Social attitudes towards same sex relationships have differed over time. Peoples views have varied from expecting all males to engage in same-sex relationships, to casual integration, through acceptance, to seeing the practice as a minor sin, repressing it through law enforcement and judicial mechanisms, and to proscribing it under penalty of death. This shows many different attitudes towards homosexuality and how society can change. Ancient views towards sex included the beliefs of Pythagoreans and Stoics, who held the view that humans should abstain from the physical and live a quiet contemplative life instead. However, differing from this, Cyrenaics celebrated physical pleasure as the supreme good and led a life of sensual enjoyment. This view was also agreed by Ancient Hebrews, who shared a positive attitude towards sex and reproduction. However, this view then goes against homosexuality, as same-sex couples can not reproduce and therefore are using sex for pleasure instead of its true purpose.
Legally, in the past, laws have occurred over homosexuality, changing as time has gone on. For example, at the time of the formation of the United Kingdom, the English law identified that anal intercourse was an offence punishable by hanging. However in 1861, section 61 of the Offences against the Person Act removed the death penalty for homosexuality, showing a slight acceptance towards it. Although despite this, male homosexual acts remained illegal and were punishable by imprisonment. On the other hand, lesbians were never acknowledged or targeted by legislation.
In the early 1950s the police enforced laws prohibiting sexual behaviour between men, leading to a number of high profile arrests, such as Alan Turing – who was a scientist, mathematician and war time code breaker. He was convicted in 1952 for ‘gross indecency’, however in 2009, Prime Minister Gordon Brown issued an apology. On 3rd September 1957 the Wolfenden Report was published, recommending that ‘homosexual behaviour between consenting adults in private should no longer be a criminal offence’. It also stated that ‘homosexuality cannot legitimately be regarded as a disease, because in many cases it is the only symptom and is compatible with full mental health in other respects’. However, the Wolfenden Report was very much debated and consequently on 12th May 1958, the Homosexual Law Reform Society was founded to campaign for the implementation of the Wolfenden Committee’s recommendations.
In the 21st century, views on homosexuality still differ and create some confusion, due to developing and changing laws and attitudes. Sexual pleasure is often pursued in egotistical way, meaning that freedom of the individual is the main principle. However, the acceptance of homosexuality has only really been recognised within the 21st century and some form of equality can be proven through acts, laws and rights introduced.
The Western culture has progressively legalised private homosexual acts between consenting adults. In the United Kingdom, the Sexual Offences Act 1967 decriminalised private sexual acts between men 21 years and over in England and Wales. In these same countries, consent to buggery and certain other homosexual acts was then reduced to 16, in the year 2001. The Netherlands was the first country in the world to legalise gay marriage, in 2001 and in America the U.S. Supreme Court abolished all state sodomy laws in the year 2003. Today, the universal age of consent is 16 in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and on 2nd February 2009, Northern Ireland joined this agreement through the Sexual Offences NI Order 2008. Before this was passed, the age of consent for homosexuals was 17. The three United Kingdom crown territories now also have the equal age of consent at 16, agreed by the Isle of Man in 2005, Jersey in 2007 and by Guernsey in March 2010. Civil partnerships have become legal in England and Wales since 2005, showing that as time has passed, more people are beginning to accept homosexuality into society and equal rights are seen to have be acknowledged.
However, despite these laws, some people still go against homosexuality and in some respects these laws created a greater issue, as it meant that more and more people became divided in opinion. Homosexual acts are seen as legally acceptable, however in some cases, such as the church, strong disagreement is shown. For example ‘Do not lie with a man as with a woman, for it is an abomination’ Leviticus 18.21, teaches against homosexuality within the Old Testament.
The Roman Catholic Church is one in particular which express their dislike towards homosexuality, however they do not believe that homosexual inclination is a sin, instead that the sexual acts of homosexuality are. Roman Catholics believe that sexual intercourse should be for reproduction only and not for pleasure, ‘go fourth and multiply’, which is why they disagree with the view on sex before marriage. This belief is therefore unsupportive of sexual acts between gay couples, as this is purely for pleasure purposes. Children cannot be naturally produced from same sex relationships and for Roman Catholics sex and marriage should only be for a man and a woman, who are in a loving relationship.
