Friday, February 22, 2013


Dedicated to the memory of my incomparable friend, Warren Johansson (1934-1994).


The following pages address a host of myths and fabrications that have served over the centuries to rationalize prejudice and discrimination targeting GLBT people.  This topic is disturbing and repellent, but it must be confronted head-on.

Viewed in context, the picture is not that bad--at least not as much as it was.  Some years ago, when I first began to ponder these issues, a heartening conclusion had already surfaced.  Much progress had been made in retiring the most absurd and unviable myths. Some seemed to have faded gradually and die (or so it seemed) of old age.  Others, such as the idea that homosexuals suffer from impaired functioning, have retreated in the face of social-science findings that clearly indicate otherwise.

There are also some myths that are essentially innocuous, such as the notion that the word gay derives from “good as you” and swag comes from “secretly we are gay.”  The worst that can be said of them is that they are false etymologies.

Regrettably, the notions discussed below are not as harmless,

With the current improvement in the intellectual climate, at least in advanced industrial countries, one might have expected that such archaic thought-patterns would all wither and disappear.  Regrettably, that has not happened--at least not with any consistency across the board.

Not infrequently, the myths show a zombie-like tendency to revive, even when we had assumed, reasonably enough, that they had disappeared for good.  A case in point concerns natural disasters, where various Christian ministers - and some Jewish rabbis as well - blame hurricanes, earthquakes, droughts and other such upsets on our society’s growing tolerance for homosexuality.  They base their observations on current events.  And yet they really don't, for in fact, this theme goes back almost 1500 years, to the Byzantine emperor Justinian.

So there is good reason to examine these hurtful motifs as carefully as we can, tracing their historical evolution and analyzing their flaws in evidence and reasoning.

The history of homophobia - to use the current, though somewhat problematic term - is not monolithic.  Insidiously, the complex examined here comprises more than forty separate threads.  The threads have very disparate origins, stemming from religion, philosophy, medicine, psychology, and folklore.

Yet they mostly flourish, if that is the appropriate term, in Western culture, starting in ancient Israel and ancient Greece and migrating to medieval and modern Europe, including its overseas offshoots. 

Much of the rest of the world has happily escaped this blight.   An anti-homosexual text from Zoroastrianism may be an exception.  Moreover, anti-homosexual attitudes have been noted among the Manchus, as well as the Aztecs and the Incas.  Yet these peoples, exceptional in this realm, do not seem to have been widely influential.

Recently, an argument has appeared that challenges this general principle of the Western locus of anti-homosexual attitudes.  That is the claim of some contemporary Third World politicians and theorists that their lands were free of the taint of such vices until they were forced on them by corrupt colonizers from Europe.  Even this notion is, however, of Western origin.

So we are left with the conclusion that this not-so-proud heritage is essentially a property of the West, and not the Rest.  Why should this be so?  I can only offer two tentative suggestions.  The first points to monotheism. The three religions that have typically harbored aversion to same-sex love--Judaism, Christianity, and Islam--all share this belief in one God.  Monotheism usually counts as an advance over the polytheistic belief systems it supplanted. Recent research, however, has shown that monotheism generally began with an attitude of fierce intolerance directed towards those who did no share their theology.  Much emphasis was placed on the various commandments and behavioral rules enjoined by the faith.

In their prime, monotheisms have not been noted for their capacity to embrace a policy of live and let live.  Instead, they adhered to Augustine of Hippo’s precept of “compelle intrare”--compel them [the heretics and the nonbelievers] to enter the fold. As outsiders, homosexuals were destined to fall afoul of these repressive measures.  Outwardly at least, they had to conform to the prevailing norms, in sexual conduct as well as in belief.

In addition to monotheism, there is another conditioning factor - at first sight one that is less likely.  That is democracy.  A leading feature of the democratic ideal as it has matured is the imperative of equality, the idea that the claims of citizenship are universal, so that no special groups should remain apart.  The corollary, at least according to one egalitarian version, is this.  Since the majority are heterosexual, then everyone should be. This ideal of socio-sexual uniformity fostered repression of same-sex behavior in Stalin’s Soviet Union and Mao’s China - even though those societies could nowadays scarcely be characterized as democratic. 

What then of ancient Greece, where pederasty flourished?  In fact the ancient Greeks were not egalitarian, since they tended to deny full rights to women, resident foreigners, and of course to slaves.  With regard to homosexuality the Greeks were not always consistent.  They tended to accept the behavior only in its intergenerational form (pederasty), commonly  expressing disapproval of relations between two adult men.  Moreover, in The Laws, Plato’s second blueprint of the ideal society (after The Republic), the philosopher originated the notion that homosexual behavior was wrong because it was unnatural.

Thus the conditioning factors- the soil in which the evil flowers of homophobia grew - reflect ideals that are, broadly speaking, those of uniformity.  Monotheists demand allegiance to one God, and all the ordinances that that monarch of the universe is presumed to have enacted.  All too often, egalitarians expect everyone to be the same, in rights, in income, and in sexuality.

How can we best approach the complex story of the repression of a major sexual minority? Meme theory may help.  A meme may be characterized as "an idea, behavior or style that spreads from person to person within a culture." A meme serves as a vehicle for conveying cultural ideas, symbols or practices, which can be transmitted from one mind to another through writing, speech, gestures, rituals or other imitable phenomena.  Advocates of the concept regard memes as cultural analogues to genes in that they self-replicate, mutate, and respond to selective pressures. 

A common misperception is that there is a biological mechanism for the transmission of memes.  Yet there is not: they are a purely cultural phenomenon. The term was coined by the British evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins in The Selfish Gene (1976) as a tool for exploring evolutionary principles in tracing the spread of ideas and cultural phenomena. Examples of memes given in Dawkins’ book included melodies, catch-phrases, fashion, and the technology of building arches. 

Since Dawkins’ time, the meme approach has been found useful in all sorts of studies, from racial prejudice and religious beliefs to urban legends and “viral” motifs on the Internet.

The overall approach is termed mimetics.  Memes are not static, but operate through the processes of variation, mutation, competition, and inheritance, all of them influencing a meme's reproductive success. Memes spread through the behaviors that they generate in their hosts. Memes that propagate less prolifically may become extinct, while others may survive, spread, and (for better or for worse) mutate. In this view memes that replicate most effectively enjoy more success, and some may replicate effectively even when they prove to be detrimental to the welfare of their hosts. Some commentators have likened memes to contagion, as exemplified by fads, hysteria, copycat crimes, and copycat suicides.

Still in the course of development, meme theory has encountered some criticisms.  At this point it may best be regarded as a hermeneutic tool rather than a fully formed scientific theory. At all events, in this study the concept usefully serves to characterize the great variety of anti-homosexual beliefs and attitudes, disentangling them from the monocausal illusion that there is one single, unified phenomenon termed “homophobia.”

Just as these homonegative memes are diverse, so too are those who subscribe to them.  The most important contingent is made up of the “traditional-values” people.   Most of them are religious, consisting chiefly of evangelical Christians, the hierarchy of the Catholic church, Orthodox Jews, and some Muslims.  Others in this composite group, while detached from religion, may nonetheless maintain that the social fabric demands that traditional values be upheld.

Psychiatrists were once a major factor. Yet since the 1973 decision by the American Psychiatric Association to remove homosexuality from the list of disorders, this negativity has much diminished among them.  In the past, though, psychiatrists were major contributors to the medicalization of same-sex behavior, originating a number of the memes.  These fabrications still circulate, even after their abandonment by the groups that originated them. 

Totalitarians, both fascists and Communists, readily embraced the motif of decadence--homosexuality as a mark of social disintegration.  Fortunately, these political extremists have lost much of their power.  Nonetheless, the skinheads in Western Europe, and neofascist parties in general, represent a worrisome set of survivals.

Finally, the ranks of the perpetrators include, regrettably, some gay people themselves. Some poor souls are browbeaten into internalizing the homophobic motifs.  Common in other minority groups as well, this practice is sometimes termed self-inferiorization.  Some gay and lesbian people cherish notions that enhance a sense of victimhood, such as the misconception that the word faggot derives from medieval burnings of sodomites.  We have made great progress in combating the slur that same-sex behavior is “abnormal.”  Oddly enough, some queer theorists do not find this erasure to their liking.  Decrying “homonormativity,” they assert that the desire to assimilate has the effect of stigmatizing those whose sexualities do not conform to standards of normalcy.

In scrutinizing the anti-homosexual motifs that are here under the microscope, the older ideas of stereotypes and of prejudice are sometimes useful. Yet these terms fails to capture the protean malleability of the homonegative motifs, which have proven all-too-resilient in their capacity to adapt to changing cultural settings as they undergo variation, mutation, and reshaping in competition with related ideas.

Most of the memes discussed in this text concern gay men.  Historically, these notions were, by and large, not thought to apply to lesbians. There are some lesbian-only stereotypes, e.g. the notion that there are no true lesbians, because those who adopt this lifestyle are simply women who are too homely or socially awkward to attract a man.  Sometimes “good Samaritan” jocks will seek to “prove” this assertion by seducing lesbians.  Ignoring protests, the would-be seducers claim that their victims welcome their gross attentions.  In the last analysis, however, dislike of lesbians needs to be studied in the context of attitudes that demean all women -  regrettably, a very large subject.  That task will not be attempted in these pages.

For some the term “homosexual” now seems old-fashioned.  Yet it is not inappropriate for the material, which reached critical mass in an era different from out own.  One must keep this difference in mind, all the while acknowledging the hardiness of the motifs that have survived into the present era.

In the sections that follow sometimes I use the word gay in addition to homosexual; at other times, when a more inclusive perspective is required, GLBT (gay, lesbian, bisexual, and trans).

There remains this nagging question,  At this late date, why bring out this dusty old bric-à-brac?  Surely, in the early twenty-first century our enhanced understanding has thoroughly demolished this outdated rubbish and everything that pertains to it.  The answer is that we have advanced, but as yet not far enough.

An ambiguous role has been played by Queer Theory, a plant that thrives in academia. Hobbled by its addiction to jargon and paradox, Queer Theory has not been successful in breaking out of recondite circles.  The general public is unaware of it, and will probably remain so.

