Societal attitudes toward homosexuality

Societal attitudes toward homosexuality
Should homosexuality be accepted in society? Percentage of responders that answered accept:
  81% - 90%
  71% - 80%
  61% - 70%
  51% - 60%
  41% - 50%
  31% - 40%
  21% - 30%
  11% - 20%
  1% - 10%
  No data

Societal attitudes toward homosexuality vary greatly in different cultures and different historical periods, as do attitudes toward sexual desire, activity and relationships in general. All cultures have their own values regarding appropriate and inappropriate sexuality; some sanction same-sex love and sexuality, while others disapprove of such activities.[1] As with heterosexual behaviour, different sets of prescriptions and proscriptions may be given to individuals according to their gender, age, social status and/or class. For example, among the samurai class of pre-modern Japan, it was recommended for a teenage novice to enter into an erotic relationship with an older warrior (see Shudo), but sexual relations between the two became inappropriate once the boy came of age.[2]

Most of the world's cultures have considered procreative sex within a recognized relationship to be a sexual norm — sometimes exclusively so, and sometimes alongside norms of same-sex love, whether passionate, intimate or sexual. Some religions, especially those influenced by the Abrahamic tradition, have traditionally censured homosexual acts and relationships, in some cases implementing severe punishments for offenders.[3] Since the 1970s, much of the world has become more accepting of same-sex sexuality between partners of legal age.[4] The Pew Research Center's 2007 Global Attitudes Survey found that "[p]eople in Africa and the Middle East strongly object to societal acceptance of homosexuality. Acceptance for homosexuality and bisexuality however is much higher in Western Europe, Canada, the United States, Australia, and New Zealand. Many Latin American countries including Argentina, Brazil, Chile, and Mexico also have a gay-accepting majority. In fact, aside from South Africa, every country that has legalized either civil unions or same-sex marriage is located either in Europe, the Americas, or Oceania.[5]


Difficulties interpreting homosexuality in different cultures

Contemporary scholars caution against applying modern Western assumptions about sex and gender to other times and places; what looks like same-sex sexuality to a Western observer may not be "same-sex" or "sexual" at all to the people engaging in such behaviour. For example, in the Bugis cultures of Sulawesi, a female who dresses and works in a masculine fashion and marries a woman is seen as belonging to a third gender;[6] to the Bugis, their relationship is not homosexual (see sexual orientation and gender identity). In the case of 'Sambia' (a pseudonym) boys in New Guinea who ingest the semen of older males to aid in their maturation,[7] it is disputed whether this is best understood as a sexual act at all.[8] In recent times, scholars have argued that notions of a homosexual and heterosexual identity, as they are currently known in the Western world, only began to emerge in Europe in the mid to late 19th century.[9][10] Behaviors that today would be widely regarded as homosexual, at least in the West, enjoyed a degree of acceptance in around three quarters of the cultures surveyed in Patterns of Sexual Behavior (1951).[11]

Measuring attitudes toward homosexuality

The 2007 Pew Global Attitudes Project: "Should homosexuality be accepted by society?" [1]
Country Yes No
Canada 70% 21%
United States 49% 41%
Latin America
Argentina 72% 21%
Brazil 65% 30%
Chile 64% 31%
Mexico 60% 31%
Peru 51% 43%
Venezuela 47% 50%
Bolivia 44% 49%
Western Europe
Sweden 86% 9%
France 83% 17%
Spain 82% 9%
Britain 71% 21%
Italy 65% 23%
Central Europe
Czech Republic 83% 16%
Germany 81% 17%
Slovakia 66% 29%
Poland 45% 41%
Eastern Europe
Russia 20% 64%
Ukraine 19% 69%
Southern Europe
Bulgaria 39% 38%
Turkey 14% 57%
Middle East
Israel 38% 50%
Lebanon 18% 79%
Palestinian ter. 9% 58%
Kuwait 6% 85%
Jordan 6% 89%
Egypt 1% 95%
Philippines 64% 33%[12]
Japan 50% 29%
South Korea 18% 77%
China 17% 69%
India 10% 81%
Malaysia 8% 83%
Bangladesh 4% 84%
South Africa 28% 64%
Ivory Coast 11% 89%
Ghana 11% 89%
Tanzania 3% 95%
Kenya 3% 96%
Uganda 3% 96%
Senegal 3% 97%
Ethiopia 2% 97%
Nigeria 2% 97%
Mali 1% 98%
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From the 1970s, academics have researched attitudes held by individuals toward lesbians, gay men and bisexuals, and the social and cultural factors that underlie such attitudes. Numerous studies have investigated the prevalence of acceptance and disapproval of homosexuality, and have consistently found correlates with various demographic, psychological, and social variables. For example, studies (mainly conducted in the United States) have found that heterosexuals with positive attitudes towards homosexuality are more likely to be female, white, young, non-religious, well-educated, politically liberal or moderate, and have close personal contact with out homosexuals.[13] They are also more likely to have positive attitudes towards other minority groups[14] and are less likely to support traditional gender roles.[15] Several studies have also suggested that heterosexual females have strong likings toward gay men, and some (but not all) have found that heterosexual males have strong likings toward lesbians.[16]

