Homosexuality and gay customs have been part of human culture since time immemorial. In Ancient Greece, erotic love and sexual pleasure between males, especially young men and adolescent boys, was generally acceptable as it was widely believed to make men excel in all their endeavors especially in battle. Penetrative sex between males was however condemned as a transgression against nature. In Arab culture, it was accepted as a religious practice whereby Sufi holy men gazed upon the beauty of the boy to come closer to God and in Renaissance Italy, it was widely practiced by renowned artists and scientists in the cities of Florence and Venice, even as the special Police force, the officers of the night, prosecuted the offenders. Northern India under Mughal rule was a haven for homosexuals, the Kabaka of Uganda openly practiced it with his court pages, many Chinese emperors had gay lovers and in Native America, a child thought to be gay was socialized in the ways of the opposite sex (Homosexual Traditions).
Homosexual orientation was widely condemned and criminalized in many societies especially with the indoctrination of religious beliefs into societal values which viewed homosexual acts as sinful and repugnant. Punishment varied in severity, from imprisonment to the death penalty. This however, did not put a stop to the gay culture and in present day, more and more people are coming out and declaring themselves to be openly gay. These people have been subjected to discrimination of varying degrees ranging from being denied employment to being the victims of hate crime, 15.6% according to the US Federal Bureau of Investigations (2004).
This has sparked the gay rights debate with one side viewing homosexual rights as a fundamental civil right and the other viewing it as unethical and undeserving of recognition in the public policy documents. This paper seeks to answer the following questions; should gay marriage be legalized? Do homosexuals have right? What is the place of homosexuality in contemporary culture?
The gay rights debate
The issue of whether homosexuals should be tolerated and indeed protected by law remains as controversial as ever. Pro gay and anti gay activists have been involved in a public tussle as they seek to win public support on their own perspectives of the issue.
The pro gay activists view gay rights as a fundamental civil right that should not be denied the gay population. Their argument is that homosexuality is an inborn trait that can only be explained biologically and as such, it would be criminal to deny a particular set of rights to certain individuals over events of which they have little control of. Indeed, a genetic study by renowned psychologists Pillard and Bailey revealed a significant genes influence on sexual orientation (Caramagno, 2002). As a result, the pro gays view discrimination and banning of homosexuality as unconstitutional and in violation of the rights to privacy. While homosexuality may have been denounced in religious books, the general attitude by the pro gays is that religious ideas should not be imposed on others and should not influence the formation of any public policy, whether on homosexuality or any other social issue.
The anti gay activists on the other hand, view the very act of homosexuality as repugnant, sinful and against the laws of nature. Most anti gay arguments are rooted in religious teachings and anti gay activists generally feel that it is their moral imperative to denounce and condemn homosexuality. To them, the argument that homosexuality is an inborn trait is least convincing as there is no overwhelming evidence to support it. To them, homosexuality is a learned behavior that can be unlearned and there is therefore no basis for authorities to generate public policy in form of gay rights, simply so as to enhance the welfare of homosexuals.
Key variables in the case against homosexuality
To understand the anti gay perspective, there is need to analyze their reasons against homosexuality. These have been identified as follows:
1) Against nature
Even without considering the religious aspect, many anti gays have argued having same sex relationships is against nature. After all, no such relationships have been observed in the animal kingdom. Nature therefore in tended for animals including humans to be heterosexual, thereby rendering homosexuality as a violation of nature. This argument has however been disproved on a number of occasions as same sex mating has been observed in animals (Caramagno, 2002).
2) Against morality and religion
Most anti gay arguments are based on religious teachings. Biblical and Quran scriptures expressly condemn homosexuality as being in violation of the will of God. As such many believers view it as their moral religious duty to condemn homosexuality from the rooftops. Conversely, the pro gays feel that religious teachings should not be imposed on everyone and should not form the basis of public policy making.
3) Threat to the marriage institution
Anti gay activists have argued that legalizing gay marriages is a threat to the marriage institution and may have serious negative psychological impact on children. The traditional model of marriage has largely been upheld as the foundation of society. Legalizing gay unions is therefore viewed as an upfront to this model and a threat to the future as many children may grow up viewing homosexuality as the norm rather than the exception, eventually turning to homosexuality. Pro gays however do not feel in any way a threat to the marriage institution.
The vehement refusal by the anti gay activists to recognize homosexuals as an entity worthy of recognition has had adverse consequences. Gays have been subjected to various forms of discrimination from a cross section of the public which has led to loss of employment on grounds of sexual orientation, imprisonment of openly gay persons in places where it was allowed such as the Sodomy law of Texas as well as overt acts of violence against people perceived to be gays. According to FBI statistics, 15.6% of hate crimes committed in that year were as a result of the victim’s sexual orientation.
Key variables in the case for homosexuality
The case for gay rights primarily rests on the premise that all are created equal before the law. Being a homosexual does not infringe on anyone’s rights neither does it hinder one from executing his duties as expected. Denying someone their rights due to their sexual orientation is therefore no less discrimination than denying someone their rights on account of their gender, race, religion or creed (Eskridge et al, 2006).