Genesis 1:28 states ‘be fruitful and increase, fill the earth’, supporting the view that sex is for reproduction purposes. In the Declaration on Sexual Ethics, the Roman Catholic Church states that ‘In sacred scripture homosexual acts are condemned as a serious depravity and presented as a sad consequence of rejection God’, which condemns the practice of homosexuality. As a leader in the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Benedict shows concern for homosexual behaviour, taking the view that there are different kinds of homosexuals. The Declaration on Certain Questions Concerning Sexual Ethics, which he issued in 197, outlined a difference between transitory and pathological homosexuality. The Pope sees homosexuality as moral evil and he stated that homosexuality is a ‘tendency towards an intrinsic moral evil, and thus the inclination itself must be seen as an objective disorder’. Pope Benedict also stated that ‘a person engaging in homosexual behaviour therefore acts immorally’.
On the other hand, despite his strong belief against homosexual acts, the Pope called for empathy and compassion from followers. He denounced violence of speech and action against homosexuals in ‘The Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons’, but although he called for this compassion, as Pope he strongly stands by the negative view towards the act of homosexuality. In today’s society, the Roman Catholic Church has strict limitations on allowing homosexuals to become members of the clergy. Along with this it is also currently fighting the legal recognition of homosexual couples. Therefore, this shows that the Roman Catholic Church is strongly against the act of homosexuality, but not so much homosexuality itself, creating some sense of confusion within the church teachings. Some argue that the Roman Catholic view of homosexuality fuels intolerance, due to their strong disagreement and unwillingness of acceptance. This has managed to create a divide between the church and the rest of the people, through their opposing views, but also it has divided the church itself, due to the unacceptance of homosexuality.
A more extreme view against homosexuality, which influences absolutist teaching, is from the Westboro Baptist Church. This is a small family run Church, based in Topeka, Kansas, and is headed by Fred Phelps. This hate group is based on an anti-homosexual theology, running websites such as www.godhatesfags.com, which was formed in 1995. The website informs ‘Our goal is to preach the Word of God to this crooked and perverse generation. By our words, some will repent. By our words, some will be condemned. Whether they hear, or whether they forbear, they will know a prophet has been among them…our goal is to glorify God be declaring His whole counsel to everyone…we hope that by our preaching some will be saved’. The Westboro Baptist Church expresses the opinion that nearly every tragedy in the world is linked to homosexuality. It expresses the view that God hates homosexuals above all other types of sinners and that homosexuality should be criminalised and punishable by the death penalty. This hate group is still seen to be holding onto support, meaning that opposition to homosexuality is still increasing. This therefore agrees with the statement ‘the 21st century has raised more problems for equality than it has solved’, as strong division in beliefs is occurring, causing hatred to one another.
Along with these religious views against homosexuality, the general society of today also shows dislike towards homosexuals. For example, a local issue against a homosexual couple occurred in Cookham at the beginning of March 2010. The newspaper was titled ‘Backlash after B&B turned away gay couple’. The article states ‘A couple from Cookham who turned away a gay couple from their Bed and Breakfast say they have received threats of physical violence since the story broke in the national press’. This once again shows strong division in society, through peoples differing views. However, to ensure that the members of the public did not take up the view that everyone belonging to the Christian Church discriminated against homosexuals, the local vicar of Cookham offered his house as a place for the couple to stay. Although, the owner of the Bed and Breakfast also stated; ‘I have nothing against gay people and we have some friends who are gay. If they want to do that then it is up to them, but I object to it under my roof’. This shows contradicting views of one person, which as a result immediately creates confusion. Society is unclear on feelings towards homosexual couples, and due to mixed opinions, division and opposition remains in place.
A more violent case of opposition towards homosexual couples was shown in 1999, when nail bombing took place in a gay bar in Soho, central London. Two people were killed and more that 80 were injured and by one witness the scene was described as ‘absolute carnage’. This goes to show the extremist actions that can be carried out through strong hatred of a certain group of people, in this case homosexuals. This therefore once again agrees with the statement, as violence is obviously seen as more of a problem that a solved one.
One final view which shows a strong dislike and discrimination towards homosexuality is that of the Nigerian Church. In Nigeria, homosexuality is viewed as a crime, it is illegal and offenders are sometimes stoned to death. The Nigerian Church which has 17million members, showing its large support, openly opposed the ordination of Gene Robinson, a gay bishop in the USA. A few months later, President Oluisegun Obasanjo of Nigeria stated homosexuality as; ‘such a tendency is clearly unbiblical, unnatural and definitely un-African’. In September 2005, Archbishop Peter Akinola announced that the Nigerian Church was to break away from the Western Churches as it had strayed too far away from biblical teachings concerning homosexuality.