Social psychologists such as Gregory Herek have examined underlying motivations for homophobia (hostility toward lesbians and gays), and cultural theorists have noted how portrayals of homosexuality often center around stigmatized phenomena such as AIDS, pedophilia, and gender variance. The extent to which such portrayals are stereotypes is disputed.

Contemporary researchers have measured attitudes held by heterosexuals toward gay men and lesbians in a number of different ways. Commonly used scales include those designed by Herek,[17] Larson et al.,[18] Kite and Deaux[19] and Haddock et al.[20]

Certain populations are also found to accept homosexuality better than others. In the United States, African-Americans are generally less tolerant of homosexuality than European or Hispanic Americans.[21] Israelis were found to be the most accepting of homosexuality among Middle Eastern nations, the Pew Global Attitudes Project found, and Israeli laws and culture reflects that. Pew Global included Arab citizens of Israel in their survey of the Israeli population, who are much less tolerant of homosexuality than Jewish Israelis. According to a 2007 poll, a strong majority of Israeli Jews say they would accept a gay child and go on with life as usual.[22] A 2009 Haaretz-Dialog poll found that most of the religious sector, the Arab sector, and the Russian-speaking sector saw homosexuality as a perversion, while the majority of traditional and secular Jews say they have no problem with it. The poll found homophobia to be declining.[23][24]

Much less research has been conducted into societal attitudes toward bisexuality.[25] What studies do exist suggest that the attitude of heterosexuals toward bisexuals mirrors their attitude toward homosexuals,[26] and that bisexuals experience a similar degree of hostility, discrimination, and violence relating to their sexual orientation as do homosexuals.[27]

Research (mainly conducted in the United States) show that people with more permissive attitudes on sexual orientation issues tend to be younger, well-educated, and politically liberal. Tolerant attitudes toward homosexuality and bisexuality have been increasing with time.

A study done in Sweden in the 1990s found that most Swedish college students did not consider homosexual couples (as well as cohabitating couples and divorced partners) to be a family. Though the majority still side with that view, a similar study done a decade later show that the percentage of students who share that opinion has dwindled considerably.


The legal status of homosexuality varies greatly around the world. Homosexual acts between consenting adults are known to be illegal in about 70 out of the 195 countries of the world.

Homosexual sex acts may be illegal, especially under sodomy laws, and where they are legal, the age of consent often differs from country to country. In some cases, homosexuals are prosecuted under vaguely-worded "public decency" or morality laws. Some countries have special laws preventing certain public expressions of homosexuality.[citation needed] Nations or subnational entities may have anti-discrimination legislation in place to protect against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in the workplace, housing, health services and education. Some give exemptions, allowing employers to discriminate if they are a religious organisation, or if the employee works with children.

Same-sex relationships legal
  Same-sex marriage
  Other type of partnership (or unregistered cohabitation)
  Same-sex marriage recognized, but not performed
  Homosexuality legal but same-sex unions not recognized
Same-sex relationships illegal
  Minimal penalty
  Large penalty
  Life in prison
  Death penalty

v · d · e

Legal recognition of same-sex relationships also varies greatly. Legal privileges pertaining to different-sex relationships that may be extended to same-sex couples include parenting, adoption and access to reproductive technologies; immigration; spousal benefits for employees such as pensions, health funds and other services; family leave; medical rights, including hospital visitation, notification and power of attorney; inheritance when a partner dies without leaving a will; and social security and tax benefits. Same-sex couples without legal recognition may also lack access to domestic violence services, as well as mediation and arbitration over custody and property when relationships end. Some regions have laws specifically excluding same-sex couples from particular rights such as adoption.

