ABSTRACT Many gay rights advocates argued in the 1990s that scientific research claiming that sexual orientation is immutable should contribute to gaining civil rights for gays, lesbians and bisexuals. This paper analyzes ten legislative debates that took place at the local, state and federal levels over whether to adopt antidiscrimination laws, before and after the research was published. We hypothesize that if the research has had the impacts hoped for by gay rights supporters, then debates over gay rights should reflect certain changes consistent with such impacts. Although discussion of the origins of sexual orientation among legislators rose in the aftermath of the studies, we fail to find that the science had a major impact on the debate strategies pursued by either pro- or antigay rights legislators. Whether sexual orientation is immutable or a choice has not been a central claim of the two sides in the debate. Gay rights opponents even appear somewhat more willing to assert that sexual orientation is a choice after the studies than before. Furthermore, when the proponents of gay rights assert the immutability argument, they are as likely as not to invoke the cultural authority of science. We explain these outcomes by showing why the immutability issue is not of central relevance to most legislators or necessary for either side's key arguments. We also show that the scientific evidence merely supplemented a large amount of anecdotal information that legislators already possessed that spoke to the origins of sexual orientation.

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