Three books that address the problem of homonegativity deserve mention.  The first is Homophobia: A History by Byrne R. S. Fone (New York, 2000).  Despite the title, this work turns out to be a narrative of the mainstream of gay history in the Western tradition from ancient times to the present.  Instances of homophobia occur only in passing, representing no more than a series of many speed-bumps along the way.  While this book serves to place the motifs in time, it does little to clarify their inner motivation.

Another volume is the Dictionnaire de l’homophobie, edited by Louis-Georges Tin (Paris, 2003; there is also an English-language version).  This alphabetically arranged work provides some useful articles on individual countries and regions.  However, the coverage of the motifs (memes) is patchy and incomplete.

In February 2013 the American philosopher John Corvino brought out a new book, What’s Wrong with Homosexuality? (Oxford University Press), tackling some of the major anti-homosexual arguments. Written in an easy conversational style and wearing its learning lightly, this book addresses some of the problems ordinary people have raised with him over a period of twenty years in which Professor Corvino has been lecturing and debating. The volume is brief, 153 pages, and the author takes up a good deal of his space recounting personal anecdotes, some quite relevant, others less so.  Ultimately, the focus is narrow, being concerned primarily with the morality of homosexuality.  As will be clear from the following discussion, many of the anti-homosexual memes are not directed primarily at issues of morality. They are a much more diverse lot, encompassing religious, sociological, psychological, and biological themes, among others.  Still, John Corvino’s book serves as a useful introduction to the issues.


With the rise of the gay political movement in the late 1960s, the condemnation of homosexuality as immoral, criminal, and sick came under increasing scrutiny. When the American Psychiatric Association abandoned homosexuality as a psychiatric diagnosis in 1973, the question of why some heterosexuals harbor strongly negative attitudes toward homosexuals began to receive serious scholarly consideration.

The immediate precursor of the term “homophobia” was ''homoerotophobia,'' introduced by Wainwright Churchill in  his 1967 book Homosexual Behavior Among Males in 1967. Several years later two psychologists realized that the expression would be more effective if it were shortened.  The first known usage of “homophobia” was by Kenneth Smith in an article in Psychological Reports (no.29) for 1971.  George Weinberg, who claims to have coined the word before Smith’s usage, has tirelessly promoted it, as in his 1972 book Society and the Healthy Homosexual. Weinberg used the term homophobia to characterize heterosexuals' dread of being in close quarters with homosexuals as well as homosexuals' self loathing.

The American Heritage Dictionary (1992 edition) defines homophobia as "aversion to gay or homosexual people or their lifestyle or culture" and "behavior or an act based on this aversion." Other definitions identify homophobia as an irrational fear of same-sex behavior.

The introduction of the term served to turn the tables on critics of homosexuality, who routinely castigated it as a mental illness.  As homophobes, though, they might be the ones suffering from a mental disorder.  By drawing popular and scientific attention to the virulence of irrational antigay hostility, the creation of this term marked a watershed. Nevertheless, it bears significant limitations.

As Gregory M. Herek, professor of psychology at the University of California, Davis, has observed, the term homophobia is problematic for several reasons.

First, empirical research has not demonstrated that heterosexuals' antigay attitudes may reasonably be considered a phobia in the clinical sense. In fact, the available data suggest that many heterosexuals who express hostility toward gay men and lesbians do not manifest the physiological reactions to homosexuality that are associated with other phobias.

Secondly, the use of the term homophobia implies that antigay prejudice is an individual, clinical entity more than it is a social phenomenon fostered by long-standing ideologies and patterns of intergroup relations.

Finally, a phobia is usually experienced as dysfunctional and unpleasant. Yet antigay prejudice has, sad to say, commonly been highly functional for the heterosexuals who manifest it. Through their open hostility they consolidate their relations with others of like mind.

A related term is "heterosexism," first introduced in 1971.  Heterosexism characterizes an amalgam of attitudes, bias, and discrimination that privilege opposite-sex sexuality and relationships.  The term can include the presumption that everyone is heterosexual or, less drastically, the idea that opposite-sex attractions and relationships are the only norm and therefore superior. Although heterosexism is defined in the online editions of the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language and the Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary as anti-gay discrimination and/or prejudice "by heterosexual people" and "by heterosexuals," people of any sexual orientation can hold such attitudes and bias.  The first published use of the term was in 1971 by the New York-based bookseller and gay-rights activist Craig Rodwell.

The use of the term heterosexism suggests parallels between antigay sentiment and other forms of prejudice, such as racism, antisemitism, and sexism.  In particular, it has been argued that the concept of heterosexism is similar to the concept of racism in that both ideas exalt privilege for society's dominant groups. For example, borrowing from the racial concept of white privilege, the concept of heterosexual privilege has been applied to single out benefits of (presumed) heterosexuality within society that heterosexuals take for granted. Yet the parallels between heterosexism, on the one hand, and racism, antisemitism, and sexism, on the other, must not be overstressed, for each of these forms of prejudice has its own history and distinctive valences.

Variants are “heterocentrism" and "heterosexualism."

Although the term heterosexism is often explained as a coinage modeled on sexism, the derivation points more to (1) heterosex(ual) + -ism than (2) hetero- + sexism. In fact, the portmanteau word heterosexualism often serves as an equivalent to sexism and racism.

Given this lack of semantic transparency, researchers, outreach workers, critical theorists and GLBT activists have adopted a whole array of terms, such as institutionalized homophobia, state(-sponsored) homophobia, sexual prejudice, anti-gay bigotry, straight privilege, compulsory heterosexuality.  Note also  homonormativity and (from gender theory and queer theory) heteronormativity.

This profusion of terms suggests a certain conceptual volatility, reflecting the fact that the vocables are often wielded more as rhetorical devices than a genuine tools of analysis.

Although usage of the words has not been uniform, homophobia has typically been employed to describe individual antigay attitudes and behaviors; while heterosexism points to societal-level ideologies and patterns of institutionalized oppression of non-heterosexual people.

Reflecting on the problems posed by this word cloud, Gregory M. Herek has proposed the term “sexual prejudice.”  As he remarks, “Broadly conceived, sexual prejudice refers to all negative attitudes based on sexual orientation, whether the target is homosexual, bisexual, or heterosexual. Given the current social organization of sexuality, however, such prejudice is almost always directed at people who engage in homosexual behavior or label themselves gay, lesbian, or bisexual . . .   Conceptualizing heterosexuals' negative attitudes toward homosexuality and bisexuality as sexual prejudice – rather than homophobia – has several advantages [Herek continues]. First, sexual prejudice is a descriptive term. Unlike homophobia, it conveys no a priori assumptions about the origins, dynamics, and underlying motivations of antigay attitudes.

“Second, the term explicitly links the study of antigay hostility with the rich tradition of social psychological research on prejudice.

“Third, using the construct of sexual prejudice does not require value judgments that antigay attitudes are inherently irrational or evil.” (G. M. Herek,”The Psychology of Sexual Prejudice,” Current Directions in Psychological Science, 2000, no. 9, pp. 19-22).

This proposal deserves serious consideration.  Yet such is the rhetorical punch of “homophobia” and “heterosexism,” that Herek’s substitute, despite its merits, seems unlikely to supplant them.  In this work we will tend to prefer “homonegativity,” though sometimes another term will be appropriate.

Note.  I first began to address these problems some twenty-five years ago, in concert with my learned friend, Warren Johansson, to whom this publication is dedicated.  We worked so closely together that our ideas often merged.  I have utilized some of these jointly-produced ideas here.  Some passages in the following texts derive from earlier publications that are copyright by me, especially the Encyclopedia of Homosexuality, New York: Garland, 1990.  There is also some factual material stemming from non-copyright sources available on the Internet. 

With a few exceptions, Internet links are not provided here because over time the sites are subject to modification or disappearance.

THE HOMOPHOBIC MIND;  Part One: Religious and Philosophical Aspects

A1.  Homosexuality is unnatural.

A.  The Charge. Being heterosexual means doing “what comes naturally.”  As Chicago’s Cardinal Francis George opined early in 2013 that is the “way that nature operates.”  In a Christmas message a few weeks before, Pope Benedict XVI decried gay marriage, saying that it destroyed the “essence of the human creature.”  He stressed that a person’s gender identity is God-given and unchangeable.  Those seeking to institute gay marriage are engaging in a “manipulation of human nature.” 

"People dispute the idea that they have a nature, given to them by their bodily identity, that serves as a defining element of the human being," the pontiff declared.  "They deny their nature and decide that it is not something previously given to them, but that they make it for themselves." The pope singled out a precept of feminist author and philosopher Simone de Beauvoir — “one is not born a woman, one becomes so” — stigmatizing it as "the foundation for what is put forward today under the term 'gender' as a new philosophy of sexuality. According to this philosophy, sex is no longer a given element of nature, that man has to accept and personally make sense of: it is a social role that we choose for ourselves, while in the past it was chosen for us by society. The profound falsehood of this theory and of the anthropological revolution contained within it is obvious." 

Through long-standing practice the law has added its authoritative voice to this discussion.  The “crime against nature” is an expression documented in published cases in the United States since 1814.  Historically, the scope of this designation is broad, embracing a series of behaviors, including same-sex acts, anal sex, bestiality, incest, miscegenation, and necrophilia. 

The expression "crime against nature" has also served as a synonym for sodomy or buggery.   These last acts are prime instances of departure from Nature’s ordinances.

B.  Historical Background.  As Raymond Williams observed in Keywords (New York, 1976), the term "nature" is one of the most complex in the language; it is also one of the most dangerous.

Here we must attend also to the force of the emotionally charged antonym: the "unnatural," which needs to be distinguished from the supernatural and the praetematural, from second nature, and from the peculiarly Thomistic concept of the "connatural" (which, as the personal and habitual, stands in a kind of intermediate zone between the natural and the unnatural).

The ancient Greek word for nature, physis, was unique to that language and to Hellenic thought; no equivalent can be found in the Semitic and Oriental languages, or in other intellectual traditions. The term physis derives from a verb meaning "to grow," and hence retains strong connotations of organic completeness and development toward a goal. The primary notion of physis is a magical, autonomous life force manifesting itself not only in the creation and preservation of the universe, but even in the properties and character traits of species and individuals. Thus in medical usage it even leads into the sphere of the pharmacopoeia and of constitutional biology.

