Historically, homosexuals have been discriminated against, scapegoated and often even feared. The orientation has been labeled as immoral and unnatural, and the sexual practice considered contrary to God’s intent and perverted. There are a number of views on the issue; some believe it to be a mental or genetic disorder that is not the homosexual’s fault yet this still cannot be accepted; others accept the orientation yet frown upon genital contact. Others believe same sex relationships, although they still fall short of ideal morality, to be more acceptable in committed relationships than in transient ones. And lastly, there are liberals, both religious and not, who support and tolerate homosexuality as long as it is consensual. Many surveys have been conducted in order to discern how much of the population has had such experiences, inclinations or relationships, and the figures vary greatly. However, if homosexuality is wrong, then it makes no difference as to the numbers of people who admitted to it; if it is morally neutral then society’s discriminatory attitude is immoral in itself.
Many people remain hostile towards homosexuality. Christian views, formed by the literal interpretation of the Bible, deem homosexuality incompatible with the Church. Although Jesus’ teaching does not include anything on the issue, the church he founded stemmed from Jewish tradition. The law commanded: ‘Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable’ (Lev. 18.22) and clearly this refers to sexual conduct.
It goes on to promote the death penalty for such practices, and clearly this is referring to consensual relationships: ‘They must be put to death; their blood will be on their own hands’ Homophobic attitudes were clearly encouraged, most likely in order to keep stability within society and uphold family values, possibly minimise pederasty. Many Christians agree with the traditional interpretation of the scriptures. Thus, homosexuals can and do face antagonism if they wish to practice their religion within the Church that does not accept who they are. Other gays are forced to lie or hide their identity. This rejecting-punitive stance can have a serious effect on a homosexual person, triggering guilt, loneliness, depression, alcoholism.
Still within the Christian community, there are those who believe that homosexuals are nevertheless full members of the Church or the Body of Christ, and can be blessed and forgiven like other sinners. However homosexual behaviour is still seen as straying from God’s good plan for the purpose of human life and procreation; therefore Christians are not permitted to practice it. The rejecting-compassionate stance, although of course more tolerant than the view discussed above, can still be seen as immoral in its partial rejection of a person’s nature.
This is the stance officially taken by the Catholic Church and follows Natural Law in condemning any sexual act that is not open to procreation because it thus would be unnatural and wrong. This approach towards Christian homosexuals welcomes self-denial and inner conflict. Even if one does not practice homosexual behaviour, the orientation and desire are still present. It seems discriminatory that ‘straight’ members of the Church are allowed to affirm their loving relationships through sexual means and enjoy this as a gift from God, whereas gays are forced to abstain. The other option is to enter a heterosexual marriage with or without seeking ‘treatment’.
The origins of homosexuality are still being debated by scientists and psychiatrists. Freud believed it to be the failure to acquire the appropriate male or female dominant orientation, and develop into a proper adult. In the same way, situation ethicists and liberal Christians believe homosexuals are not responsible for their orientation, though the orientation itself is morally wrong. Qualified acceptance presumes it is unlikely for gays to become heterosexual or entirely celibate, and thus this stance allows for human weakness. Critics of qualified acceptance argue that even if homosexuality is genetically or environmentally acquired and is inescapable, it still should not be excused as it is wrong. Homosexuality is nothing more than a lustful anomaly that should be kept under control, in the same way heterosexual lust should be. The Stoics rejected any desire that threatened self discipline – lust should therefore be overcome, and in this context homosexual inclinations should be also.
There are also those who fully accept homosexualtiy. In Passionate and Compassionate Love, 1991 Jack Dominion attempts to redefine sexuality as a way of thanking and appreciating your partner. Sex is so important that it is only desirable in a committed union (but this does not have to be marriage) and thus homosexuals should treat it likewise. The purpose of sex is unity and procreation is not the sole aim and is almost supplementary; the mass use of contraception in developed countries supports this.
Therefore, same sex relationships can lead to happiness and emotional fulfillment. The moral worth of a sexual act should be judged in the context of a particular relationship, without taking gender into account. In order to criticise this stance one would need to take into account the description of the purpose of human sexuality in Genesis 1, for it clearly stresses procreation as a part of ‘what God joint together’, and separating union from reproduction would be putting asunder God’s plan.
However, the question of morality may become irrelevant if one were to say morality in itself was invented by humans, and is therefore debatable. For instance, the theory of ethical relativism presumes there are no universally meaningful moral principles. A moral truth would be relative to the person or situation it concerns. This theory goes against dogmatic approaches that rigidly categorize acts and people as morally good or bad. The Sophists believed there to be only opinion and no truth; Protagoras rejected the possibility of the existence of any moral absolutes. Therefore in terms of moral relativism, homosexuality is not immoral because it cannot be; of course this also means homophobia has no moral value either.
Homosexuality and homophobia exist side by side, and theoretically both can be rejected or supported with valid reason. Today however in the civilized world the tendency is to veer towards the tolerance of homosexuals, as this allows different people in society to peacefully co-exist and hopefully eventually gain mutual understanding.