By Charles L. Rulon
Emeritus, Life & Health Sciences
Long Beach City College
“Judeo-Christian dogma, which still governs most people’s attitudes toward homosexuality is as archaic and as destructive as have been its attitudes toward sex…Its condemnation of homosexuality as a sin and a crime for which no punishment could be too severe had made miserable and wrecked the lives of untold numbers of men and women… Homosexuality is not a problem that homosexuals create, but that ill-informed and bigoted people create.”
—Ashley Montagu, anthropologist and author of over 60 books
Throughout much of Christendom homosexual behavior was condemned by God and punishable by torture and death. In 538 A.D. the Christian Emperor Justinian decreed that homosexuals were to be tortured, castrated, paraded in public and then burned alive. This legal standard remained for the next thirteen centuries in Europe. Yet, harsh laws never succeeded in eradicating homosexuality at any time in history. But it did cause gays to live double lives in constant fear. Many also grew up despising themselves, believing they were sinful shameful people.
Finally in the late 1800s some physicians and therapists in Europe and the United States began to think of homosexuality as more of a sickness than a sin or crime. Penalties slowly began to ease. Scientific research and investigation continued. By the 1940s researchers came to believe that the homosexual orientation (being erotically and romantically drawn primarily to the same sex) was beyond individual control. By the 1960s some psychologists went even further and began to view homosexuality as just a normal variation in human sexual behavior. Most of us are born heterosexual, some of us are born homosexual and some of us are somewhere in between.
Religiously inspired condemnation continued in the U.S.
But regardless of scientific findings, until quite recently most Americans continued to believe that homosexuality was either a disease, or an abominable sin against God, or even a crime to be punished. They continued to believe the scientifically discredited hate propaganda that people choose to be gay, that homosexuals were child molesters and trying to recruit the young, that homosexuality was spreading and endangering the family unit. Many state legislatures passed discrimination laws to protect citizens from the “gay menace.”
In addition, most states had sodomy laws going back to colonial days. Oral and anal sex, referred to as crimes against nature, were outlawed. These sodomy laws, many of which carried penalties of up to 20 years in prison, were upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1986, even if carried out between consenting adults (a classic example of religious absolutism).
As the Religious Right gained strength and power in the 1970s and beyond, their leaders remained adamant that homosexual behavior was a grave sin against God. They pointed to several biblical passages for proof. They pointed to AIDS, which many believed was God’s punishment for engaging in this “perverted lifestyle.” Pope John Paul II even issued an official paper on sexual ethics in the 1980s, which called homosexual behavior a “moral evil”. He urged Catholic bishops to oppose all legislative efforts to condone it. Televangelists, priests and ministers, plus conservative columnists and radio personalities continued to attack gays, calling them “incest practitioners,” “biological mistakes,” “sick deviants” and “perverts who are sinning against God”.
Jerry Falwell blamed gays and lesbians for the destruction of the twin towers on 9/11/01, saying that “We have made God mad.” Reverend John Hagee (an extremely influential televangelist with ministries throughout the U.S., Canada, Africa, Europe, and most of the third world) asserted that Hurricane Katrina was God punishing New Orleans in part because of a homosexual parade that was to be held there.
And when in 2008 Pastor Rick Warren, an important evangelical leader, was asked if he actually equated same-sex marriage with incest and pedophilia, he answered: “Oh, I do.” President-elect Obama chose Warren to give the invocation at his inauguration.
“They are a threat to family life…how can you promote family life if you allow homosexuals to openly flaunt…living with another person of the same sex and not be able to propagate children. That’s what this whole thing is about. Go forth and bear children — that’s what God said. And that’s what our nation is based on — the family unit.”
—California State Senator
“The …homosexual community preys on young adults at their most vulnerable and experimental stage. If such victims are not rescued by reparative therapy…as much as 25% of the population could become gay…Western civilization could take a terrible nose-dive…You are playing with dynamite in destroying the sexual ecology of the human race.”
—Rev. Louis Sheldon, Orange County, Calif.
“I say to those of you of the leftist, militant, homosexual crowd: Take it somewhere else. Get out of the schools. Get out of our churches. Take your deadly, sickly behavior and keep it to yourselves.”
Condemnation fuels persecution
Condemnation of gays and lesbians fuels physical and verbal violence, even murder. Today gays and lesbians in the United States are still frequent victims of hate and moral zealotry. Today powerful fundamentalist sects want to return America to Old Testament morality. And today in dozens of countries in Africa and the Middle East homosexuals face imprisonment and even death by hanging, stoning, or being buried alive.
Of course these Christian guardians of morality who quote biblical passages condemning homosexual behavior conveniently ignore all those passages in which their god also instructs his followers to kill brides found not to be virgins on their wedding night, plus children who curse their parents, plus those who work on the Sabbath, plus all the children in enemy villages, and on and on.
The reason for conveniently ignoring all of those biblical passages is obvious. To quote Dr. Gerald Larue, Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies at the University of Southern California:
“[The Christian Right knows] that public proclamations on any of these other issues would decimate their followings and affect the ‘bottom line.’ So they play it safe. If they were truly honest, they would admit that some biblical teachings…are nothing more than products of long dead clergy that reflect ancient, long outmoded norms. As long as such dogmas continue to be recognized as authoritative …they will continue to serve as cruelly judgmental, anti-hum¬nistic, socially destructive weapons.”
Discrimination continues to decline
Since the 1970s, much of the world has become more accepting of same-sex sexuality between partners of legal age. Africa and the Middle East are glaring exceptions. The attitude of many Americans toward gays and lesbians is also mellowing. Today about half of those polled no longer believe that people choose to be gay, but that they were likely born that way. This is up from 13% in 1977. The large majority of Americans polled now say they support gays being protected from job and housing discrimination. And a strong majority believes that committed gay couples should be given the same benefits enjoyed by married straight couples. In fact, a slim majority now also supports gay marriage. (But not Republicans, with 72% still opposed.)
In 2003 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 6-3 (Lawrence v Texas) that the sodomy laws still found in many states were unconstitutional. More recently, several state supreme courts have ruled that bans on gay marriage are also unconstitutional. And in Sept. 2011 the military ended its 18 year “Don’t Ask-Don’t Tell” policy regarding gays in the military — a failed policy that had resulted in over 14,000 gay men and women being kicked out of the army, air force and navy. (However, several Republican contenders for President have gone on record opposing this change.)
Some closing thoughts
In the first half of the 1800s moral battles were fought over slavery. In the first half of the 1900s moral battles were fought over the right to buy contraceptives and the right of women to vote. In the 1960s and 1970s moral battles were fought over civil rights, women’s rights, interracial marriages, women wearing slacks, unmarried couples living together, and the legal right of wives to file rape charges against their husbands. Today moral battles are being waged over gay marriage, teaching evolution in the schools, death with dignity, and forcing women to stay pregnant against their will.
In all these cases biblical passages were/are quoted. Today, in spite of all the amazing scientific and medical discoveries of the last several hundred years, tens of millions of Americans continue to side with “God’s Revealed Truths” over science, rationality and humanistic ethics.