Its use among the Greeks can be best understood in the light of three contrasting pairs of terms: physis/nomos (law or custom); physis/techne (art); kata physin/para physin (against nature). The last of these antinomies, which is of particular significance for our enquiry, received a decisively influential formulation from the aged Plato (ca. 427-347 B.C.) in his Laws. In this book the philosopher condemns same-sex relations because, unlike those in which animals naturally engage, they cannot lead to procreation (“[W[hen the male sex unites with the female for the purpose of procreation the pleasure so experienced is held to be according to nature, but when males unite with males or females with females, to be contrary to nature.”  The Laws I 636B-C; cf. also 836 B-839 A).

During the Hellenistic period this Greek idea found its way into the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs (a set of documents of evolving Judaism) and into the apologetic writings of Philo Judaeus, who equated the Mosaic Law with the "law of nature." These texts served to transmit the idea into the New Testament with the fateful formulation of Romans 1:26-27, which speaks of changing "the natural use to that which is unnatural." In due course, this language - which in the Pauline text cited sets the stage for a condemnation of male homosexuality - made its way into other contexts, including that of jurisprudence.

The path for this development was smoothed by the earlier Roman acceptance of the concept of "natural law," defined by Cicero as "right reason in agreement with nature." Cicero ascribed this law to God, hence giving legal standing to Biblical injunctions in the eyes of Christian interpreters, and went on to insist that "it is a sin to try to alter this law. "On the other hand, the Christians tended to overlook Cicero's statement that in practice God is also the enforcing judge of natural law; that role they took on themselves. The twelfth-century groundswell of interpretation of Roman law and canon law had a major emphasis on natural law perspectives, both classical and Christian. Natural law underpinned arguments justifying anti-homosexual legislation through­out the Middle Ages and into early modern times, when its legacy passed from church to secular penology, retaining much of its influence. This secularization notwithstanding, natural-law arguments play a major role today in the continuing Roman Catholic condemnation of homosexual behavior.

It is curious that the notion of "crime against nature," familiar to us from the penal codes of the American states, did not figure in Henry VIII's English statute of 1533 or its successors.  Yet Sir Edward Coke did include the expression in his seventeenth-century Institutes and Reports, whence it passed into the Anglo-American legal tradition.

In medieval Europe the semantically iridescent concept of natura was perpetuated and even given some new variations and imagery by moralists (Peter Damian), literary figures (Bernard Silvestre, Alan of Lille, and Jean de Meun), and philosophers (Albertus Magnus, Thomas Aquinas). Later French usage coined the adjective antiphysique (taken into English in the rare "antiphysical") for unnatural sexual behavior.

Eighteenth-century aesthetics saw a broad shift from a view of nature as rule-obeying and rule-enforcing to one in which the awesome complexity and sovereign fecundity of nature was emphasized.  This new orientation fostered the admiration which naturalists of today profess for the unspoiled wilderness, untrodden by man and unaltered by human hands. This shift is part of the change from neo-Classicism to Romanticism. By providing a more flexible definition of nature the new approach gave the idea new life as a normative (though more diffuse) principle.

The nineteenth and twentieth century witnessed a curious paradox.  Conservative thinkers were generally unwavering in denouncing homosexuality as "unnatural" (Ezra Pound), while for their part some homophile apologists revived the ancient Hippocratic definition to claim that homosexuality is inborn and thus "natural" (K. H. Ulrichs, Magnus Hirschfeld).  Today progressive thought favors natural foods and the environmental protection of nature, causes that would seem clearly to be valuable.  But a latent conflict persists, for the sexual freedom and tolerance that the progressive sector cherishes have been historically denounced as "unnatural."

Recent years have seen the rise of the New Natural Law theorists in the academic world. The best known figures in this trend are Robert P. George of Princeton and John Finnis of Oxford.  While these writers tend to accept the precepts of revealed religion (Christianity), they believe that many of the same results - though probably not all of them - can be achieved by the pure processes of reasoning.  They thus leave some wiggle room for a more nuanced approach to same-sex orientation, though it is clear that they are not friendly to it. 

C.  Response.  If nature is truly all-embracing, it is impossible to depart from it. Only things that do not exist at all, such as centaurs and phlogiston, would be unnatural. In this perspective, the supposed criterion of naturalness provides no means for separating existing acts that are judged licit from those regarded as illicit; some yardstick other than "naturalness" - since all acts possess that attribute - must be supplied.

Another approach classifies some things within the world as natural, while other are not. In practice, though, this binarism runs the risk of being culture-bound and subjective. Thus clothing, cosmetics, and airplanes have been some­times stigmatized as unnatural. Perhaps they are. But then it is hard to see how, say, life-saving heart surgery can be regarded as anything other than an unnatural intervention in an otherwise inevitable process. How many proponents of "naturalness" would be willing to revert to a Stone Age economy and Stone Age medicine?

In order to buttress their position, opponents of "unnatural" sex need to demonstrate that they have at their disposal a comprehensive and even-handed theory of the natural and its opposite. What usually happens in practice is that some other assumption, or assumptions, are imported to provide a basis of decision. Thus the natural-unnatural contrast becomes essentially a rhetorical device that supplies a pseudo-confirmation of moral presuppositions reached on quite other grounds.

Another critique reflects the fact that the image of Natura is a survival of the mother goddess figures of pagan antiquity, in which God is the male principle of creation and "Nature" the female counterpart. Discarding such relics of polytheism, modern scientific thought does not concern itself with the supposed "purposes" or "aims" of nature, and in general rejects teleological concepts as empirically undemonstrable. The standard claim is that nature has intended sexuality solely for the purpose of procreation and that any sexual pleasure obtained from non-procreative activity is therefore "unnatural" and wrongful. To this assertion it can be rejoined that only a tiny fraction of all human sexual activity has reproductive consequences, and that to restrict it to such a narrow goal would doom most of the population to virtually lifelong abstinence - though the ascetic ideal would regard such a state of affairs as a desirable end.

From a scientific perspective, the debate over the "naturalness" of homosexuality was joined by the eminent sex researcher Alfred C. Kinsey.  Maintaining that norms of naturalness are in the last analysis historically contingent and arbitrary, Kinsey concluded that anything sexual that can be done is natural. The older arguments deployed by theologians and moralists were, in his view, accompanied by a considerable charge of emotionality. "This has been effected, in part, by synonymizing the terms clean, natural, normal, moral, and right, and the terms un­clean, unnatural, abnormal, immoral, and wrong."

A key feature of traditional efforts to affirm the nature standard in human sexuality has been gender dimorphism:  the idea that male and female are completely distinct, each in its own way devoted to the pursuit of the opposite sex. Ostensibly, this binarism is an absolute norm.  Thus has it always been and thus it always will be. Yet more recent biological studies have indicated that there are intermediate types.  In this light some researchers have concluded there are more than two genders - as many as five.  Others, who would not go that far, acknowledge that the traditional categories are too rigid, and provide an incomplete picture of the full range of human variation.  Even focusing on the male and female poles of the spectrum, we find considerable variations within each category.  This new concept of fluidity of gender leads inexorably to a recognition of the complexities of sexual orientation.  That too may be fluid.  It seems increasingly clear then that there are no fixed roles assigned to the genders.

Other perspectives have been disclosed by Queer Theory, though these remain controversial. The term “gender performativity” was advanced by the post-structuralist theorist Judith Butler in her 1990 book Gender Trouble.  She characterizes gender as the effect of reiterated acting, a pattern that produces the impression of a stable or normal gender while obscuring the contradiction and instability of any single person’s gender posture.  According to Butler, this gambit flourishes within a much larger sphere of performativity. Earlier exponents of a similar approach had written of the dramaturgic model of social relations.  In this view we are always enacting roles rather than following any fixed imperatives of behavior.

Anthropologists have reported homosexuality in many tribal societies (presumably "close to nature"); a wide range of ethologists have described homosexuality among other species (presumed more "natural"); and theorists in sociobiology have sought to provide an evolutionary rationale for human homosexuality. Perhaps as a reflection of these efforts as well as of other scientific embarrassments involving earlier cultural assumptions about "naturalness," it is no longer scientifically respectable to maintain the argument against homosexuality as "unnatural." This development has not yet had a major impact on Judeo-Christian homophobia,  popular demagogic rhetoric, and public opinion among the less educated.   Over time, though, this improved understanding may be expected to undermine the credibility of the position that "homosexuality is unnatural."

As regards the law, the 2003 US Supreme Court decision in the Lawrence case invalided the remaining provisions in the law of some states sanctioning the so-called “crime against nature.”

BIBLIOGRAPHY. A. P. d'Entrèves, Natural Law, London: Longmans, 1951; Alfred C. Kinsey, et al., "Concepts of Normality and Abnormality in Sexual Behavior," in P. H. Hoch and J. Zubin, eds., Psychological Development in Health and Disease, New York: Grune and Stratton, 1949, pp. 11-32; C. S. Lewis, Studies in Words, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1960, pp. 24-74; Arthur O. Lovejoy, " 'Nature' as Aesthetic Norm," in his Essays in the History of Ideas, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1948, pp. 69-77; Clément Rosset, L'Anti-nature, Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1973: Pim Pronk, Against Nature: Types of Moral Argumentation Regarding Homosexuality, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1993.

A2.  Only sexual acts that can lead to procreation are acceptable; homosexual conduct - like bestiality and anal and oral heterosexual coitus - does not fulfill this condition.

A. The Charge.  The procreation standard was perceptively formulated by Plato in The Laws:“[T]his law of ours . . . permits sexual intercourse solely according to nature for the purpose of having children and forbids it with the male, wherein the human race is intentionally murdered, together with the sowing of seed on rocks and stones where it can never take root and produce new individuals.”  The Laws, VIII 836 B-839 A; cf. 636 B-C ). 

As Alfred North Whitehead remarked, all of Western philosophy consists of footnotes to Plato. That is certainly true in this instance.

B. Historical Background.  It is commonly thought that a dour, restrictive view of sexual ethics is enshrined in the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament.  Yet it is hard to find a clear statement to that effect in any of those ancient religious documents.  In fact there is plenty of contrary evidence.  Proverbs 5:15-19 encourages couples to enjoy sexual pleasure together within marriage.  Even though he was conflicted about sexuality, the apostle Paul nonetheless says that husbands and wives should render the sexual affection due each other—refraining only during times set aside for prayer and fasting (1 Corinthians 7:3-5).

