Has there been a
change in social attitudes regarding homosexuality?
homosexuality has existed throughout history, its practice has been
socially discouraged in most societies by custom, religion and law.
Until the 1970's, homosexual acts between consenting adults were
criminal in most states. Most states have repealed such "sodomy" laws
and the ones the
remain have been seldom enforced. In 2003, the Supreme Court ruled all
such laws to be unconstitutional. In 1973, the American Psychiatric
Association removed homosexuality from its list of mental and emotional
disorders. A majority of Americans now consider homosexuality an
acceptable alternative lifestyle.
In less than a
decade, the number of Americans opposed to gay persons adopting children
has decreased dramatically.
remains a significant social stigma associated with the practice of
homosexuality in mainstream society. Among male heterosexuals,
homosexuality is rarely discussed and almost never in positive terms.
Despite such a strong social stigma, at least a quarter of adult men who
are or have been married have engaged in homosexual behavior.
particularly male homosexuals, are subject to routine ridicule and
employment discrimination. Many experts believe that this social
aversion, labeled "homophobia" by the gay community, is related to
subconscious repression of homosexual desires by heterosexuals.
homosexuals "born that way"? How widespread is its practice?
The factors which
influence the choice of homosexuality are poorly understood. Many
homosexuals claim to have had these desires from their earliest memories
and some current research has suggested that there may be subtle brain
differences between homosexual and heterosexuals. Most experts believe
that sexual orientation is shaped for most people at an early age
through complex interactions of biological, psychological and social
The reality is that
"homosexuality" is probably too variable a concept to be analyzed in
this fashion. It is clear that some men, particularly those whose
interests and attitudes can be categorized as "feminine", may have no
capacity whatsoever to develop a sexual attraction for the opposite sex.
This also applies to some homosexual women, particularly those whose
interests and attitudes can be classified as "masculine". But many
homosexuals, probably a majority of practicing homosexuals, cannot be
categorized in this fashion. These individuals, often influenced by
random life events and personal associations, have developed a desire to
practice sexuality in this fashion in preference to other options
available to them. A thorough research study conducted among homosexuals
in the San Francisco area in 1973 supports this conclusion. A clear
majority of the homosexual men studied had experienced heterosexual
relations and a significant number had experienced heterosexual dreams.
of heterosexual dreams and fantasies by members of this group is
significant because most were quite committed to their adopted
If homosexuality is
primarily regarded as a preference governed at least in part by personal
choice, then its variable prevalence in societies can be more easily
understood. Anthropological studies indicate that the prevalence of
homosexuality is directly related to the prevailing social attitude
toward the practice.
The incidence of
homosexuality in the United States has always been difficult to
determine because many "closeted" homosexuals keep their status secret.
Many others disclose their status only to a small circle of friends. But
it is unquestionable that the recent trend toward tolerance of
homosexuality has vastly increased the number of persons who choose to
adopt this lifestyle. Many more Americans now have homosexual friends or
"enclaves" have emerged in many large cities. In such areas it has
become far easier for homosexuals to associate without risking social
disapproval and harassment.
"homosexual couples" comparable to heterosexual married couples in their
even when "coupled", are unlikely to confine their sexual behavior to
In stark contrast to
female homosexuals, the vast majority of male homosexual encounters are
between strangers even though a slight
majority of such homosexuals are also involved in a sexual affair.
This accounts for
the extraordinarily high lifetime numbers of partners that male
This reality is
probably far more associated with the nature of the male sex drive than
it is with homosexuality itself. Male heterosexual behavior is arguably
governed by the limited supply of available female partners. The
promiscuity of some professional athletes and celebrities who have an
accessible large supply of partners is quite similar to that of male
homosexual couples are far more likely to be faithful to each other,
studies indicate that female homosexuals have sex with much less
frequency than heterosexual couples and that an absence of sexual desire
becomes a common complaint in many of these long term relationships.
The sexual behavior
of married couples is quite different. It is quite apparent that the
institution of heterosexual marriage is a powerful vehicle for promoting
regular and monogamous sexual behavior. This pattern of behavior does
not appear to be significantly affected by the degree of sexual activity
the partners may have had prior to the marriage.