In 2001, the Netherlands became the first country to recognize same-sex marriage, and same-sex marriages were subsequently recognized in Belgium (2003); Spain and Canada (2005); the U.S. states of Massachusetts (2004), California (2008 – later banned by Proposition 8), Connecticut (2008), Iowa (2009), Vermont (2009), and Maine (2009 – later repealed by Question 1); South Africa (2006); Norway (2009); Sweden (2009), Iceland (2010), Portugal (2010) and Argentina (2010). Other legal recognition of same sex relationships (offering fewer benefits than marriage) include civil unions and domestic partnerships. In 2015 the UK will also make same-sex marraige legal.

Application of Islamic Law

On the other end of the spectrum, several countries impose the death penalty for homosexual acts, per the application of some interpretations of Shari'a law. As of 2006, these include Mauritania, Sudan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Yemen, Pakistan, the parts of Chechnya under Sharia, and some Islamist dominated regions within Nigeria and Somalia.[28][29]

In Saudi Arabia, the maximum punishment for homosexuality is public execution. However, the government will use other punishments – e.g., fines, jail time, and whipping – as alternatives, unless it feels that homosexuals are challenging state authority by engaging in LGBT social movements.[30]

Iran is perhaps the nation to execute the largest number of its citizens for homosexuality. Since the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran, the Iranian government has executed more than 4,000 people charged with homosexual acts.[31] In Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban, homosexuality went from a capital crime to one that it punished with fines and prison sentences.

Most international human rights organizations, such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, condemn laws that make homosexual relations between consenting adults a crime. Since 1994, the United Nations Human Rights Committee has also ruled that such laws violated the right to privacy guaranteed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

However, most Muslim nations insist that such laws are necessary to preserve Islamic morality and virtue. Of the nations with a majority of Muslim inhabitants, only Lebanon has an internal effort to legalize homosexuality.[32] The notable exception is Indonesia, the world's largest Muslim nation by population, which does not criminalise homosexuality.


As with social attitudes in general, religious attitudes towards homosexuality vary between and among religions and their adherents. Traditionalists among the world's major religions generally disapprove of homosexuality, and prominent opponents of social acceptance of homosexuality often cite religious arguments to support their views. Liberal currents also exist within most religions, and modern lesbian and gay scholars of religion sometimes point to a place for homosexuality among historical traditions and scriptures, and emphasise religious teachings of compassion and love.

Abrahamic religions such as Judaism, Islam, and various denominations of Christianity, traditionally forbid sexual relations between people of the same sex and teach that such behaviour is sinful. Religious authorities point to passages in the Qur'an (7:80–81, 26:165), the Old Testament (Leviticus 18:22) and the New Testament (Romans 1:26–27, I Timothy 1:9–10) for scriptural justification of these beliefs.

Among Indic religions (also known as Dharmic religions), including Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism, teachings regarding homosexuality are less clear. Unlike in western religions, homosexuality is rarely discussed. However, most contemporary religious authorities in the various Dharmic traditions view homosexuality negatively, and when it is discussed, it is discouraged or actively forbidden.[33] Ancient religious texts such as the Vedas often refer to people of a third gender, who are neither female nor male. Some see this third gender as an ancient parallel to modern western lesbian, gay, transgender and/or intersex identities. However, this third sex is usually negatively valued as a pariah class in ancient texts.[34] Ancient Hindu law books, from the first century onward, categorize non-vaginal sex (ayoni) as impure.[35] Same-sex sexuality and gender transformations are common among the Hindu pantheon of deities.

Among the Sinic religions of East Asia, including Confucianism, Chinese folk religion and Taoism, passionate homosexual expression is usually discouraged because it is believed to not lead to human fulfillment.[36]

A mythology of same-sex love can be found around the world.

