The Left is going after another of President Trump’s nominees to an executive branch post—Samuel H. Clovis, Jr., who has been tapped to serve as Under Secretary of Agriculture for Research, Education, and Economics.
When his nomination was announced last month, the chief focus of the administration’s critics was that Mr. Clovis is “not a scientist,” yet is being nominated to be the Department of Agriculture’s “chief scientist.” He was also attacked for being a “skeptic” on the issue of “climate change” science.
Critics focused on Clovis’ background as a radio talk show host and an unsuccessful political candidate—glossing over the fact that he has both an MBA and a Ph.D. in Public Administration, and had been a professor of economics at two different colleges (thus checking off both the “Education” and “Economics” parts of the job for which he has been nominated).
Recently, however, Mr. Clovis came under further attack for something seemingly unrelated to agriculture—namely, his position on homosexuality. Critics mined his radio commentaries for remarks they considered controversial—such as slippery slope arguments regarding the consequences of redefining “marriage” to include same-sex unions.
However, one critique caught my eye in particular. Writer Gary Legum, in an opinion piece in the Independent Journal Review, said the following (quoting in turn a CNN article about Clovis):
On the other hand, while Clovis might not believe the issue of a biological basis for sexual attraction is settled, people with scientific and medical training are fairly sure about it:
[Quote] Clovis has repeatedly argued that the science on homosexuality is unsettled and that “LGBT behavior” is a choice. The American Psychological Association has said that while there is no scientific consensus on the causes of sexual orientation, “most people experience little or no sense of choice about their sexual orientation.” [End quote]
Let’s first look at the CNN quote. Although presented in such a way as to imply that there is a contradiction between Clovis’ view and the ostensibly “expert” opinion of the APA, there is actually no difference between them. Clovis’ view that “the science on homosexuality is unsettled” and the APA’s view that “there is no scientific consensus on the causes of sexual orientation” are different ways of saying the exact same thing.
In reality, it is Mr. Legum’s declaration that “people with scientific and medical training are fairly sure about” there being “a biological basis for sexual attraction” that is directly contradicted by the APA’s statement that “there is no scientific consensus on the causes of sexual orientation.”
The “choice” issue requires a more careful examination. The APA is quoted as saying that “most people experience little or no sense of choice about their sexual orientation.” This is entirely true—if you use the first definition of “sexual orientation” that is offered in the APA document being quoted: “Sexual orientation refers to an enduring pattern of emotional, romantic and/or sexual attractions [emphasis added] to men, women or both sexes.”
Mr. Clovis, however, did not refer to LGBT “attractions”—he referred quite explicitly to “LGBT behavior.” “Attractions” are internal, subjective, and psychological; “behavior” is external, objective, and physical. They are not the same thing at all.
The APA document does go on, however:
Sexual orientation also refers to a person’s sense of identity based on those attractions, related behaviors and membership in a community of others who share those attractions.
This statement is entirely consistent with an understanding that I have tried to communicate for years, which is that “sexual orientation” is not one thing, but rather is an umbrella term that, depending on the context, can be used in reference to several different things—such as, in the APA’s terminology, “attractions,” “behaviors,” “sense of identity,” and “membership in a community.”
To speak clearly about “sexual orientation,” it is necessary to address each of these elements of it individually, since they are quite different from each other. This is particularly the case if we are discussing the role of “choice” in a person’s “sexual orientation.” “Identity” involves at least some element of choice, especially if we consider one’s public self-identification to be part of it. “Membership in a community” would appear to involve an even greater level of choice.
And one’s sexual behaviors—outside of a context of sexual abuse or exploitation—must be considered almost entirely a matter of “choice.” To say otherwise would be to imply that those with same-sex attractions are in the grip of an irresistible compulsion—which would be far more insulting than to say that they (like all of us) are capable of choosing their sexual behavior.
So when the APA says that “most people experience little or no sense of choice about their sexual orientation,” they are in that context referring to people’s sexual attractions, which indeed are not a “choice.” (Note: To say that same-sex attractions are not a choice, however, is not to say that they are innate. If—as many believe—they result from psychological and developmental forces or experiences in childhood or adolescence, then that would mean they are neither chosen nor inborn.)
I take no position here on Mr. Clovis’ general qualifications to serve in the Department of Agriculture. However, in clearly distinguishing “LGBT behavior” from same-sex attractions, while noting accurately that scientists cannot definitively point to one universal cause of such attractions, Mr. Clovis has actually shown a greater understanding of the science on homosexuality than have his critics.