Is Sexual Orientation a Choice?

Presidential candidate Marco Rubio says, “I believe that sexual preference is something that people are born with,” but goes on to say, “I don’t believe same-sex marriage is a constitutional right.”  Let’s consider both of these ideas from a political perspective.

First, whether people choose their sexual orientation or are born with it is irrelevant from a political perspective.  As long as people’s actions are not violating the rights of others, their choices about sexual partners and any other personal matters should be of no concern to the government.  So, I’ll criticize Rubio for making this statement, not because he’s right or wrong, but rather because as a political candidate he should have said that whether people are born with their sexual preferences should have no bearing on politics or government.

Second, and following from the first point, government should treat people as individuals rather than as members of a group (even group sizes as small as two), so government should not be involved in determining whether people are married at all.  Rubio says the determination of who can be married should be left to the states, but really, it should be left to those people and whatever other groups they choose to belong to (such as a church) to decide.

But, the federal government does recognize marriage, in its tax laws among other things.  Married people are treated differently from single people for tax purposes.  The same-sex marriage question then becomes whether people should be able to choose their family units for tax purposes, or whether the government should exclude certain arrangements.  Based on the principle of protecting individual rights, I would argue that individuals should be able to choose their significant others for tax purposes, regardless of gender.  So once again, I’m siding against Rubio on this.

This would be a non-issue if people were treated as individuals by government.  That’s the point I’d like to see Rubio make.

Randall G. Holcombe is Research Fellow at the Independent Institute and DeVoe Moore Professor of Economics at Florida State University. His Independent books include Housing America: Building Out of a Crisis (edited with Benjamin Powell); and Writing Off Ideas: Taxation, Foundations, and Philanthropy in America .
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