual attraction is much more complicated than that. I might have a “preference” for certain activities, sure, but I don’t really have a choice when it comes to a partner. My interest in men is innate and is part of who I am as a person. It’s not like I’m dining in some sort of sexual restaurant and can decide whether I’d rather have the Penis or the Breasts & Vagina Combo. Where I’m sitting, the Combo isn’t even on the menu.
I suspect heterosexuals feel the same way. Many heterosexuals might enjoy the kinds of activities that can’t lead to conception, but they’re not interested in doing them with a partner of the same gender. A choice is not really a valid “choice” if one of the options is something you would never, ever want.