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No one knows exactly how homosexuality entered into human history. I would imagine that the practices associated with the erotic attraction of people to one's own gender have been around since the dawn of humanity. The earliest accounts of homosexual behavior seem to be found in ancient pagan religious practices. At least, the pagans included homosexuality in the worship of various gods. Whether the inclusion in worship was because the practice was already a part of the society-at-large or if the pagan worship introduced the practice is impossible to determine, although some understandings of Paul's writings argue for the latter.
Human beings began to worship many gods very early in human history. These early gods were most often associated with fertility, agriculture, and war. One of the early gods of the Assyrians, which later spread into the area known as Canaan, was the goddess Asherah. She was worshipped as the goddess of fertility. Often worship of this goddess included orgies and sexual practices. The goddess of fertility was often worshipped in the form of a tree with many female breasts carved into the trunk. These trees were central in a grove where worship was conducted. One would invoke or appease the goddess in order to gain fertility for one's self, the tribe, or the clan.
When polytheism, the worship of many gods, was dominant on the earth, gods could be both male and female. These gods were not considered to be infallible or all-powerful like the Christian concept of God. Often they were very much like people with desires and the ability to make mistakes. Gods were believed to have sex with one another and procreate. Those who practiced these religions often felt that the nature of these gods had to be appeased in order for the tribe to survive. Having sex with a god as a part of worship, or to seek help for fertile crops, animals, or selves, was a logical extension of the concept of polytheism. Since sex was required for fertility in humans, they believed having sex with a god was all the more crucial and beneficial.
Giving the Male God More Male-ness
Most likely, additional homosexual practices became a part of polytheistic worship as a successor to masturbation. Evidence suggests pagan priests orally stimulated the sexual organs of the worshippers in order to facilitate masturbation in ancient mid-eastern cults. If one believed that having sex with a god would bring fertility, it was easy to also believe that, if a man added his male-ness, through his semen, to a male god, fertility would be multiplied all the more. Male gods could plant seeds and were therefore seen as more productive than the female gods to some. When a man ejaculated his semen into another man's anus at the shrine, he was depositing more male power to the gods. With the additional strength of the semen of many men, the god could then insure a bountiful crop, a larger herd, and many children to care for the field. This practice grew into, not only forms of pagan worship, but also a means of supplying money for the temple. Catamites, boys and men who were exclusively used for passive anal sex, began to serve the temples. One must wonder whether boys were sometimes forced into this kind of sexual contact due to economic circumstances, much like their female counterparts. Women often survived only by prostitution since they were allowed no inheritance. Orphan boys may often have found themselves in the same predicament. Regardless, it was very early in human history that both male and female prostitutes were used in temple worship in order to raise funds for the temple, as well as support themselves.
Homosexuality in Ancient Greece
Greek culture is often promoted as the most accepting of homosexuality. To some extent, this may be true. The Greeks developed a hedonistic attitude toward the human body and sexuality. Although we may think of hedonism as lustful today, Greek philosophers wrote of hedonism in much more glowing terms. They believed that the naked human body, both male and female, was worthy of respect and admiration. They took great pride in the physical form. Public nudity was both tolerated and often encouraged.
The art and statuary of the ancient Greeks reflects this love for the body, particularly the male body. A major negative of this attitude is that those who were handicapped or unattractive children were often left to die, killed, or used in sacrifice to a god. It was not unusual for men to comment on the attractiveness of other men, or for them to express affection for one another. At least part of the reason for this fascination with physical attractiveness and sex is that the Greeks had developed into a culture that had a great deal of leisure time. They were not required to work constantly in order to survive. Blumenfeld and Raymond wrote: “Similarly, the Greek attitude toward sex was, for the most part, value-neutral. …And, though exclusive homosexuality was probably discouraged as a threat to the family, it was widely tolerated both for older men who had children and for younger men prior to marriage.” (Blumenfeld and Raymond 1988, 155)
The Greek military attitude toward homosexuality was that it brought a sense of comradeship. It was often believed that a person would fight harder to protect his unit if that unit included a lover or lovers. This unique form of male bonding is attributed by some to the greatness of the Greek military might. In spite of this encouragement of homosexual practices, the picture is different for those who were exclusively passive at anal sex. They were believed to be polluted, and to have become like women. Therefore, they were expelled from military service as untrustworthy.