Differing slightly from these extremist views, some people, along with certain Church divisions take neither side when discussing homosexuality or some may accept homosexuality, but disagree with it at the same time. Within the Church of England, many high ranking clergy have admitted to being homosexual, however this has not always created a positive outcome. In July 2003, Canon Jeffery John from the Anglican Church, an open but celibate homosexual priest withdrew his acceptance of the post of Bishop of Reading. His decision for doing this was to avoid world wide split within the Anglican Church over homosexual priests. However, in doing so, Canon Jeffery John still managed to create great division within the Church. On one side evangelicals were pleased, as they believed the appointment of Jeffery John was wrong in the first place. However, this view dismayed many liberal members of the Church,
one supporter stating ‘Canon John has become the victim of appalling prejudice and abuse…the news will hurt thousands of Christian people who are not gay but believe strongly in God’s love and redemption for all his children equally’. In the middle of this great division, the Archbishop of Canterbury stated ‘This has been a time of open and painful confrontation in which some of our bonds of mutual trust have been severely strained’ and as a result in July 2008 the Archbishop called for a ban on homosexual priests becoming bishops in the Anglican Communion worldwide. The Anglican Church consequently too shows division within the Church and so once again creates more problems than solved when discussing homosexuality.
Similar to this, Gene Robinson was the first openly gay bishop inside the wider Anglican Church in the year 2003. His election as the Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire provoked an uproar, threatening a division within the Anglican Church. Robinson lived along with his partner for 20 years before forming a civil partnership in June 2008, adding to the tension caused within the Church. However, despite this, Bishop Robinson seems to be loved by his congregation and in 2003 he was elected by his diocese from a wide range of candidates. They have stood by him in support and that he should be viewed in a positive manner for the word he does within the Church. Bishop Robinson states that he is aware of the problems caused by his election, but he believes it is God’s will and he continues to pray for answers.
On the other hand, there are also religious groups in favour of homosexuality, such as the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement (LGCM). The groups intention is to confront homophobia and its website, www.lgcm.org.uk states ‘ LGCM is working for love, for peace, for justice, and for the promotion of the Christian faith especially within the LGBT community’. The Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement is based in the United Kingdom, but an international charity, working to create an inclusive Church. The organisation began in April 1976, as the Gay Christian Movement (GCM), and in 1986 changed its name to recognise the female membership. The movement has continued to grow, despite its ongoing opposition and its strong support is shown due to members from around the world and from major denominations. It is a very welcoming movement and is open to all people and supporters, regardless of sexual orientation, faith or belief. However, despite this movement, discrimination towards homosexuals is still shown. This is the only large group which is completely in favour of homosexuality and it is separate from the main Christian Church. Many opposing views towards homosexuality still occur, showing that the LGCM is not managing to gain a large enough amount of support to be accepted by the majority of society. It is clear that their will always be opposition to homosexuality, as everyone is entitled to their own opinion, and so for now the LGCM is just attempting to keep peace and happiness between the people.
However, once again differing from the LGCM view, a positive attitude towards homosexuality, natural law goes against this. Natural law reasoning is the basis for almost all standard moral intuitions. The same reasoning applies to the case of homosexual behaviour. The natural law states that the natural sex partner for a man is a woman and for a woman it is a man. The natural law then states the peoples opposing views of this and so supporting homosexuality are wrong, as homosexual couples are unnatural. The natural purpose of sexual intercourse is for procreation, which once again if you are in a homosexual relationship this cannot happen, and so goes against nature and the natural law, resulting in homosexuality being viewed as wrong.
Overall, when referring to the statement ‘The 21st century has raised more problems for equality than it has solved’, from investigating the different views of society and the Church, I agree with this statement. Discrimination of homosexuals is a constant occurrence and in some cases, such as the nail bombings in central London, a serious case. Great division has been caused among the Church, due to homosexuality, and so strong dislike begins to show. The Westboro Baptist Church is a key example of this, as it clearly expresses its hatred towards homosexuals. Those brought up in a very religious environment are also likely to disagree with homosexuality, as it goes against biblical teachings and is unnatural. Those very religious may not necessarily have a very open mind and therefore are unable to see outside what they have been taught. This could partly be why division occurs, as people are unwilling to accept other members views within society. So, due to contrasting beliefs and different laws passed, the statement is easy to agree with, as hate groups introduced, such as www.godhatesfags.com have been caused from homosexuality issues. All these factors can therefore be taken into account to agree with the fact that the 21st century has indeed created more problems than it has solved.