In fact the long-dominant religious arguments in favor of limiting sexual acts to those that can lead to procreation were created by Early Christian writers of the Patristic period, though they drew on their interpretations of the Septuagint and Philo of Alexandria.  This amalgam of sex-negative views generally sheltered under the umbrella concept of “porneia” or fornication, which had highly negative connotations.  Sexual promiscuity was stigmatized by linking it with  heathen rites, termed "spiritual adultery." Philo, Tatian, and Clement reinterpreted Paul’s conflicted thoughts, giving them a restrictive emphasis and blending them with Platonic analyses of desire. Yet Clement's contemporary Epiphanes focused more on Platonic and Stoic communal sexual ideals.

Thomas Aquinas (Summa Theologiae, II-II, q. 154, 11) rejects bestiality, homosexuality, and “unnatural” heterosexual intercourse as departures from the proper species, the proper gender, and the proper organ(s) respectively. How was this concept of propriety--or finality as it is called in some recent Vatican documents--determined? Such a neat scheme does not derive from the Bible, which in its formative stage (the Hebrew Bible) is innocent of the concept of nature and the unnatural.  It must depend on an overarching concept of teleology, that is say, the assumptions that the universe works towards some great and final purpose; that this purpose has been worked out in every detail; and that moreover it is perfectly accessible to human reason.  Yet modern science rejects such a teleological worldview.

Hovering in the background of the procreation standard appears also to be a simplistic folk notion that each organ must have a single  basic function to which others may be added only at one’s peril.  Yet the genitals already serve two purposes - elimination and copulation - why not then the anus?  As the Marquis de Sade pointed out long ago, if Nature truly wished to forbid anal intercourse, she would have placed the orifice in a position that render it inaccessible to the erect penis.

Defenders of the procreation-only thesis must also cope with the habits of kissing, caressing, and other types of foreplay which, although they have traditionally been accepted as licit, in no way permit procreation in and of themselves.  (It is revealing of the debt of Freudian psychoanalysis to religious tradition that it has sought to consider “unnatural” acts acceptable only if they lead to and enhance coitus, with its procreation potential.)  There is also, of course, the matter of contraception and birth control.   In fact the play element in culture has always held an important place in heterosexual behavior even as narrowly defined by Aquinas; to attempt some tortuous scheme for excluding it under some conditions and permitting it in others is special pleading.

In recent discussions concerning same-sex marriage opponents have advanced a version of  the procreation argument.  According to law professor Dale Carpenter (who is critical of this view), it can be stated this way: “Procreation is indispensable to human survival. Marriage is for procreation, and procreation should occur within marriage. Procreation is the one important attribute of marriage that supplies the male-female definition. Gay couples can’t procreate as a couple, so gay couples shouldn’t be allowed to marry.”

 Gay-marriage advocates respond as follows.  Since procreation has never been required for marriage, the premise that “marriage is for procreation” is wrong, or at least incomplete. Sterile couples, old couples, and couples who simply don’t want to procreate are all allowed to marry. No-one objects to their marriages, so no-one should on this ground object to same-sex marriages.  Opponents of gay marriage have attempted to respond to this point, but their arguments have not carried conviction.

C.  Response. Narrow procreation-only standards do not hold up for one simple reason.  Society has always permitted sexual relations between two persons who cannot have children, whether because of impotence, injury, or advanced age.

BIBLIOGRAPHY.  John T. Noonan, Jr.,  Contraception: A History of Its Treatment by the Catholic Theologians and Canonists, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1965;  Michel Foucault, The Use of Pleasure (The History of Sexuality, Vol. 2), New York:  Pantheon, 1985;  Kathy L. Gaca, The Making of Fornication: Eros, Ethics, and Political Reform in Greek Philosophy and Early Christianity, Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003.

A3.  God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.

A.  The Charge. The conservative Christian slogan "God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve" may seem trivial, but actually it makes an important point, for it epitomizes Bible-based arguments that tell conclusively against homosexual behavior. Among other things, the statement affirms that the Biblical account of the creation of human beings as a male-female pair, as narrated in the book of Genesis, indicates the natural way of life for humanity.

B. Background.  The phrase about Adam and Steve appeared on a 1977 protest sign, as noted  in a New York Times report concerning a November 19 rally in Houston that year.  Two years later Jerry Falwell included it in a press conference. A report in Christianity Today gave the utterance wide circulation.

The phrase continued to reverberate.  In it is now widely familiar and, when used to name two characters in a work of fiction, signals that they are members of a homosexual pair (cf. Paul Rudnick's play "The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told," the 2005 film "Adam & Steve," and other works).

The key passage in the Bible is Genesis 2:18-22 where we are told that God decided that Adam needed a "helper." Some translations use the terms "companion," "helpmate," or "partner" here. God marched all of the animals past Adam, looking for a suitable helper, but none was found. So God put Adam to sleep, removed one of his ribs and created Eve from the bone.

Although this implies a cloning operation, it obviously was not, because Adam, being a male, had XY sex chromosomes; Eve was a female with XX chromosomes.  This example shows the need to place the biblical narrative within the realm of biological reality, correcting it where necessary.

For their part, conservative Christians insist on their own interpretation:  God created Eve to be Adam's wife. He made a woman to be the companion of Adam, a male. This indicates God's plan for humanity, which is simply that men and women are to pair off, and form permanent, heterosexual partnerships.

C.  Response.  Keeping within the Biblical framework, if either Adam or Eve were homosexual  - that is, a Kinsey 6, exclusively so - the human race would not have developed. God obviously needed to create both Adam and Eve as individuals with a heterosexual capacity, so that they could be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth with human progeny, even though that required their children to commit incest. But did he need to make them exclusively heterosexual?

In verse 18, God observes: "It is not good for the man to be alone" (NIV). This shows the importance that God ascribed to committed relationships. For a heterosexual person, the suitable companion is an individual of the opposite gender. For a homosexual person, the suitable companion is a person of the same gender. To say that gays and lesbians should not form committed relationships is to imply that it is good for people to remain alone. This would seem to be a direct contradiction of God's precept.

As far as continuation of the species goes, Adam and Steve can indeed have progeny, either through adoption or with the assistance of a surrogate mother.  Lesbians, of course, can become mothers themselves, and many do.

BIBLIOGRAPHY.  Matt Ridley, The Red Queen: Sex and the Evolution of Human Nature, New York: Harper Perennial, 2003; Joseph Blenkinsopp, Creation, Un-creation, Recreation: A Discursive Commentary on Genesis 1-11, New York: Continuum, 2011.

A4.  Homosexuality is an offense against the cosmic order, causing earthquakes, plagues, and hurricanes. 

A. The Charge.  Homosexual conduct brings disaster on any society that is foolish enough to condone it.  This consequence is shown by the recent prevalence of hurricanes and floods in the United States, where the incidence of homosexuality has been increasing alarmingly.

On the June 8, 1998 edition of his television show, the evangelist Pat Robertson denounced Orlando, Florida, and Disney World for allowing "Gay Days." Robertson stated that the acceptance of homosexuality could result in hurricanes, earthquakes, tornadoes, terrorist bombings, and "possibly a meteor.”  Robertson returned to the theme on June 24, when he quoted the Book of Revelation to support his claims.

B.  Historical Background. A little known work of Hellenistic Judaism, The Testament of Naftali (ca. 100 BCE). combined several themes: idolatry and contumacy against the divine will; defiance of the cosmic order; and the sin of Sodom.  The putative destruction of that city by fire and brimstone in Lot’s time provided the core for the gradual assemblage of a catalog of disasters ostensibly called down by same-sex behavior. 

A further stage in the growth of these legends stems from the Christian emperor Justinian I, who ruled the Eastern Roman Empire from 527 to 565. In 538 this homophobic ruler issued a law (Novella 77), which condemned sodomites to death "lest, as a result of these impious acts, whole cities should perish together with their inhabitants," a reference to the destruction of the Cities of the Plain, as recounted in the book of Genesis. The edict spoke of "diabolical and unlawful lusts," maintaining that because of such crimes there are famines, earthquakes, and pestilences. In Justinian’s view same-sex acts are not simply immoral - they constitute a grave danger to the body politic.

By the seventeenth century learned prejudice and folk credulity had assembled a roster of no fewer than six such homo-catastrophes: earthquakes, famine, plague, Saracen incursions, large field-mice, and floods.  (Noted by Benedict Carpzov, in his Practicae novae imperialis Saxonicae rerum criminalium, 1658.)

The televangelist Rev. Pat Robertson has remarked that the disaster of  9/11 came about as a result of America's tolerance of "abortionists, feminists, gays and lesbians." (He could have noted, following the old list, that “Saracen incursions”would surely occur.) His remarks were echoed by the Rev. Jerry Falwell, who has since been called to his maker.

Rev. John C. Hagee is a controversial Texas televangelist who regards the Catholic church as the "Great Whore of Babylon."  He also claimed that God sent Hurricane Katrina to New Orleans to punish the city for hosting a thriving gay and lesbian culture.

What all the commentators leave out, however, is what has been noted above: such arguments go all the way back to the emperor Justinian (527-565), who held that tolerance of same-sex behavior caused God to visit earthquakes on his realm. Stop the behavior, he believed, and the earthquakes would cease.

In a general sense these views reflect the Biblical pattern of the Prophet Jonah, who was thrown overboard to avoid shipwreck. More specific to homosexuality are the repeated denunciations in the Hebrew Bible of the male sacred prostitution of the kedeshim, an activity that was thought to incur Yahweh's displeasure. (I am aware that a recent revisionist school claims that the kedeshim did not engage in sex; I find this assertion unconvincing.)

In 2012 he following comment was making the rounds of the Internet net.

"Thirteen months before 9/11, on the day New York City passed homosexual domestic partnership regulations, I joined a group of Rabbis at a City Hall prayer service, pleading with G-d not to visit disaster on the city of N.Y. We have seen the underground earthquake, tsunami, Katrina, and now Haiti. All this is in sync with a two thousand year old teaching in the Talmud that the practice of homosexuality is a spiritual cause of earthquakes. Once a disaster is unleashed, innocents are also victims just like in Chernobyl. We plead with saner heads in Congress and the Pentagon to stop sodomization of our military and our society. Enough is enough." -- Rabbi Yehuda Levin, spokesman for the Rabbinical Alliance of America.

