Yes, she's strange and different...but not THAT different.

16 October 2006

Which genes are you wearing?

Driving home from the airport yesterday evening (yes, I'm back from Mexico for a little while), I was listening to NPR's Sunday edition of "All Things Considered" when this story came on. It caught my attention because it dealt with cases where XX and XY chromosomes don't always produce the expected physical characteristics. Basically, research just published in the online version of the journal Nature Genetics indicates that a gene called R-spondin 4 plays a very large role in determining physical sexual characteristics in utero. An individual with XX chromosomes - which means they are genetically female - who has a damaged version of this gene will develop phycically as a male. The individual will be sterile, though, because sperm production is coded by genes on the Y chromosome. No details were mentioned concerning XY individuals, though. I couldn't read the actual article online because I'm not a Nature Genetics subscriber, but it seems to me that this knocks another prop out from underneath the argument that it's easy to determine who is a man and who is a woman. And if we can't figure that out, how the hell will we be able to figure out who should get to marry whom?

Go listen to the story.

  • On 10/18/2006 11:47 AM, Blogger konagod said…

    and the truth will set you free....

  • On 10/18/2006 11:22 PM, Blogger DeniseUMLaw said…

    I'm sure you've noticed that the courts don't actually *care* what the chromosomes are. In nearly every case I've read they ignore that issue or dismiss it.

    The 14th Amendment is supposed to guarantee Equal Protection and Due Process -- which are *INDIVIDUAL* rights, meaning that a person can bring a claim that they are not being accorded EP or DP. But, until that person brings a claim (say, a male-appearing person with XX chromosomes who seeks to marry a male) there will be no move toward dismantling sex for purposes of marriage.

    And, even then, the courts would likely hold to a narrow ruling that applies only to persons with "unusual" chromosomal patterns, leaving the rest of us stuck in the binary.

  • On 10/19/2006 9:51 AM, Blogger Jami said…

    So, who gets to decide what's "unusual"? Isn't that a pretty slippery slope to start down: someone else gets to decide whether or not you fit in a given box? The government gets to decide if you're, say, male enough to marry a female? To my mind, this is an area with only shades of gray and none of the black and white required to enact some sort of "marriage permission" law.

  • On 10/21/2006 4:17 AM, Blogger DeniseUMLaw said…

    What do you mean? The "government" (read: we the people) decides all the time which box(es) people get to belong to.

    That's sort of my point about the 14th Amendment being about individual rights. If the vast (vast) majority of people have either XX or XY chromosomes (and considering the growing population, I think that's a safe assertion) I don't think the government has any problem on relying on historical definitions of sex to restrict such access. However, if a person with an XX pattern who looked like a male brought a case ... well, who knows?


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