Corporate attitudes

In some capitalist countries, large private sector firms often lead the way in the equal treatment of gay men and lesbians. For instance, more than half of the Fortune 500 offer domestic partnership benefits and 49 of the Fortune 50 companies include sexual orientation in their non-discrimination policies (only ExxonMobil does not).[37][38]

Anti-homosexual attitudes

Christian protesters at a 2006 gay pride event. San Francisco, United States.


Conservatism is a term broadly used for people who are inclined to traditional values.

Whilst conservatism includes people of many views, it has a significant proportion of adherents who consider homosexuals, and especially the efforts of homosexuals to achieve equal rights and recognition, to be a threat to valued traditions, institutions and freedoms. Such attitudes are generally tied in with opposition to what some conservatives call the "homosexual agenda".[39]

The finding that attitudes to alternative sexualities correlate strongly with nature of contact and with personal beliefs is stated in a variety of research over a substantial time period, and conservative men and women stand out in their views specifically.

Thus Herek, who established the Attitudes Toward Lesbians and Gay Men Scale in psychology, states:

"The ATLG and its subscales are consistently correlated with other theoretically-relevant constructs. Higher scores (more negative attitudes) correlate significantly with high religiosity, lack of contact with gay men and lesbians, adherence to traditional sex-role attitudes, belief in a traditional family ideology, and high levels of dogmatism (Herek, 1987a, 1987b, 1988, 1994; Herek & Glunt, 1993; Herek & Capitanio, 1995, 1996)" [40]
and that:
"The strongest predictor of positive attitudes toward homosexuals was that the interviewee knew a gay man or lesbian. The correlation held across each demographic subset represented in the survey—sex, education level, age—bar one: political persuasion. [Conservative men and women]" [41]

An example of conservative views can also be found in the discussion of what conservatives call "homosexual recruitment", within a document released by the conservative Christian organization Alliance Defense Fund states:

The homosexual activist movement are driving an agenda that will severely limit the ability to live and practice the Gospel, whether it is in the boardroom, the classroom, halls of government, private organizations, and even in places of worship. In their relentless attempts to obtain special rights, that no other special interest group has, they are in the process of redefining the family, demanding not only 'tolerance' [...] but 'acceptance', and ultimately seeking to marginalize, censor, and punish those individuals who stand in the way of their multiple goals.[42]

As this statement illustrates, those who believe that a disapproving attitude toward homosexuality is a tenet of their religion can see efforts to abolish such attitudes as an attack on their religious freedom. Those who regard homosexuality as a sin or perversion can believe that acceptance of homosexual parents and same-sex marriage will redefine and diminish the institutions of family and marriage.

More generally, conservatives—by definition—prefer that institutions, traditions and values remain unchanged, and this has put many of them in opposition to increasing the cultural acceptance and legal rights of homosexuals.


Gay people have been the target of violence for their sexuality in various cultures throughout history. Violence against gay people reached its height during the Holocaust, when at least 15,000 homosexuals were killed and many more imprisoned and institutionalized as insane. Violence against homosexuals continues to occur today, fueled by anti-gay rhetoric.

Anti-gay speech

Anti-gay slogans date back at least as far as Classical Greece 2500 years ago. These slogans have expressed numerous derogatory viewpoints against gays which have ranged from disrespectful to overtly insulting.

Psychology and attempts at modification of sexual orientation

Main articles: Homosexuality and psychology, Sexual orientation change efforts

In 1973, the (US) American Psychiatric Association voted to remove homosexuality from Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.[43] The current DSM contains a diagnosis of "persistent and marked distress about one’s sexual orientation." The decision was supported by a majority of the membership. Though some criticized this as a political decision, the social and political impetus for change was supported by scientific evidence.[44] In fact, the research of Evelyn Hooker and other psychologists and psychiatrists helped to end the notion that homosexuality was in and of itself a mental illness. The World Health Organization currently lists ego-dystonic sexual orientation in the ICD-10.