Does the Talmud in fact offer any support for the notion that homosexual conduct is “a spiritual cause” of earthquakes? Apparently it does, according to the expert opinion of

As Tzvee indicates, the relevant passage stems from Yerushalmi Berakot (9:2). In fact, the text asserts that earthquakes are brought on by any one of a number of acts, including disputes; not taking heave offering and tithes from your produce; and also because God is unhappy that the Temple lies in ruins and Jews are flocking to theaters and circuses.

Gay sex may also occasion the tremors. In Tzvee’s translation, “ [E] Said R. Aha, ‘[The earth quakes] on account of the sin of homosexual acts. God said, ‘You made your genitals throb in an unnatural act. By your life, I shall shake the earth on account of [the act of] this person.’"

The canon of the Jerusalem Talmud was closed about 600 CE, two or three generations after the promulgation of Justinian’s etiological speculations incorporated into Novella 77. Evidently the notion was still fresh at the start of the seventh century.

Unless an earlier Jewish source can be found - and none is known that directly makes this case - the Sages were channeling their hated enemy, the anti-Semite Justinian I. This would not be the first time that the rabbis borrowed from Christianity.

Finally, there is an Islamic parallel to these beliefs, though it is still imperfectly known.  This incident comes from medieval Afghanistan.  The poet Sanai of Ghazni (died ca. 1140) mocked the pederastic practices of his time, as embodied in the doings of the Khvaja of Herat.  This man is depicted as profaning a holy place by taking his catamite there for a quick erotic encounter:  

"Not finding shelter, he became perturbed,
 The mosque, he reasoned, would be undisturbed.

" But he was discovered by a devout man, who, in his revulsion, echoed a traditional attack on same-sex relations:

"These sinful ways of yours - that was his shout - 
have ruined all the crops and caused the drought!"

C.  Response.  All these claims rest on unproven links between individual conduct and the cosmic order.  These claims are at variance with modern science. As such, they are the equivalent of urban legends.

A5.  According to Leviticus, homosexuality is an abomination.

A.  The Charge.  In Leviticus 18 and 20 the Bible defines homosexual conduct as abomination.  Since Scripture is the Word of God, it must be so.

In this matter, the Reverend Fred Phelps, leader of the Westboro Baptist Church, minces no words, for he says simply: “God Hate Fags.”

B.  Historical Background.  In contemporary usage the terms abomination and abominable refer in a generic way to something that is detestable or loathsome. Because of the Hebrew Bible usage, however - Leviticus 18:22, "Thou shalt not lie with mankind as with womankind: it is abomination" (cf. Leviticus 20:13; Deuteronomy 22:5 and 23:19; and I Kings 14:24) - the words retain a special association as part of the religious condemnation of male homosexual behavior. In Elizabethan English they were normally written "abhomination," "abhominable" as if they derived from Latin ab- and homo - hence "departing from the human; inhuman." In fact, the core of the Latin word is the religious term omen.

In any event the notion of abominatio(n) stems from its appearance in Jerome's Vulgate translation of the Bible, where it corresponds to Greek bdelygma and Hebrew tó'ebáh. The latter term denotes behavior that violates the covenant between God and Israel, and is applied to Canaanite trade practices, idolatry, and polytheism, among other offenses.

The aversion of the religious leaders of the Jewish community after the return from the Babylonian captivity to the "abominable customs" of their heathen neighbors, combined with the Zoroastrian prohibition of homosexual behavior, inspired the legal provisions added to the Holiness Code of Leviticus in the fifth century before the Christian era.  In due course these became normative for Hellenistic Judaism and then for Pauline Christianity. The designation of homosexual relations as an "abomination" or "abominable crime" in medieval and modern sacral and legal texts echoes the wording of the Hebrew Bible.

The complex web of prohibitions recorded in the Book of Leviticus has defied full explanation from the standpoint of comparative religion. Recently influential among social scientists (though not among Biblical scholars) has been the interpretation of the anthropologist Mary Douglas (Purity and Danger, London, 1967), who views the category of abominations as part of a concern with the boundaries of classification.  Strict adherence to these boundaries attests one's purity in relation to divinity.

C.  Response.  Abomination is a religious category that has no proper place in determining the values of a secular society.

BIBLIOGRAPHY.  James Milgrom, Leviticus 17-22, New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000.

A6.  Homosexual conduct is inherently sinful.

A.  The Charge.  Many Christian denominations and a number of  Evangelical ministers (such as Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell) have aptly cited Biblical texts demonstrating that same-sex behavior is sinful.

These religious authorities hold that such carnal acts as anal and oral sex (along with fornication of any kind) are forms of sexual immorality that must be severely discouraged.  Still, this precept does not signal any disrespect to human persons, for we should should "love the sinner and not the sin."

That said, we must all be ever mindful of sin; its snares lurk everywhere.  If we fall into sinful homosexual behavior, we must repent and try our level best not to repeat it.

B.  Historical Background.  In Abrahamic contexts - those of Judaism, Christianity and Islam - sin is the act of violating God’s will. More generally, sin can also be viewed as anything within individuals that violates the ideal relationship between them and God.

Some crimes rank as sins, and some sins stand out as greater than others. In this nuanced concept, sins fall in a spectrum from minor errors to deadly misdeeds.  Catholicism regards the least corrupt sins as venial sins —which are part of  the hazards of human life, and carry little divine consequence, especially if the sinner sincerely repents. Conversely, sins of great evil are mortal mortal sins —which bring the dire consequence of going to Hell if unrepented for.  The branch of theology that studies sin is called hamartiology.

The unforgivable sin (or eternal sin) is a grave infraction that can never be expunged, Some moralists believe that same-sex behavior falls in this category.

For centuries the view that homosexual conduct (sometimes termed sodomy) was sin was thought to have assumed primal form in the archetypal destruction of Sodom as described in the book of Genesis  While some recent scholars have questioned this interpretation, in part by emphasizing the primary role of male rape in the offense, the episode gave rise to the expressions “sodomy” and “sodomite,” still widely used in that sense.

The classification of homosexuality as a sin was concretized in the early medieval penitentials, which assigned appropriate penalties for various forms of same-sex behavior.  It is important to acknowledge, however, that only forbidden acts were punished.  Homosexual thoughts or sentiments were not.

Still the act of sodomy itself was regarded as a very serious matter.  Traditionally, Catholicism has singled out for special condemnation a group of sins that “cry to heaven” or peccata clamantia: murder, sodomy, oppression of the weak, and defrauding the laborer.  The expression goes back to Cain’s murder of Abel, whose “blood cries to Heaven (Genesis 4:10).

In many medieval and early modern jurisdictions, same-sex conduct was judged worthy of death. The practice was commonly termed the peccatum nefandum, the unspeakable sin; and the peccatum contra naturam, the sin against nature.

These terms passed into legal terminology.  In his Commentaries on the English Law, William Blackstone stated: “What has been here observed, . . . [the fact that the punishment fit the crime] ought to be the more clear in proportion as the crime is the more detestable, may be applied to another offence of a still deeper malignity; the infamous crime against nature committed either with man or beast. A crime which ought to be strictly and impartially proved and then as strictly and impartially punished . . .  I will not act so disagreeabl[y] to my readers as well as myself as to dwell any longer upon a subject the very mention of which is a disgrace to human nature. It will be more eligible to imitate in this respect the delicacy of our English law which treats it in its very indictments as a crime not fit to be named; 'peccatum illud horribile, inter christianos non nominandum’ [the horrible crime that must not be mentioned among Christians].” 

In a number of US states, sodomy was commonly characterized as “the crime against nature.”

C.  Response. All these ideas are religious in origin.  While they may have significance for individuals and the religious organizations to which they belong, they have no binding force in a society that honors the separation of church and state.

A7.  Homosexuality is the work of the Devil.

A.  The Charge.  No decent person in his right mind would be tempted on his or her own to engage in such an odious practice as sodomy.  Therefore such indulgence must be inspired by the Devil, who tempts his victims to engage in sin.

B.  Historical Background.   While many religions acknowledge the maleficent influence of evil spirits, Christianity and Islam are the only faiths to have elevated the Devil to a powerful indvidual status that can compete with that of the Godhead itself.  These religions regard the Devil as a rebellious fallen angel who is tireless in his efforts to tempt human beings to sin.  In Christianity, the Devil has been thought to have a particular affinity with witches, heretics, and other sinners. 

This notion that same-sex behavior is the product of diabolic intervention gained credence in the advancing climate of superstition that blighted the closing phases of the Roman Empire.  This is evident in Justinian’s punitive Novella [new law] 77, of 538 CE, which excoriates “certain men, seized by diabolical incitement, [who] have abandoned themselves to the basest forms of lasciviousness and engage in practices contrary to nature.”  

Notions of this kind feed upon two free-floating assumptions.  1)  The Devil thrives as a virtually independent power, able to do his will largely unchecked by God or humanity.  This concept, generally absent from the Hebrew Bible, probably stems from the migration of Iranian (Zoroastrian) dualism to the West.  2)  Paradoxically, homosexuality, while everywhere rejected by decent opinion, seems to exercise an irresistible attraction on those who have been exposed to it.  Otherwise inexplicable, such an attraction became more understandable when ascribed to diabolic intervention.

Needless to say, this paradox is rooted in the contradictions of the anti-homosexual polemic itself, and in the well-known fact that tabooed behavior patterns acquire glamor from their very forbidden status.

There are a number of parallels between the medieval witchcraft delusion and the condemnation of sodomy.  Both witchcraft and sodomy have been commonly regarded as the work of the Devil.

Few subscribe to a belief in witchcraft today, but same-sex behavior still attracts eccentrics who field the diabolical allegation. Writing on October 27, 2011, Daniel Avila, a lobbyist and spokesperson for the Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage of the U.S. Catholic Conference, asserted that because being gay is not genetic, it must be the work of the Devil.  Avila penned the column in the Boston Pilot, the newspaper of the Boston Archdiocese. In the column, he claims that because no definite genetic connection can be established for homosexuality, then logically it follows that homosexuality must be the work of the Devil.  He holds that whenever natural causes disturb otherwise typical biological development, leading to the personally unchosen beginnings of same-sex attraction, the ultimate responsibility, on a theological level, is and should be imputed to the Evil One, not to God.