The issue of being exclusively homosexual was extremely difficult. Although the Greeks recognized passion and erotic attraction to both and either sex, they were not tolerant of those who were not also attracted to women. This could very well be due to the recognition that society must be able to reproduce in order to survive. The union of a man and a woman is required to reproduce. “After the age of nineteen or so, the young man was expected to marry and establish a family. Those who did not, or who continued to engage in homosexual relations exclusively, were subject to ridicule, or worse. In addition, exclusive sexual passivity in men was met with criticism and, at times, treated severely. ... rape of a free boy/young man (no such sanctions existed for conduct with slaves) was harshly punished, and male prostitution (again, by citizens) was condemned severely.” (Ibid. 157-158)
Greek society only negatively defined homosexual activity when it was exclusive or related to prostitution by a citizen. In nearly every other instance, homosexual conduct was considered acceptable and practical. It was simply a way of enjoying the beauty and awesomeness of the male bodies that they revered so highly.
The attitude toward the family and education could have also played a role in the attitude toward homosexuality. The family was considered the basis for reproduction. Women were restricted in their sexual activity because they were needed in order to bear children. Men could have sex with either women or men, so long as they met their societal obligation to reproduce. This is probably why exclusive anal sex was prohibited. Catamites could not bear children for their partners.
Fathers were not seen as the primary agent of socialization, and the mothers were often only useful for nursing and caring for children. The state took the greatest amount of responsibility for the child. Education was the responsibility of the teachers and philosophers. Girls were excluded from the education system that was designed to teach boys how to be men. The student was expected to respect and admire his teacher. The teacher was expected to gain the devotion and affection of his student. Therefore, homosexual conduct between a teacher and student was considered a valuable part of the education process. The family, on the other hand, was simply needed for procreation.
Homosexuality in Ancient Rome
Another great civilization was that of the Romans. This empire was influenced heavily by the Greeks. Hellenistic influence included attitudes toward sexuality. Roman gods are virtually the same as Greek gods except that their names are Latin. It is said that fourteen of the first fifteen emperors were homosexual. During the republic period, Cicero declared without challenge that there is nothing illegal about a man taking another to the country in order to enjoy his erotic sensual pleasures. Although one could easily have sex with his wife at home, a man in the baths, a prostitute in the brothel, and a slave in a dark corner, he would have only been criticized if he were not able to keep everything in its place.
The moral issue toward sexuality in general, and homosexuality in particular, revolved around the idea of control for the Romans. One could enjoy any kind of sex, so long as he did not allow himself to be controlled by his partner. If the wife made demands in response for sex, it would have been disgraceful for a Roman male to give in to her desires. Similarly, if a man was having sex with another man, he could not give that man privileges in return.
A major point of difference between the Greeks and early Romans was in their attitude toward education. While the Greeks dismissed the father's responsibility for educating the child, the Romans considered this a primary responsibility of fathers. The teacher was seen as an extension of the paternal responsibility to train the child. A teacher, therefore, was prohibited from sexual relations with a student, since one would not have sex with his own child, nor would the child have sex with his father. The teacher was viewed as vicariously fulfilling the role of the father.
In the sixth century AD the Roman Empire outlawed homosexuality. This was partly due to the influence of other cultures upon the Capitol City, but mostly due to the spread and influence of Christianity. Christianity became the popular religion of the day, and at the same time frequently compromised biblical principles for the purpose of expediency. Those religions that encouraged both female and male prostitution were also banned from the empire.
Although Christian influence brought about this change in legal behavior, not all of the early church adhered to the same kinds of attitudes. According to Boswell, “Despite his violent rhetoric against homosexual practices, Saint John Chrysostom himself obviously considered homosexual attraction perfectly normal and constantly juxtaposed homosexual and heterosexual desires as two faces of the same coin. In complaining, for instance, about sinful motivations for entering the temple of the Lord, he mentions in terms of equal likelihood a man's desire to see the beauty of women or of young men who frequent the sanctuaries.” (Boswell 1980, 160)
Motives for condemning homosexuality were also generally mixed with condemnations of any kind of eroticism in general. According to this sexual theology the only valid reason for sex was in order to procreate. Sensuality and sexual desire of any kind was viewed as an evil "desire of the flesh. "The duality of humanity, the doctrine that human beings consist of two parts; physical and spiritual, has led many theologians to argue against any kind of sexuality at all, and laid the foundation for a supposed celibate priesthood in the Roman Catholic Church. The biblical view of humanity's duality does not condemn the body as evil, but as something that can be used for either evil or good. In spite of this the latter idea seemed to prevail.