How has the AIDs
epidemic affected male homosexual behavior?
A major difficulty
with the promiscuity associated with male homosexuality has been the
high rate of venereal disease. The emergence of the AIDs virus in the
early 1980's marked the arrival of a sexually transmitted disease that
was fatal. The response of the gay community to this threat was
impressive. There is no doubt that "safer sex" practices combined with
the fear of AIDS had a profound and salutary effect on the health of
homosexual men in general. The incidence of new cases of HIV, hepatitis
B virus, gonorrhea, and syphilis, all other sexually-transmitted
diseases, and AIDS decreased dramatically in the gay community. This was
due to an increased use of condoms, more care in choosing partners,
decreased promiscuity, and a decrease in the sex practices that were
particularly high risk. The result is that the homosexual share of
California AIDS cases has dropped substantially in the past decade and the CDC
estimates that the majority of new HIV infections in the United States
are not through homosexual transmission. There is some
indication that because new drug therapies have allowed HIV to become a
manageable illness, increasing numbers of gay men have returned to high
risk sexual practices. Because testing for
HIV is voluntary and because serious symptoms may not be manifest for
many years, it is difficult to track the rate of new infections. But in
San Francisco, there has been a reversal in the rate of diagnosed cases
of rectal gonorrhea which is caused by the same high risk sex practice
that transmits most homosexual cases of HIV.
There is a
possibility that improved screening may account for some of this
issues have emerged regarding homosexuals?
increased public acceptance, most states still do not have laws which
protect gay people from discrimination in employment, housing and health
care. The lack of
consensus on this issue is reflected by the numbers of Senators and Representatives who have not adopted
non-discrimination policies for the hiring of the office staffs.
difficult aspect of the discrimination problem has involved the Boy
Scouts of America. Although the Boy Scouts is a private organization,
its activities are part of the fabric of mainstream America. The
organization has long maintained a policy of excluding Scout
participants and leaders who have been discovered to be homosexual. In
June 2000, he United States Supreme Court, in a 5-4 vote
invalidated a New
Jersey court ban on the dismissal of a homosexual scout leader based on
the New Jersey anti-discrimination law. Because part of the Boy Scout's
mission is to provide young men with role models, its discrimination
policy blends the "tolerance v. legitimacy" dialectic which has
characterized the gay rights debate. The difficulty of this issue is
reflected in a recent Senate vote regarding whether public schools
should be allowed to ban the Boy Scouts from facilities based on their
The Boy Scout policy
is in part based on religious principles (the organization also bans
atheists and agnostics). The status and level of inclusion of gays and
lesbians in organized religion is a question of debate in many major
denominations and religious groups.
The traditional view
of most religions is that sexuality is to be confined to a monogamous
heterosexual marriage. The growing social acceptance of homosexuality
strongly challenges that view especially when it is considered that
monogamy is quite rare in committed male homosexual relationships.
A major aspect of
the discrimination issue involves the military. The Armed Forces have
regulations which require the exclusion of individuals who have been
discovered to have engaged in homosexual behavior. These rules have been
upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court. In the aftermath of the election of
President Clinton in 1991, there was a reexamination of this policy.
Military leadership and conservative political forces strongly resisted
elimination of the exclusionary policy and it was decisively defeated in
passed legislation forbidding the military from aggressively
investigating suspected homosexual behavior, the so-called "don't ask,
don't tell" policy.
The policy has had
virtually no effect on military discharges except during the brief
period in which the policy was being reconsidered.
Public opinion now
overwhelmingly supports the rights of gays to serve openly in the
Perhaps due to the
greater political visibility of homosexuals, there has been an increase
in hate crimes related to sexual orientation.
publicized incidents have highlighted this trend.
Hate Crimes Involving Sexual Orientation
October 6, 1998, 21-year-old college student
Matthew Shepard was tied to a fence in Laramie, Wyoming,
pistol-whipped, then left for dead in the freezing night. He died
six days later. This has been the most publicized incident although
the major motive for this crime was apparently robbery. His killers
received life in prison with the agreement of the Shepard family.