The scientific evidence of how same-sex attraction most likely occurs has not satisfied Avila.  And so he reaches a strange conclusion which goes somewhat as follows.  People of  faith must look back to Scripture’s account of the angels who rebelled and fell from grace. In their anger against God, these malcontents prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls. They continue to do all they can to mar distort, and destroy God’s handiwork.

C.  Response. Today, few people, even religious individuals, subscribe to the antiquated belief in the Devil as a real person.  It is a picturesque survival from former times.  Relegated to the level of superstition and popular imagery, as seen in the movies, the notion is no longer really viable.

BIBLIOGRAPHY.   Jeffrey Burton Russell, Lucifer: The Devil in the Middle Ages, Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1984.

A8.  Homosexuality equates with heresy.

A. The Charge.  Every society has certain agreed-upon norms.  To depart from them amounts to heresy.  

In his contemporary ebook entitled The Homosexual Heresy, Dan Montgomery, a theologian and psychologist, warns that Christians today are being held hostage to a homosexual heresy that seeks to cast aside the Bible and Christian orthodoxy that has anchored the church for two thousand years.

B. Historical Background. Defined as willful and persistent departure from orthodox Christian dogma, heresy forced the church progressively to refine  its doctrines and to anathematize deviant theological opinions. At times heretical movements such as Gnosticism, the mystical belief that the elect received a special enlightenment, and Arianism, greatest of the Christological heresies, seemed almost to overshadow the universal church.

From the time of Constantine the Great (d. 337) onward, the church deployed state power to impose uniformity of belief. In both eastern and western halves of the Roman Empire law subjected pertinacious heretics to branding, confiscation of property, exile, and even death. The assumption that the church had the right to call upon the secular power to suppress heresy survived the Empire itself. In the early Middle Ages in the West, few heretics were noticed or prosecuted from the sixth through the tenth century. When prosperity returned after 1000, however, ecclesiastical and secular authorities noted and persecuted heretics who multiplied particularly at first in the reviving cities of southern France and Italy. The iconoclastic controversy of the eighth and ninth centuries nearly destroyed the Byzantine Empire, where such heresies as dualistic Paulicianism flourished continuously.

Modern hypotheses on the causes of heresy were foreign to the churchmen of late antiquity and the Middle Ages, who simply considered heresy the work of the devil. Author after author repeated stereotypical descriptions and denunciations, routinely ascribing such beliefs and practices to later heretics. These clichés fused into a type-figure of the heretic with conventional traits: his pride, since he has dared to reject the teaching of the official Church; his superficial mien of piety, which must be meant to deceive, since he is in fact an enemy of the faith; and his secrecy, contrasted with the teaching of the Church, which is broadcast to the four winds. Most significantly, the heretic is often accused of counterfeiting piety while secretly engaging in libertinism - and the form of sexual libertinism most often imputed to him is homosexuality, or sodomy, as the term generally favored from the end of the twelfth century onward.

Even before the end of antiquity, Western Christian controversialists, using a charge pagans had once leveled against them, had accused members of dissident sects of engaging in unmentionable orgies "for the sake of pleasure." Not satisfied with their promiscuous intercourse with women, some of them, in the words of the Apostle, "were consumed with their lust for one another." A sect called the Levites, after the members of the tribe who officiated in the Temple in Jerusalem, were reported by Epiphanius of Salamis not to have inter­course with women, but only with one another. It was these who were held in distinction and honor by other libertine Gnostics, because they "had sowed no children for the Archon," that is to say, had begotten no offspring whose souls would like theirs be trapped in the lower, material world and could not ascend to heaven. Such charges were also hurled against the Manichaeans, who derived from Zoroastrianism the dualistic doctrine that an evil god created matter and human reproduction in the sense of having more bodies to rule.

It was at the end of the eleventh century that the so-called Bulgarian heresy became known in Western Europe. It was also known as the Albigensian or Cathar heresy. This was a dualistic ideology that had flourished in the kingdom of Bulgaria, which some ascribed to a priest named Bogomil, who combined the beliefs imported from the Byzantine Empire (Paulician and Manichaean) into a new system. From the reign of Tsar Peter (927-969) onward these doctrines were propagated throughout Europe. The Bogomils believed that the Devil was the creator of the visible, mate­rial world and that Christ was a phantom who had no ordinary body, was not born of Mary, and did not truly suffer on the cross. They rejected the sacraments, including baptism and the eucharist, in favor of initiation rites that included the laying on of hands, and identified the Devil with the Jewish god, the demiurge whose revelation in the Hebrew Bible they accordingly repudiated. In their rejection of the Greek Orthodoxy propagated from Byzantium, the heretics were as radical as one could imagine. They subjected the Gospel narratives to a special exegesis that made all the miracle stories symbolic and allegorical.

Since the Bulgarian heresy was the religious deviation par excellence of the later Middle Ages, all heretics in Western Europe came indiscriminately to be labeled bulgari, which became bougres in Old French and buggers in Middle English. But in addition to heresy, the term gained the meanings of sodomite and usurer. It has been asserted that this was only the church's way of defaming unbelievers and provoking hatred for them. In fact, however, they advocated coital abstention because they retained the dualist notion of the wrongfulness of procreation, and may have tolerated sterile promiscuity, at least in the lower ranks of their sect. It is also quite possible that their highest ranks, the so-called perfecti, included more than their share of homosexuals, given the affinity of a certain homosexual character type for leadership in religious communities.

The anti-homo­sexual doctrines of the Catholic Church, grounded in the prohibitions of the Hebrew Bible which the Cathari rejected, may have added to the alienation of such types from its fold. The oft-repeated allegations of homosexual conduct were not without foundation: a promiscuous sodomite, Arnold de Verniolle of Pamiers, was caught in a heretic hunt in 1323. After careful examination of the evidence most modern historians have concluded that the accusations of debauchery and sodomy against the Cathars had some justification and corresponded to the survival of the mores of pagan Mediterranean antiquity in the folkways of Provence.

The further association of buggery with usury stemmed from the fact that medieval economic doctrine held money to be sterile, so that the earning of interest was equated with "unnatural" non-reproductive forms of sexual expression. But all these factors coalesced to make bougre and bugger  Ketzer and ketter mean not only heretic but also sodomite. German even distinguished the sodomite as the Ketzer nach dem Fleisch, while the heretic proper was the Ketzer nach dem Glauben.

In texts of the thirteenth century, it is true, the general meaning of "heretic" still prevails. Then also, however, scholastic theologians such as Albertus Magnus and Thomas Aquinas defined the "crime against nature by reason of sex" as second only to murder in its heinousness, and the social intolerance of homosexual expression rose to a point where everyone under the authority of the church was obliged to profess heterosexual interests alone. Moreover, the ecclesiastical courts gained the authority to try persons suspected of sodomy, as a crime under canon law, and then to relax them to the civil authorities for execution.

Contrary to the modern belief that the term faggot for "effeminate homosexual" drives from the practice of burning such offenders at the stake, in England the penalty for both sodomy and witchcraft was hanging. As the significance of the Albigensian heresy receded, the meaning bugger = "sodomite" remained, and in the statute 25 Henry VIII  c. 6 (1533), the word buggery is attested for the first time in English in the unequivocal sexual meaning. In German such terms as Bubenketzer for "pederast" retain the same association of ideas. Some writers even branded sodomy as worse than murder, for the murderer kills only one human being, while the sodomite seeks the death of the entire human race, which would perish if one and all ceased to procreate.

In Cologne Meister Johannes Eckhart (d. 1327) launched a pantheistic mysticism that often became heretical among his Rhenish followers. Partly inspired by the Rhenish mystic, Beguines and Begards, lay groups living communally in celibacy, concentrated in the Flemish towns, were accused of lesbianism more often than of sodomy with males. The general disruption of order by famines, endemic after 1314; the Black Death, which returned every ten years for a century after 1347[ and the Hundred Years War - all these factors led to both flagellants and dissipation as well as anti-Jewish outbursts, witch trials, and intensified persecution of sodomites.

Certainly the theological overlap of heresy and sodomy served to intensify the hatred and aversion with which homosexuality was regarded by the masses of the faithful in Western Europe from the late thirteenth century down to modern times. In later medieval law codes heresy and sodomy were both capital crimes, and the accusation of "unnatural vice" was one of the charges brought against the Templars in a series of trials the objective basis of which remains disputed among medieval historians. Again, there is a real possibility that sexual non-conformity was the initial impetus that distanced the heretic from the Church, both then and in later times, when skepticism and unbelief replaced heresy as the chief foes of Christian dogma. It is noteworthy that in Great Britain bugger has, apart from the slightly archaic legal usage, been a taboo word that could not be used in polite company because of the images and emotions which it evoked.

A final consequence of the association of heresy and sodomy was a positive one, in this sense.  The criminalization of both came to be seen as expressions of the religious intolerance decried by antitrinitarians in the seventeenth century and by deistic thinkers in the eighteenth. The antithesis of the doctrine of the medieval Church was the conviction that crimes against religion and morality, which included heresy and sodomy par excellence, should not be the object of criminal sanctions unless they harmed third parties or the interests of society in general. It is there­fore all the more regrettable that in the English-speaking world - where freedom of conscience and toleration of sectarianism in religion came comparatively early - the place of buggery in the scheme of medieval intolerance was overlooked and the statutes adopted from canon law were perpetuated as bulwarks of morality.

C.  Response.  In a society such as ours that honors the separation of church and state, the notion of heresy is no longer viable.  Even when it was, it was by no means clear that sodomy ranked as a heresy, despite many such assertions over the centuries.

BIBLIOGRAPHY. Michael Goodich, The Unmentionable Vice: Homosexuality in the Later Medieval Period, Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-Clio Press, 1979; Malcolm Lambert, Medieval Heresy: Popular Movements from Bogomil to Hus, London: Edward Arnold, 1977.

A9.  Jesus’  Incarnation required the death of the Sodomites.

A.  The Charge.  Jesus would not have consented to come into a world tainted by sodomy.  Accordingly, the sodomites had to die before he would consent to incarnate.