Many religious groups and other advocates, like National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH), believe that they can "heal" or "cure" homosexuality through conversion therapy or another method to change sexual orientation. In a survey of 882 people who were undergoing conversion therapy, attending ex-gay groups or ex-gay conferences, 22. 9% reported they had not undergone any changes, 42.7% reported some changes, and 34.3% reported much change in sexual orientation.[45] Many Western health and mental health professional organizations believe sexual orientation develops across a person’s lifetime,[46] but that this therapy is unnecessary, potentially harmful, and the effectiveness has not been rigorously and scientifically proven. Most notable for his dissent from this opinion is Dr. Robert Spitzer. Another study refuting the claims of conversion therapy proponents was done in 2001 by Dr. Ariel Shidlo and Dr. Michael Schroeder, which showed only 3% of the participants claiming to have completely changed their orientation from gay to straight.[47]

In many non-Western post-colonial countries, homosexual orientation is still considered to be a mental disorder and illness. In Muslim areas, this position is ascribed to the earlier adoption of European Victorian attitudes by the westernized elite, in areas where previously native traditions embraced same-sex relations.[48]


Homosexual males are often stereotyped as being limp-wristed, being interested in women’s fashion such as fashion design or hairdressing, under the influence of alcohol or drugs, having a circle of friends consisting of heterosexual females or unable to be monogamous.

Lesbians (or gay women) are usually stereotyped as being man-haters, having an overly tough or unattractive appearance, having health problems such as obesity, interested in sports or life-risking occupations such as the police force or the military and having a preference for short haircuts, tattoos and male attire.

Bisexual men and women are portrayed as being sexually immoral, manipulative, insincere or undecided. Male bisexuals are particularly stereotyped living on the down-low and female bisexuals are stereotyped as attention-seeking and having bad experiences with men.

Blame for plagues and disasters

The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah as takes place in the Bible is sometimes attributed to attempted homosexual rape, but this is disputed[49] and differs from earlier beliefs. Early Jewish belief variously attributed the destruction to turning a blind eye to social injustice or lack of hospitality.

Since the Middle Ages, sodomites were blamed for "bringing down the wrath of God" upon the land, and their pleasures blamed for the periodic epidemics of disease which decimated the population. This "pollution" was thought to be cleansed by fire, as a result of which countless individuals were burned at the stake or run through with white-hot iron rods.

Since the end of the 1980s similar accusations have been made, inspired by the AIDS epidemic. In the years since, the epidemic has spread and now has many more heterosexual victims than homosexual[citation needed].

Other contemporary American examples:

  • Jerry Falwell made remarks interpreted as blaming "pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People for the American Way" for the September 11 attacks, but later apologized for his remarks. (Pat Robertson was also participating in the broadcast.)[50]
  • Westboro Baptist Church leader Fred Phelps blames homosexuals for the September 11th attacks and his cult blames the Indian Ocean tsunami of December, 2004 on American, Swedish, and Thai homosexuals.[51] Phelps has little or no support among the wider religious community.

Association with child abuse and pedophilia

Relationships between adults and youths, both male and female, were practiced historically dating back to at least antiquity, when they were reported among a number of cultures, among which the Celtic, the Persian and the Greek. See Plato's Phaedrus (dialogue) and Lucian's Erotes. The best documented, and perhaps the most formalized, being the Greek tradition, it is the one that has become emblematic of erotic relations between men and adolescent boys. The association of modern masculine desire for adolescent youths with Greek man/boy practices has been resuscitated periodically by various cultural movements such as the Italian Neo-Platonists (including Marsilio Ficino) and literary figures such as Oscar Wilde and André Gide, and has continued into contemporary times.[citation needed] Invariably, each such instance has been met with alarm and accusations of corruption of the young.[citation needed]

Thus, some people fear exposing their children to homosexuals in unsupervised settings, their fear being that they might be molested, raped, or recruited to be homosexuals themselves.[citation needed] The publicity surrounding the Roman Catholic sex abuse cases has heightened these concerns. Many organizations focus on these concerns, drawing connections between homosexuality and pedophilia. According to a study commissioned by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops,[52] under the auspices of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice and an all-lay review board headed by Illinois Appellate Court Justice Anne M. Burke, “81% of the reported victims of child sexual abuse by Catholic clergy were boys.” The review board went on to conclude that, “the crisis was characterized by homosexual behavior”, and in light of this, “the current crisis cannot be addressed without consideration of issues related to homosexuality.” According to Margaret Smith, one of John Jay's researchers, however, it is “an unwarranted conclusion” to assert that the majority of priests who abused male victims are gay. Though “the majority of the abusive acts were homosexual in nature [...] participation in homosexual acts is not the same as sexual identity as a gay man.”[53][54] One of her fellow researchers, Louis Schlesinger, argued that the main problem was pedophilia or ephebophilia, not sexual orientation and said that some men who are married to adult women are attracted to adolescent males.[55]

