Many people are asking why the defenders of marriage were unable to get 50 Massachusetts legislators to agree to allow a referendum on marriage. I think that the answer is pity. Many people, including state legislators, feel sorry for persons with same-sex attractions (SSA). They believe these persons were born that way and can’t change and they don’t want to cause them further suffering. It is understandable that people should want to be merciful.

The problem is that the plea for pity is based on a distortion of the research on SSA. Although some people with SSA may sincerely believe that they were born that way and can’t change, the evidence doesn’t support this.

What, you may ask, about all those studies that claim to have found a “gay gene”? It is true that when you read the study by Dean Hamer and associates where this claim is made, it is very impressive. A lay person sees the numbers and formulas and assumes this is “science,” but when other scientists tried to replicate the study, they didn’t get the same results. A full scan of the human genome found no “gay gene.” Every “discovery” of a biological cause of SSA has received unwarranted publicity; the studies discrediting them virtually none.

If SSA was encoded in a person’s DNA, one would expect that identical twins who have the same DNA and the same prenatal environment would almost always have the same pattern of sexual attraction. Using the Australian twins’ registry, J. Michael Bailey and associates found 27 pairs of identical male twins where at least one was homosexual. In only three of the pairs (11 percent) was the other also homosexual. Given this result, it is difficult to see how same-sex attraction could be determined prenatally.

Of course, inherited factors can influence the development of SSA. Inherited factors such as temperament, appearance, and talents, influence how people treat us and how we react to that treatment.

If SSA isn’t prenatally determined, then what is the origin? Although each person with SSA has his or her own story, there are similar themes, many of which point to a failure in the first years of life to identify with the same-sex parent. Some therapists believe that SSA is an attachment disorder which begins with a disruption in the relationship with the mother. This is not to blame the parents, but to help parents understand how to meet their children’s needs. Much more research is needed. The more we understand the origins; we can work toward prevention and treatment.

This is important because while the activists insist that persons with SSA are just like the general public except for one small difference, a number of well-designed studies have found that persons with SSA are far more likely to experience other psychological disorders. For example, a research project followed more than 1,000 children born in Christchurch New Zealand for 25 years. At age 21 the rate of major depression for the gay, lesbian and bisexuals in this group was almost double than that of the heterosexuals (71.4 percent to 38.2 percent). Other studies also showed significant differences.

The Church teaches that while homosexual attractions are not sinful in themselves, “the homosexual condition” in itself is not, “neutral or even good,” but “a tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil; and thus the inclination itself must be seen as an objective disorder.”

There is good news. There are also numerous reports that some persons with SSA have changed, in some cases spontaneously, in some instances during therapy for other problems. Others have experienced personal conversions or received spiritual counseling and some have experienced change through therapy. For example the New Zealand study found that a significant percentage of the subjects changed their pattern of sexual attraction over the course of the study.

It is unfortunate that such a serious political decision has been made by those who have not been in position of all the facts. There are even those within the gay community who are embarrassed that their cause rests on distortions of the evidence. Gareth Kirkby, who says that after a number of relationships with women chose to be gay, asks: “Why is it that some of us continue to bend and twist and otherwise play loose with (often outdated) so-called facts? ... or how about the argument... that we are all ‘born this way?’ This sounds like a plea that we’re handicapped and deserve pity for our misfortunes.”

Those working to defend marriage as the union of one man and one woman must begin again, but this time let us increase our prayers. Persons with same-sex attractions are our brothers and sisters, friends, relatives, co-workers. They need the truth, but also need our love, our compassion, and our prayers.

Signing the petition is important, but offering up prayers and small sacrifices is more important. I know many people who have come out of the gay lifestyle, most give credit to God’s grace and the prayers and witness of friends. If we have not prayed enough in the past, if we ignored their suffering, if it was easier to give in to political demands based on distortions than speak the truth with love, we need to repent. Then perhaps God will hear our prayers and the light of his grace will shine in the darkness.

Dale O’Leary is an internationally recognized lecturer and author of “The Gender Agenda: Redefining Equality.”