B.  Historical Background. One of the strangest Christian motifs of homonegativity goes back to the thirteenth century, when an Italian prelate Jacobus of Voragine (ca. 1230-1298) compiled a book of edifying Christian stories called the Legenda Aurea (the Golden Legend). Section 6 of that book is entitled “The Birth of Our Lord Jesus Christ According to the Flesh.” There we encounter the following extraordinary claim: “[a]nd even the sodomites gave witness by being exterminated wherever they were in the world on that night, as Jerome says ‘a light rose over them so bright that all who practiced this vice were wiped out; and Christ did this in order that no such uncleanness might be found in the nature he had assumed.’ For as Augustine says, God, seeing that a vice contrary to nature was rife in human nature, hesitated to become incarnate.” (W. G. Ryan, trans., 1993, p. 41).

No such passage has been found in the authentic writings of Jerome or Augustine, though the claim could have appeared in some texts that are simply ascribed to those early Christian writers. In all likelihood, however, the notion arose in the high Middle Ages, perhaps by some scholastic thinker whom Jacobus purloined.

At all events, this murderous legend enjoyed considerable popularity in Christian Europe during the Middle Ages. For example, the Flores Temporum a chronicle of the world’s history compiled by a Swabian Franciscan, Hermannus Gigas, records several portents foretelling the coming of Christ, such as the appearance of a spring of olive oil in Rome, the death of all sodomites, and the rising of three suns in the East which merge into one.

The motif recurs in the fifteenth-century Caxton translation of the Golden Legend. “And it happed this nyght, that all the sodomytes that dyde synne ayenst nature were deed and extynct, for god hated so moche this synne, that he myght not suffre that nature humayne whiche he had taken, were delywerd to so grete shame. Wherof saint Austin saith, that it lackyd but lyttl, that god would not become man for that synne.”

The notion of the death of the Sodomites on the first Christmas Eve began to fade in the early eighteenth century--but has not yet disappeared entirely. As recently as 2004 a Greek Orthodox priest pronounced that homosexual conduct was very dangerous. The proof was that the sodomites had to die on Christmas Eve for the Incarnation to take place.

C.  Response.  Needless to say, history records no such mass extinction of sodomites in or about the year 4 BCE.  Despite its longevity, this tale amounts to an urban legend.

A10.  The colloquial use of the word “faggot” reflects the medieval custom of burning sodomites at the stake.

A.  The Charge. The Gay Slang Dictionary offers this definition for the word faggot: “A male homosexual, a term applied to gays during the Inquisition when they were burned along with witches.”

In the Middle Ages sodomy was punished by the death penalty, generally through burning at the stake.  The word faggot commemorates this harsh practice.

B.  Background.  One of the most persistent myths that have gained a foothold in the GLBT movement is the belief that "faggot" derives from the basic meaning of "bundle of sticks used to light a fire," with the historical commentary that when witches were burned at the stake, "only presumed male homosexuals were considered low enough to help kindle the fires."

The English word has in fact three forms: faggot, attested by the Oxford Eng­lish Dictionary from circa 1300; fadge, attested from 1588; and faggald, which the Dictionary of the Older Scottish Tongue first records from 1375. The first and sec­ond forms have the additional meaning "fat, slovenly woman" which according to the English Dialect Dictionary survived into the nineteenth century in the folk speech of England.

The homosexual sense of the term, unknown in England itself, appears for the first time in America in a vocabulary of criminal slang printed in Portland, Oregon in 1914, with the example "All the fagots (sissies) will be dressed in drag at the ball tonight." The apocopated (clipped) form fag then arose by virtue of the ten­dency of American colloquial speech to create words of one syllable; the first quotation is from the book by Nels Anderson, The Hobo (1923): "Fairies or Fags are men or boys who exploit sex for profit." The short form thus also has no connection with British fag as attested from the nineteenth century (for example, in the novel Tom Brown's Schooldays) in the sense of "public school boy who per­forms menial tasks for an upperclassman."

In American slang faggot/fag usurped the semantic role of bugger in British usage, with its connotations of extreme hostility and contempt bordering on death wishes. In more recent decades it has become the term of abuse par excellence in the mouths of heterosexuals, of­ten just as an insult aimed at another male's alleged want of masculinity or courage, rather than implying a sexual role or orientation.

The ultimate origin of the word is a Germanic term represented by the Nor­wegian dialect words fagg, "bundle, heap," alongside bagge, "obese, clumsy creature" (chiefly of animals). From the latter are derived such Romance words as French bagasse and ltalian bagascia, "prostitute," whence the parallel derivative bagascione whose meaning matches that of American English faggot/fag, while Catalan bagassejar signifies "to faggot; to frequent the company of loose women."

In the English common law both witchcraft and buggery were punishable by hanging, not burning.  Moreover, in the reign of the homosexual monarch James I the execution of heretics came to an end, so that by the time American English gave the word its new meaning there cannot have been in the popular mind even the faintest remnant of the complex of ideas credited to the term in the contemporary myth. It is purely and simply an Americanism of the twentieth century.

Quite unrelated is the current usage in Britain of the word faggot to describe a kind of meatball.

C.  Response.  Given the fact that the term faggot cannot refer to burning at the stake, why does the myth continue to enjoy popularity in the gay movement? On the conscious level it serves as a device with which to attack the medieval church, by extension Christianity in toto, and finally all authority.  There are better ways to do these things, if need be.  On another level, it may linger as a "myth of origins," a kind of collective masochistic ritual that willingly identifies the homosexual as victim.

It should be evident that the word faggot and the ideas that have been mistakenly associated with it serve no useful function; the sooner both are abandoned, the better.

BIBLIOGRAPHY. Warren Johansson, "The Etymology of the Word Faggot," Gay Books Bulletin, 6 (1981), 16-18, 33.

A11.  Homosexuality must never be explicitly mentioned: it is truly unspeakable.

A.  The Charge. In E. M. Forster’s novel entitled Maurice, the homosexual main character describes himself as follows: “I am an unspeakable of the Oscar Wilde sort.”  Rightly so.  In fact some types of behavior are so despicable that they must never be mentioned or discussed.  Same-sex acts are prime examples.  Adhering to a strict policy of abstention is best for all of us.

Indisputably, the text you are reading violates this sound precept.  In the name of all that is decent, you must stop this folly forthwith!

B. Historical Background. Taboos on uttering certain words and phrases thrive in many societies.  However, there is a distinct Western tradition that has proved influential in the context of homonegativity. 

The designation of homosexuality as "the nameless sin" reflects the belief that it was unfit even to be mentioned in Christian society. In 1769, for example, the English jurist Sir William Blackstone described the "crime against nature" as "a subject the very mention of which is a disgrace to human nature. It will be more eligible to imitate in this respect the delicacy of our English law, which treats it in its very indictments, as a crime not fit to be named, peccatum illud horribile, inter Christianos non nominandum." Blackstone alludes not to the statute of 1533, but probably to a single celebrated case, the arraignment of Lord Castlehaven in 1631, where the indictment speaks (in Latin) of "that detestable and abominable sin . . . 'buggery' [in English in the text] not to be named among Christians." (Similar language occurs in a text of Sir Edward Coke, published in 1644.)

Comparable expressions enjoyed the favor of canonists and authors of con­fessionals on the European continent; in 1700, for example, Ludovico Sinistrari d'Ameno records the terms peccatum mutum ("silent sin"), vitium nefandum ("unspeakable vice"), and vitium innominabile ("unnamable vice"), all designating the crime against nature or sodomy.

A century before, the Andean historian of Peru, Garcilaso de la Vega, claimed that sodomy was so hated by the Incas that the very name was odious to them and they never uttered it. While the Incas were apparently hostile to male homosexuality, Garcilaso's claim that they refused to name it is probably a projection of Christian attitudes. Significantly, Garcilaso also mentions an Amerindian city that, like Sodom, was destroyed by fire for its addiction to homosexual practices.

In late antiquity, through a false etymology based upon the Greek form of the place name, Sodom was interpreted as meaning pecus tacens, "silent herd," a gloss that may have influenced the later formula peccatum mutum. William of Auvergne (ca. 1180-1249) said that it was the "unmentionable vice," noting Gregory the Great's claim that the air itself was corrupted by its mention.

Thus it was against an extensive and varied background of usage that Oscar Wilde was to seek to turn the tables in his eloquent plea during his 1895 trial for the "love that dare not speak its name," taking up a phrase from the poem "Two Loves" by Lord Alfred Douglas (1894). In Wilde's statement under cross-examination, the phrase morphed into "a great affection of an elder for a younger Man. It is intellectual... when the elder man has intellect, and the younger man has all the joy, hope and glamour of life before him." In subsequent usage, the phrase "the love that dare not speak its name" became synonymous with homoeroticism in general.

In the New Testament the apostle Paul remarked mysteriously, "For it is a shame even to speak of the things that they do in secret." (Ephesians 5:12). Although this passage has been taken to refer to homosexuality, there is no conclusive evidence to pinpoint the sin (or sins) in question. Nonetheless, the words show that the notion of a transgression too horrible to be named directly was familiar to the early Christians. The Book of Wisdom (14:17) had spoken of "worshipping of idols not to be named."

Latin pagan usage supplies infandus, "unspeakable, abominable" and nefandus, "impious, heinous," both sometimes used of sexual conduct (cf. the later vitium nefandum. In some Spanish texts sodomites are curtly termed nefandarios.

Primitive societies, of course, observe taboos on certain words either because the objects they designate are too dangerous or too numinously sacred to be mentioned outright. Today many observant Jews prefer not to utter the names for the Godhead as written in Scripture, using “Hashem” (the Name) instead.

In early Christian thought, Dionysius the Areopagite (ca. 500) evolved his negative (or apophatic) theology, which held that God's attributes are too incomprehensible to limited human reason even to be mentioned. Thus by a curious irony, the Christian Trinity and the sodomites are linked in their ineffability/unspeakability.

In today’s parlance no such grandiose comparisons seem appropriate. As regards common-garden usage the matter is best understood under the category of euphemism, as seen in the expressions “powder room” for toilet and “go to bed with” for having sex.

Some traditional euphemisms or code words for homosexual include “musical,” “sensitive,” and “temperamental.”  Sometimes the avoidance pattern takes the form of deleting any specific word for it, e.g., "Is he. . . ?" "Is she that way?" or "Could he be one?"  Everyday usage in other modern languages provides various equivalents for such euphemisms. In French one may speak of “en être” and “comme ça.” The expression “ces messieurs” dates from the eighteenth century. With its “so,” German is very economical.  In Italian we find “così” and “uno di quelli” or with somewhat greater clarity “quel peccato” and “quel vizio.” Such expressions can connote either strong distaste for such practices, or a wish to avoid embarrassment (sometimes both). The ultimate in erasure occurs when one merely makes dismissive movements, e.g. displaying a limp wrist for a gay male or performing a stomping gait to indicate a lesbian.