A number of small-scale studies by Dr. Carole Jenny, Dr. A.W. Richard Sipe, and others have not found evidence that homosexuals are more likely to molest children than heterosexuals.[56][57] Based on phallometric tests, Dr. Kurt Freund asserted that "androphiles" (male homosexuals with a preference for adults) are no more attracted to adolescent or younger boys than "gynephiles" (male heterosexuals with a preference for adults) are to adolescent or younger girls.[58][59] According to him, only rarely does a sex offender against male children have a preference for adult males.[60] Other researches available also suggest men who molest boys (specially prepubertal ones) tend to prefer adult women over men as sexual partners, as famously proven in the study of Paxson Helgesen.[61][62][63][64][65]

Johns Hopkins University psychiatrist Dr. Frederick Berlin, who runs a treatment program for offenders, says it's flawed to assume that men who molest young boys are attracted to adult men; Berlin defines attraction to children as a separate orientation of its own.[66] Psychotherapist Dr. A.W. Richard Sipe, also argue that the sexual deprivation that occurs in the priesthood could lead one to turn to children and that boys are more accessible to priests and other male authority figures than girls.[56] A study by Dr. A. Nicholas Groth found that nearly half of the child sex offenders in his small sample were exclusively attracted to children. The other half regressed to children after finding trouble in adult relationships. No one in his sample was primarily attracted to same-sex adults.[67]

The empirical research show that sexual orientation does not affect the likelihood that people will abuse children.[68][69][70] Many child molesters cannot be characterized as having an adult sexual orientation at all; they are fixated on children.[68]

Opposition to promotion of homosexuality

Promotion of homosexuality'[71] is a group of behaviours believed by some gay rights opponents to be carried out in media,[72] public places[73] etc.

In the UK Section 28 of the 1988 Local Government Act banned promotion of homosexuality "as a pretended family relationship" by local government employees in the course of their duties. The act was aimed to prevent the promotion of homosexuality in schools. It was later repealed.[74][75] This promotion is opposed by Morocco.[76] Article 200 section of the Penal Code of Romania had criminalised promotion of homosexuality, which was later repealed. Uganda is considering a ban on promotion of homosexuality, with the proposed Anti-Homosexuality Bill along with other measures.[77][78]

Lithuania banned it on June 16, 2009 amid protests by gay rights groups.[79] Poland is also considering a ban.[80]

Regions and historical periods

Ancient Greece

Male couple (erastes and eromenos) kissing (Attic red-figured cup, ca. 480 BC)

In Ancient Greece homoerotic practices were widely present, and integrated into the religion, education, philosophy and military culture.[81] The sexualized form of these relationships was the topic of vigorous debate. In particular, anal intercourse was condemned by many, including Plato, as a form of hubris and faulted for dishonoring and feminizing the boys. Relations between adult males were generally ridiculed. Plato also believed that the chaste form of the relationship was the mark of an enlightened society, while only barbarians condemned it.[82]

Athens and Sparta[83] are both well known for encouraging same-sex relationships as part of a youth's education and socialization. In both societies, though, once a youth came of age he was expected to take on another youth as beloved, and eventually to marry and continue the family line.

Ancient Rome

"Homosexual" and "heterosexual" were not categories of Roman sexuality, and Latin lacks words that would translate these concepts exactly.[84] The primary dichotomy of Roman sexuality was active/dominant/masculine and passive/submissive/"feminized". The masculinity of an adult male citizen was defined sexually by his taking the penetrative role, whether his partner was female or a male of lower status.[85] A Roman citizen's political liberty (libertas) was defined in part by the right to preserve his body from physical compulsion or use by others;[86] for the male citizen to use his body to give pleasure was considered servile and subversive of the social hierarchy.[87]

Male couple on an ancient Roman oil lamp

It was considered natural for a man to be attracted to a beautiful young male,[88] but the bodies of citizen youths were strictly off-limits.[89] Acceptable male partners were slaves, male prostitutes, or others who lacked social standing (the infames). Same-sex relations among male citizens of equal status, including soldiers, were disparaged, and in some circumstances penalized harshly.[90] In political rhetoric, a man might be attacked for effeminacy or playing the passive role in sex acts, but not for performing penetrative sex on a socially acceptable male partner.[91] Threats of anal or oral rape against another man were forms of masculine braggadocio.[92]