Western Europe gradually changed its attitude toward homosexuality. The Catholic Church gained influence and officially stood opposed to homosexuality. However, this was certainly not what was always practiced. “Charlemagne, who considered himself personally responsible for the creation of a Christian Europe, appears to have been quite shocked upon hearing that some of the monks in his kingdom were "sodomites." …He besought the monks "to strive to preserve themselves from such evils"...but no civil legislation against homosexuality was enacted.” (ibid 177)
The break up of the Roman Empire is attributed with a time of changing attitudes toward homosexuality once again. Although some attribute homosexuality with at least a part of the reason for the collapse of the Empire, there is little, if any, evidence to support this view. However, it could be possible that one of the reasons for the increasing decline of Latin influence and rise of Germans and other Europeans is due to the fact that the Latins did not continue to have children at a growing rate. It could be that the restrictions on being exclusively homosexual found in Greece would have helped preserve Latin influence.
The rise of anti-homosexual attitudes toward the end of the empire and the rise of the middle ages seems to have changed when the various states of the empire emerged. While Roman Christianity officially held that homosexual practices were sinful, little was done to enforce this code, even among the priests and monks. Some evidence suggests that monks were often placed in logistical positions where homosexual contact would have been difficult if not impossible to control.
Tolerance of homosexuality seemed to rise until about the thirteenth century. There was a time when monarch and commoner could be openly homosexual. One particular relationship brought the king of England and the king of France into the same bed, professing their love for one another. During this time there was an active homosexual subculture with influence in many areas of life including the arts and the church.
The period of conformity began with a desire to bring many subcultures together. The Inquisition followed, with many people condemned to death because of suspected or actual acts of sodomy and homosexuality. By this time, sodomy had come to be identified as nearly any kind of deviant, other than the norm, sexual behavior.
The rise of intellectualism and the Protestant Reformation did little to change attitudes toward homosexuality. The Spanish Visigoths punished homosexuals by castration. The Reformation brought stronger condemnations of those who commit homosexual acts. France punished homosexual behavior with loss of the testicles for the first offense, loss of the penis for the second offense, and death by burning at the stake for a third offense. Henry VIII outlawed homosexuality in England in 1533 with penalties including loss of property and death. Police monitored Molly Houses, or brothels for male prostitutes, and those who visited were put to death. This practice continued until the early 1700s.
The earliest record of someone receiving the death penalty for homosexual acts in what would become a part of the United States was in St. Augustine, Florida in 1566 when a man was executed by the military. The United States maintained the death penalty for convicted "sodomites" until about 1779 when Thomas Jefferson proposed that Virginia drop the death penalty for the crime and replace it with castration. Some states have revised the punishment for sodomy over the years, and some states and localities have passed laws protecting those who commit homosexual acts.
The Revolution in France brought an end to criminal laws regarding sexual activities in 1810 under the Napoleonic Code. England abolished the death penalty for acts of homosexuality in 1861. Homosexual history is one of abuse, prejudice, pain, and death.
Homosexuality in Flux
There is a tremendous dichotomy in modern culture concerning homosexuality. On the one hand, most liberal politicians support gay rights laws, if not in practice, at least in theory. There is a growing acceptance of homosexuality and a great deal of education taking place to teach homosexuality as a valid alternative lifestyle. Although, most homosexual activists would deny that homosexuality is an alternative, since they believe they have no choice in their sexual preference.
In response to this growing official acceptance, and due to hysteria over AIDS, there is an increasing number of hate crimes against homosexuals. The government or the church does not officially sanction physical abuse, but individuals and groups have taken it upon themselves to persecute homosexuals. Men are often found beaten because of the perception that they are gay. This cruelty includes torture and death.
Bible-believing Christians have responded to the apparent growth in acceptance of homosexuality in various ways. The belief that homosexuality is sin appears to dominate the church community. Evangelical Christians may see acceptance of homosexuality as a threat to their beliefs. Often issues such as allowing homosexuals in positions of influence, the spread of AIDS and other diseases, and passing legislation insuring homosexual’s equal rights are issues which raise concern, rhetoric, and grass-roots political action.
