Gay sheep and human destiny.
Notice the lack of animus in these explanations. Breeders don't care whether rams are gay or simply unmotivated. All that matters is "performance." And when Ray talks about "eliminating" such rams from breeding, he leaves open the possibility of a happy old age munching grass. But you can smell the slaughterhouse.
Which brings us to the animals whose breeding we really care about: our children.
Passing on your genes is life's deepest drive. You don't just want kids. You want grandkids. An Israeli woman, with court approval, is already using her dead son's sperm to inseminate a stranger. I know a guy whose future mother-in-law put him through a fertility test before approving his marriage. Then there are all the parents who pressure their adult children to marry and procreate. In a recent survey, 73 percent of Americans said they'd be upset to learn that their child was gay. To many parents, "I'm gay, Mom" means "No grandkids for you."
Roselli offers lots of evidence that human homosexuality is linked to biological conditions, some of them genetic. If he figures out how to manipulate sexual orientation in sheep, will others try to manipulate it in humans? We already have. Doctors used to "treat" homosexuality with hormone injections. Some still do. This idea failed miserably in adults, but it might work in fetuses, since their brains are forming. And if we can't engineer sexual orientation, maybe we can select it. Millions of Asians have used modern sex tests to identify and abort female fetuses. If we learn how to recognize gay brains in development, look out.
But killing is the horror scenario. The more likely path is gentler. Science will gradually convince us that sexual orientation is innate, more like the color of your skin than like the content of your character. Condemnation of homosexuality as a sin will subside. Freed from the culture wars, we'll turn to the biological differences between race and sexual orientation: Homosexuality defies the aspiration to procreate with your mate, and it's easier to isolate and alter in embryonic development. Resentment will give way to pity. We'll come to view homosexuality as a kind of infertility—a disability, like deafness. The rhetoric of "acceptance" will shift from liberals to conservatives. We'll inoculate our offspring against homosexuality out of love, not hate.
The sheep researchers intend nothing like this. But they didn't foresee the initial uproar over their work, either. It has come from the left, not the right. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has tried to quash their research, falsely depicting them as bigots. PETA, like President Bush, thinks that bad ideas come from bad people, and you have to stamp out the whole lot.
But bad ideas—communism, eugenics, wars of liberation—don't happen because they're bad. They happen because, in the beginning, they're good. What we do with the biological truth about homosexuality, for good or ill, isn't written in our hormones or our genes. It's up to us.
A version of this article also appears in the Outlook section of the Sunday Washington Post.
Will Saletan covers science, technology, and politics for Slate and says a lot of things that get him in trouble.
Photograph of sheep: in article by Lynn Ketchum/Oregon State University; on Slate's home page byAdrian Burke/Corbis.