One can find numerous relevant instances of elision and euphemism in twentieth-century fiction, theater, film, and musical lyrics, where oblique references are left as clues but the explicit words are missing.  At one time the word “gay” could be used to serve as a code word, but no longer.

In 2004 a popular program appeared on American cable television entitled "The L-Word." In this case everyone knew that the "suppressed" word is “lesbian,” so that the show’s title itself mocked the censorship tendency.

GLBT people who remain in the closet practice their own form of self-censorship.  Unwilling to avow their sexual orientation, they permit their friends and colleagues, most of them at least, to assume that they are conventionally heterosexual.  And in fact, many of those who are “out” nonetheless hold that the closet rights of nonadmitters should be respected.

Sometimes this approach even appears in dealing with the dead, especially famous persons, where standard accounts have long shown a tendency to minimalize or ignore the GLBT  elements in a person’s life.  This was formerly the case with biographies of such writers as Walt Whitman. W. Somerset Maugham, and Virginia Woolf.   Even now such “degaying” occurs with respect to prominent politicians, diplomats, and religious leaders, who remain enveloped in a discreet cloak of silence. Of course this protection vanishes when they are caught in flagrante and exposed.

Interesting in this connection is the designation MSM (men who have sex with men). This euphemism (if it is that) is said to derive from HIV-prevention groups seeking to reach men who do not regard themselves as having homosexual identities, but who nonetheless engage in same-sex relations. Some of these men may be closeted, others bisexual. For some African Americans the expression “on the down low” performs a somewhat similar function.

C.  Response.  All knowledge, including that of sexuality, advances through freedom of expression, discussion, and debate.  The taboo on the mention of homosexuality violates that imperative.  In a lesser way euphemisms also impede proper communication and discussion.  Frankness is needed.

The larger issue is one of visibility.  For this reason, closeted persons must urged to come out. As always, though this must be a voluntary process.

BIBLIOGRAPHY.  Michael Goodich, The Unmentionable Vice: Homosexuality in the Later Medieval Period, Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-Clio Press, 1979; Keith Allen and Kate Burridge, Euphemism & Dysphemism: Language Used as Shield and Weapon, New York: Oxford University Press. 1991; idem, Forbidden Words: Taboo and the Censorship of Language, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006; Ralph Keyes, Euphemania: Our Love Affair with Euphemisms. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 2010.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

THE HOMOPHOBIC MIND:  Part Two:  Biological Factors

B1. Even brute animals reject homosexuality.  Only human beings, with their limitless capacity for waywardness and perversion, resort to this odious behavior.

The Charge.  Living as they do a life in accordance with nature, animals are incapable of homosexual vice.  By contrast, we human beings have become estranged from nature.  This estrangement, it is generally agreed, is egregious in the way we abuse the environment.  Some of us abuse out bodies too - in ways that Mother Nature never intended.  Animals know better.

Historical Background. Adumbrated by Plato in his late dialogue, The Laws, the locus classicus of this claim is Plutarch’s essay “Gryllos” (ca. 100 CE), in which an articulate pig asserts the superiority of animal standards of behavior, including sexual conduct.  Animals do not, we are told, engage in same-sex behavior.

This general sense of the happy-go-lucky lives of animals has a perennial appeal, as seen even now in television’s nature programs.  This notion caters to a sentimental hankering for a life without pressure and ambiguity, for a never-never land of bliss, one in which animals supposedly dwell.

The beast criterion is of course selective, since its supporters are unprepared to discard a host of cultural acquisitions and privileges, from clothing and motorized transportation to cell phones and medicines - things not enjoyed by animals. Nor are they inclined (as Aristophanes sardonically pointed out long ago) to perch on roosts at night like fowls or to throw feces a a friendly way of gaining attention as apes are wont to do.  The argument, then, rests on a kind of selective amnesia which makes it possible to ignore some aspects of human departure from the animal model, while acknowledging others, if only to deplore them.

At all events the view of animal exemption from homosexuality was by no means universal among the ancient Greeks and Romans. Those times also saw folkloric beliefs, such as the notion that males of the partridge species are so highly sexed that in the absence of females they readily assault each other sexually. Early Christian writers associated the hare with pederasty because of the bizarre notion that it grows a new anus each year. The hyena symbolized gender ambiguity because it ostensibly changed its sex each year. Finally, the weasel, which was supposed to conceive through the mouth, stood for the practice of fellatio. To be on the safe side, the author of the Epistle of Barnabas forbade eating the flesh of any of these creatures.

Over the centuries many preferred to disregard these urban legends of the ancients, colorful as they are, concerning the animal kingdom.  Instead a substantial body of learned opinion clung to the idealization that the conduct of animals is exemplary.  It serves as a yardstick to determine our "naturalness.” This thought complex has been dubbed "animalitarianism" by George Boas, a historian of ideas.

 In statements by contemporary anti-homosexual propagandists, it is revealing that they will sometimes first insist that homosexuality must be unnatural, since "even the lowest animals don't do it," and then when confronted with evidence to the contrary exclaim with outrage that same-sex relations drag man down to the subhuman level, "behaving like a filthy swine." Such dodges suggest that moral distinctions develop first.  Then this judgmenalism is superimposed on the kingdom of nature, instead of being derived from it in any consistent way.

From time immemorial human beings have favored animal comparisons, both as criticism (dumb as an ox, scared as a rabbit) and as praise (bold as a lion, far-sighted as an eagle).  The choice of metaphor depends upon the presuppositions of the speaker.  Still, these are all metaphors.

Every species has patterns of sexual behavior unique to itself, so that claiming on supposedly moral grounds that man should imitate the lower animals in their presumed abstention is invalid. Moreover, social control of human sexual activity can only be justified on the grounds that the policy promotes the higher interests of mankind - including the evolutionary progress of the species - rather than following the lead of the instinctual life of creatures far lower on the evolutionary scale.

All living things exist in a world in which - as Darwin showed - they must compete for scarce resources; but while nature confronts scarcity with redundance, man confronts scarcity with foresight. That is to say, lower forms of organic life survive by engendering such myriads of young that at least a minimal number will reach adulthood and the reproductive stage; but humanity survives by economic and demo­graphic measures that seek to proportion his numbers to the resources available for consumption. Especially given the absence of superfetation in the human female, the notion that "homosexuality means race suicide" is preposterous. All human sexual activity, homosexual and heterosexual, occurs in a context of economic and social values that removes it entirely from the genetically programmed coupling of animals, even though such behaviors as competition and courtship anticipate the sexual rivalry and mating of human beings. Finally, the prolonged phase of socializing through which members of human societies must pass - with the need for mentoring and initiation into the world of adulthood - lends a significance to homosexual bonds between adult and adolescent that may find parallels, but no exact equivalents in the social life of animals.

A more recent variation on the old idealization of animals maintains that the principle of animal innocence holds true only among animals in their natural state in the wild.  Yet when human beings subject them to special stress, as when they confined together in a small space, aberrant behavior is artificially induced. One might think that any child raised on a farm could refute this myth.  It has flourished nonetheless - at least until recently.

Over the last few decades, a body of evidence has been accumulating showing homosexual behavior among many species of animals - behavior that has been observed both in the wild and in captivity. In the 1970s the well-publicized reports of the German ethologist Konrad Lorenz drew attention to male-male pair bonds in greylag geese.

Since Lorenz’ time much more data has become available. A massive review published in 1999  by researcher Bruce Bagemihl ascertained that homosexual behavior has been observed in close to 1,500 species, ranging from primates to gut worms, and is well documented for 500 of them. Animal sexual behavior takes many different forms including sex itself, courtship, shows of affection, pair bonding, and parenting among same-sex animal couples.. According to Bagemihl, "the animal kingdom [does] it with much greater sexual diversity – including homosexual, bisexual and nonreproductive sex – than the scientific community and society at large have previously been willing to accept."

Animal homosexual behavior is best known from social species. According to geneticist Simon LeVay, "[a]though homosexual behavior is very common in the animal world, it seems to be very uncommon that individual animals have a long-lasting predisposition to engage in such behavior to the exclusion of heterosexual activities. Thus, a homosexual orientation, if one can speak of such thing in animals, seems to be a rarity. One species in which exclusive homosexual orientation occurs, however, is that of domesticated sheep (Ovis aries).”  According to the findings, about 10% of rams (males) avoid mating with ewes (females, even though they do mate with other rams."

“Against Nature?” was an exhibition on same-sex behavior in animals organized by the Natural History Museum in Oslo, Norway (September 2007-August 2007).  The first exhibition of its kind, it traveled to Bergen, Trondheim, Maastricht, Geneva, and Stockholm.

In fact, the extensive documentation of homosexual behavior in animals seems to offer a telling argument against the traditional view that such conduct constitutes the “sin against nature. “  Significantly, homosexuality in animals was cited in the United States Supreme Court's  2003 decision in Lawrence v. Texas, which struck down the sodomy laws of 14 states.

Response.  We conclude by summarizing the three stages of knowledge in this realm.  First, for centuries it was generally held that, except for a very few aberrant species such as the partridge and the weasel, animals did not engage in homosexual behavior.  Then, in recent decades, it was conceded that animals do do it, but only under special conditions of stress.  Finally, massive documentation, much of it focused on animals in the wild, has rendered the conclusion inescapable: a full spectrum of homosexual behavior is found among animal species.

BIBLIOGRAPHY.  Bruce Bagemihl, Biological Exuberance: Animal Homosexuality and Natural Diversity,  New York: St. Martin's Press, 1999; Joan Roughgarden, Evolution’s Rainbow, Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004; Volker Sommer and Paul J. Vasey,  Homosexual Behaviour in Animals: An Evolutionary Perspective, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006; Aldo Poiani and A. F, Dixon, Animal Homosexuality: A Biosocial Perspective, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010; Simon LeVay, Gay, Straight, and the Reason Why: The Science of Sexual Orientation, New York: Oxford University Press, 2011.