Some homosexuals argue that the trait is largely inborn and as such cannot be controlled. The justifications of this claim has been largely controversial with a section of sociologists and psychologists offering a link between sexual orientation and the genes, a view that has been widely disclaimed by the anti gay fraternity (Caramagno, 2002).
The open acts of violence and discrimination against the gay population are a gross violation of human rights and have been the basis of various pro gay campaigns to push the gay rights agenda to be recognized by the law.
Gay rights policy
Since the formation of the gay rights movement in the 1950s one of the key agendas was to push for the legalization of gay marriages to be inculcated into public policy. In 2000, Vermont became the first state in the US to legalize same sex unions, entitling homosexuals to the same benefits, privileges and responsibilities as heterosexual spouses. In 2003 the Massachusetts Supreme Court declared banning of same sex unions as unconstitutional and same sex marriages became legal in Massachusetts. Since then, various states have followed suit in the quest to legalize same sex marriages
The legislation of Gay civil marriage rights is viewed as a very important milestone in the gay rights movement and it has its advantages. Firstly, it has legally eliminated the discrimination of homosexuals and enables them to enjoy the same benefits as heterosexual couples in all aspects such as family allowance, healthcare and insurance. It has enabled gays to come out of their closets and publicly declare their sexual orientation without fear of discrimination. The policy has also enabled gay people to be more sexually responsible as they settle into married life, become monogamous and devoted to their life partner. This has the advantage of lowering the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.
However, the legalizing of gay marriages has been perceived to have some disadvantages. There have been arguments that same sex marriages may have a negative impact on the children more so if they are brought up by gay parents. This makes them perceive gay unions as the norm rather than the exception and may influence who they have a relationship with in future. It also reinforces an unhealthy trend in society and allows permissiveness on a large scale and threatens the marriage institution as a factor in procreation. Children brought up in a gay partnership may be subjected to hate from the homophobic population. This in effect, lowers the self esteem of a child and subjects him or her to unnecessary punishment. Perhaps the biggest disadvantage of all is the ‘slippery slope” school of thought whereby it is largely feared that with the legalization of gay marriages, all other “repugnant” social issues such as prostitution or polygamy will also follow with the perpetrators pushing for recognition by the law on grounds of the recognition of gay rights.
The crux of the gay rights debate lies in the societal norms and values such as morality and proper behavior. Homosexuals are perceived by heterosexuals as lacking in terms of proper mannerisms or behavior that is considered appropriate and are viewed as being of loose morals. This sets the stage for an inevitable clash as homosexuals do not view themselves as being morally impaired or necessarily wrong but just different.
Policies supported by various stake holders
There has been universal recognition that gay rights are fundamental human rights. Granted, there are many anti gay activists, the various stakeholders recognize the need to acknowledge gay rights as fundamental human rights and are in support of various policies in the gay rights agenda.
The gay civil marriage right is one of the welfare enhancing public policy on gay rights. Other policies supported by the stakeholders include the inclusion of violence against gays in the hate crime laws, the passing of comprehensive anti- discrimination laws against gay and lesbians and the passing of statewide laws which permit homosexuals to adopt children. These policies have largely enhanced the rights of homosexuals and enabled them to lead fulfilling lives as their heterosexual counterparts (Di Sarro, 2004).
The inclusion of violence against gays in the hate crime laws and the passing of comprehensive anti discrimination laws against gays and lesbians have dramatically reduced gay bashing and other radical forms of violence against gays. This promotes the basic human right of gays as equal human beings. The allowance of gays to adopt children also enables them to enjoy a fulfilling family life of their own preference. However, these policies may pose some negative effects such as improper socialization of children who come to perceive gay married life as the normal order of things. The recognition of gay rights may also give rise to other unhealthy groupings such as prostitutes and polygamists to start clamoring for rights which they perceive to be entitled them, thereby giving rise to a permissive society and threatening the future of generations to come (Di Sarro, 2004).
From these public policies, the one that I would most readily advocate for is the criminalization of violence against gays and the establishment of comprehensive anti discrimination laws that protect them. All human beings are born equal whether black or white, rich or poor, gay or straight. Homosexuality is a largely private matter. It does not interfere with how heterosexuals relate or how are homosexual will execute his duty. In fact, one wouldn’t know if someone is a homosexual unless the openly declare themselves to be. As such, there is no basis for discrimination other than fear and this needs to be done away with in the context of a free society.
- Thomas Caramagno, 2002, Irreconciliable differences: intellectual stalemate in the gay rights debate, Green wood publishing Group.
- William N. Eskridge, William N. Eskridge Jr and Darren R. Spedale 2006, Gay marriages: for better or for worse? Oxford University Press.
- Brian Di Sarro, University of Iowa, Red to blue to Rainbow?: Examinign Gay rights Laws In the States. Paper presented at the Annual General Meeting of the American Political Science Association, 2004. Chicago Illinois Palmer House Hilton.
- Homosexuality and Gay Customs across the world cultures- the world history of male love, homosexual traditions.