Teena Brandon and
raised as a girl, he was living as a man known as Brandon Teena in
Falls City, Nebraska, when he was murdered at age 21. In December of
1993, two men who discovered his gender raped him. His attackers
later shot and killed him after learning Brandon had reported the
rape and was to help police in the investigation.
Barry Winchell, 21, was beaten
to death by fellow servicemembers while sleeping in his cot on July
5, 1999 at Fort Campbell, Ky. His Army colleagues thought
(correctly) that he was gay, so they killed him.
August 7, 1995, Tyra Hunter died after
DC fire department emergency medical technicians called her
epithets, backed away, and refused to render treatment on
discovering that she was a transgendered woman.
Public opinion polls
show that a clear majority of Americans support hate crime legislation
which would protect homosexuals.
Most states have
passed such laws, although some states do not extend hate crime
protection to sexual orientation.
Federal hate crime
legislation which includes protections against sexual orientation has
yet to be enacted even though both the Senate and House have voted favorably
on this issue.
benefits; "gay marriage"
Perhaps the most
contentious "gay rights" issue involves "gay marriage" and "domestic
There is a
significant economic aspect to the controversy.
Because health care
benefits are an increasingly important portion of the compensation
earned by employees, and because such benefits are usually available to
spouses and family members, homosexual employees believe that they are
under-compensated unless they receive similar benefits for a designated
"domestic partner". A small number of states
cities and major
companies provide domestic partner benefits to their employees.
California is leading the country in instituting protections for gay and
lesbian couples without a court mandate. In Hawaii and Vermont,
legislatures were compelled by their state courts to extend equal
benefits to same-sex couples. This trend has been contentiously opposed
by religious groups and conservatives who believe that this policy
constitutes a social endorsement of homosexuality as an acceptable
alternative lifestyle. Nevertheless public opinion has shifted to the
point that a majority of Americans support many domestic partner
rejected a provision which would have banned the establishment of
domestic partner health benefits for DC workers.
partner" concept has recently been expanded in California to include
many governmental rights normally provided to spouses.
A clear majority of
Americans continue to oppose the concept of "gay marriage"
which is the logical
extension of the "domestic partner" concept. Under legislation recently
passed in Vermont, couples can file for a "civil union" and many
committed gay couples have journeyed to Vermont to file for this status.
Hawaii also passed a "reciprocal beneficiaries" plan which gave couples
many rights previously restricted to married couples. In anticipation of
the possibility that a future state might approve the concept of a "gay
marriage", about half the states passed legislation which would ban
recognition of any such marriage.
The House also
recently passed legislation which would block federal recognition of
In November 2003,
the Massachusetts Supreme Court interpreted the state constitution to
permit gay marriages and that state has become the first state to
authorize such marriages which are available to Massachusetts residents
only. At the local level, gay marriages were temporarily authorized by
San Francisco in defiance of state law, but were subsequently
invalidated by the California Supreme Court. They have also been
authorized in Multnomah County (Portland), Oregon. In the wake of this
activity, President Bush has called for a constitutional amendment to
limit marriage to heterosexual unions. In July 2004, the Senate blocked
consideration such an amendment.
Many states have
undertaken action to amend their constitutions to ban same-sex marriage.
What is the
status of homosexuality in other countries?
practice of homosexuality is now legal in most of the world, it remains
forbidden in most countries which have a high percentage of Muslims. In
some countries, it is even punishable by death.
tolerate homosexuality are divided on whether to permit homosexuals to
serve in the military.
With respect to
domestic partner benefits, only a handful of countries have policies
which provide certain benefits or rights to gay couples. Only Belgium,
the Netherlands and Canada have policies which amount to a full marriage
approval of such unions was based on a court decision which is supported
by the current Prime Minister. Nine of Canada's 10 provinces will accept
the extension of marriage to same-sex couples. The only holdout is
Alberta. Public opinion in Canada narrowly supports this development.