Homosexual behaviors were regulated in so far as they threatened or impinged on an ideal of liberty for the dominant male, who retained his masculinity by not being penetrated.[93] The Lex Scantinia imposed penalties on those who committed a sex crime (stuprum) against a freeborn male minor; it may also have been used to prosecute adult male citizens who willingly took the "passive" role.[94] Children who were born into slavery or became enslaved had no legal protections against sexual abuse; a good-looking and graceful slave-boy might be chosen and groomed as his owner's sexual favorite.[95] Pederasty in ancient Rome thus differed from pederastic practice in ancient Greece, where by custom the couple were both freeborn males of equal social status.

The 18th-century historian Edward Gibbon declared that of the first fifteen Roman emperors, only Claudius was "entirely correct" in his sexual practices, by which Gibbon meant exclusively heterosexual.[96] Confining one's sexual activities to women was considered unusual among the Romans.[97] Although Roman law did not recognize marriage between men, and in general Romans regarded marriage as a heterosexual union with the primary purpose of producing children, in the early Imperial period some male couples were celebrating traditional marriage rites. Juvenal remarks that his friends often attended such ceremonies.[98] The emperor Nero had two marriages to men, once as the bride and once as the groom. He had his pederastic lover Sporus castrated, and during their marriage Sporus appeared in public as Nero's wife wearing the regalia that was customary for Roman empresses.[99]

Same-sex relations among women are infrequently documented during the Republic and Principate, but better attested during the Empire.[100] An early reference to homosexual women as "lesbians" is found in the Roman-era Greek writer Lucian (2nd century AD): "They say there are women like that in Lesbos, masculine-looking, but they don't want to give it up for men. Instead, they consort with women, just like men."[101] Since male writers thought a sex act required an active or dominant partner who was "phallic", they imagined that in lesbian sex one of the women would use a dildo or have an exceptionally large clitoris for penetration, and that she would be the one experiencing pleasure.[102] The poet Martial describes lesbians as having outsized sexual appetites and performing penetrative sex on both women and boys.[103] Satiric portrayals of women who sodomize boys, drink and eat like men, and engage in vigorous physical regimens, may reflect cultural anxieties about the growing independence of Roman women.[104]

Ancient Israel

Throughout most of the history of ancient Israel, intercourse between males was condemned outright as an "abomination" and Mosaic Law demanded the death penalty for those men who "lie with a man as with a woman".[105] Other aspects of same-sex relations were not discussed. Though there are no recorded cases[citation needed] of punishment for homosexuality in Ancient Israel.

Early Christianity

Many contend that from its earliest days, Christianity followed the Hebrew tradition of condemnation of male sexual intercourse and certain forms of sexual relations between men and women, labeling both as sodomy. Some contemporary Christian scholars dispute this however. The teachings of Jesus Christ encouraged a turning away from and forgiveness of sin, including those sins of sexual impurity, although Jesus never referred to homosexuality specifically. Jesus was known as a defender of those whose sexual sins were condemned by the Pharisees. At the same time, Jesus strongly upheld the Ten Commandments and urged those whose sexual sins were forgiven to, "go, and sin no more".[106]

Saint Paul was even more explicit in his condemnation of sinful behavior, including sodomy, saying, "Know you not that the unjust shall not possess the kingdom of God? Do not err: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor the effeminate, nor liers with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor railers, nor extortioners, shall possess the kingdom of God"[107] However, the exact meanings of two of the ancient Greek words that Paul used that supposedly refer to homosexuality are disputed amongst scholars.

Christian Roman Empire/Byzantine Empire

After the emperor Constantine ended the persecution of Christians throughout the Roman Empire and made Christianity the official state religion in the 4th century, Christian attitudes toward sexual behavior were soon incorporated into Roman Law. In the year 528, the emperor Justinian I, responding to an outbreak of pederasty among the Christian clergy, issued a law which made castration the punishment for sodomy.[108]


According to Louis Crompton, there are historical records that tacitly assumed bisexuality as the human norm in China.[3] Same-sex practices have been documented there since the "Spring and Autumn Annals" period (parallel with Classical Greece) and its roots are found in the legend of China's origin, the reign of the Yellow Emperor, who, among his many inventions, is credited with being the first to take male bedmates.[citation needed] At the same time the practice was not in the mainstream of the culture, and was condemned for corrupting the judgement of rulers, as did relations with female concubines.