David A. Noebel wrote in his book, The Homosexual Revolution; “Certainly the time has come to turn back such an ungodly tide for decency's sake, for morality's sake, for our children's sake, for our nation' sake and, most importantly, because the Lord would have us to love the good but hate the evil. Dante said something like this: The hottest spots in hell are reserved for those who in time of moral crisis do nothing.” (Noebel 1977, 47)
Fear and prejudice exists on both sides of the homosexual issue. There can be no doubt that many have been mistreated and persecuted because of homosexual practice. It is also true that not all Bible-believing Christians are prejudiced. Disagreement is not tantamount to persecution. Calling a behavior sinful is certainly not the same as condemning someone to death. Without a doubt we need to examine a need for dialogue, communication, and understanding between those who are homosexual and those who interpret the Bible in a way that condemns homosexual practices.
Gay liberation during the first half of the 20th century:
Prior to World War II, there was a near consensus among mental health professionals, human sexuality researchers, theologians and others that homosexuality was a mental disorder which materialized as chosen, abnormal, deviant, and unnatural sexual behavior. Same-sex behavior was criminalized by laws in all states, most of which had existed without modifications since the colonial or Victorian eras. Homosexuals didn't really have much of an agenda or a liberation movement in those days. Their prime concern was to keep a very low profile -- in order to stay alive, and avoid assaults by gay bashers. Their second main concern was try to hold onto a job in a homophobic world where continued employment and accommodation usually required them to remain deeply in the closet.
Gay liberation during the second half of the 20th century
A series of developments occurred during the second half of the 20th century which led to the creation of a gay liberation movement. Some of the major events leading toward equal rights for gays and lesbians are listed in the following essays. Unfortunately, recording the most important developments ignores the tens of thousands of gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transsexuals who tirelessly worked tirelessly to accomplish small, incremental changes, without receiving much credit.
In North America, marriage is a restricted institution. It only permits one man and one woman to be joined in matrimony. It is likely to remain restricted for at least the foreseeable future. Gay or lesbian couples cannot be married -- except in the Netherlands.
As of early 2002, about 25 states have enacted "Defense of Marriage Acts" (DOMAs) that ban same-sex marriage. Another six have similar legislation pending. During 2000-MAR, 61% of California voters supported Proposition 22, which defined marriage as being restricted to between one man and one woman. But Proposition 22 and most of the DOMA laws only control the institution of marriage. Most DOMA laws do not prevent a legislature from creating a new set of laws which cover a different type of relationship, typically called civil unions, for same-sex couples. A state would then recognize committed relationships among its citizens in two ways:
It would retain the existing system of marriage for heterosexual couples -- for one man and one woman -- intact. Heterosexual couples who plan to marry in the future would find that nothing is changed; the regulations, privileges, obligations, benefits etc would be the same as always. Nothing would change for existing heterosexual couples who were married in the past. States typically grant about 400 rights and privileges to each married couple. The federal government separately contributes an additional 1,000 benefits to them.
A state legislature could then create a similar system, usually called civil unions, for same-sex couples -- i.e. for two men or for two women. These would grant some or all of the state benefits that have been previously granted only to married couples. But the over 1,000 federal rights and privileges would be withheld from "civil unionized" couples because of the federal DOMA law which prohibits the federal government from recognizing civil unions.
2001: On APR-1, Dutch same-sex couples joined with opposite-sex couples in being able to obtain marriage licenses from the state. This is the first time in recent history that gays and lesbians have been allowed to marry in any country.
On JUN-1, same-sex couples in Nova Scotia, Canada, became eligible to register their domestic partnership at the province's Office of Vital Statistics.
On JUL-12: The Alliance for Marriage has proposed an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to ban same-sex marriage. It reads: "Marriage in the United States shall consist only of the union of a man and a woman. Neither this constitution or the constitution of any state, nor state or federal law, shall be construed to require that marital status or the legal incidents thereof be conferred upon unmarried couples or groups."
On SEP-6, the first same-sex partnerships were registered in London, UK.
On SEP-21, the California legislature passed a bill giving rights to domestic partners.
2002: On JUL-12, in a 129 page decision, "three Ontario [Canada] Superior Court judges unanimously ruled in a Divisional Court decision that the current legal definition of marriage [in Ontario] is discriminatory, and ordered it changed to include recognition of same-sex marriage." They have given the Ontario and Federal governments 24 months in which to change their legislation so that same-sex couples can marry. More details. This is a momentous development, because federal legislation defines marriage, and the provincial marriage laws implement the federal laws. Thus a change at the federal level will make same-sex marriage available to all same-sex couples who wish to be married. The Ontario government, currently under the control of the conservative party has decided to not appeal the court's decision. The decision by the federal government on whether to appeal is still pending as of 2002-JUL-23.
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