Attitudes have changed radically in the past hundred and fifty years, swinging from casual acceptance to antagonism to guarded acceptance again. The Chinese Psychiatrists’ Association removed homosexuality from the list of mental illnesses in April 2001. However, as scriptwriter and teacher Cui Zi’en, one of the few openly gay intellectuals in today's China points out, in his country, it is still seen as a psychological disorder.[citation needed] "In the West, it’s frowned on to criticize homosexuals and even more to make them feel different", says Cui Zi’en, contrasting it with Chinese society which, "is changing, but there’ll always be people who’ll feel disgust."[citation needed]

New Guinea

The Bedamini people of New Guinea believe that semen is the main source of masculinity and strength. In consequence, the sharing of semen between men, particularly when there is an age gap, is seen as promoting growth throughout nature, while excessive heterosexual activities are seen as leading to decay and death.[109]

United States

McCarthy era

Senator Joseph McCarthy

In the 1950s in the United States, open homosexuality was taboo. Many politicians treated the homosexual as a symbol of antinationalism, construing masculinity as patriotism and marking the "unmasculine" homosexual as a threat to national security. This perceived connection between homosexuality and antinationalism was present in Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia[110] as well, and appears in contemporary politics to this day.[50][111]

Senator Joseph McCarthy used accusations of homosexuality as a smear tactic in his anti-Communist crusade, often combining the Second Red Scare with the Lavender Scare. On one occasion, he went so far as to announce to reporters, "If you want to be against McCarthy, boys, you've got to be either a Communist or a cocksucker."[112]

Senator Kenneth Wherry likewise attempted to invoke some connection between homosexuality and antinationalism as, for example, when he said in an interview with Max Lerner that "You can't hardly separate homosexuals from subversives." Later in that same interview he draws the line between patriotic Americans and gay men: "But look Lerner, we're both Americans, aren't we? I say, let's get these fellows [closeted gay men in government positions] out of the government."[113]

There were other perceived connections between homosexuality and Communism. Wherry publicized fears that Joseph Stalin had obtained a list of closeted homosexuals in positions of power from Adolf Hitler, which he believed Stalin intended to use to blackmail these men into working against the U.S. for the Soviet regime.[114] In the 1950 report produced by a Senate subcommittee titled "Employment of Homosexuals and Other Sex Perverts in Government" said that "the pervert is easy prey to the blackmailer.... It is an accepted fact among intelligence agencies that espionage organizations the world over consider sex perverts who are in possession of or have access to confidential material to be prime targets where pressure can be exerted". Along with that security-based concern, the report found homosexuals unsuitable for government employment because "those who engage in overt acts of perversion lack the emotional stability of normal persons. In addition there is an abundance of evidence to sustain the conclusion that indulgence in acts of sex perversion weakens the moral fiber of an individual to a degree that he is not suitable for a position of responsibility."[115] McCarthy and Roy Cohn more often used the secrets of closeted gay American politicians as tools for blackmail than did foreign powers.[116]

LGBT civil rights movement

Beginning in the 20th century, gay rights movements have led to changes in social acceptance and in the media portrayal of homosexuality. The legalization of same-sex marriage and non-gender-specific civil unions is one of the major goals of gay rights activism. (See: LGBT rights organization.)

Attitudes toward homosexuality have changed in western societies in the latter part of the 20th century, accompanied by a greater acceptance of gay men and women into both secular and religious institutions.

Criticisms of the LGBT civil rights movement

Some say the term 'LGBT civil rights' is a misnomer and an attempt to piggyback on the civil rights movement. Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson, for example, called the comparison of the civil rights movement to the "gay rights movement" a "disgrace to a black American". He said that "homosexuality is not a civil right. What we have is a bunch of radical homosexuals trying to attach their agenda to the struggles of the 1960s",[117] while Jesse Jackson has said "Gays were never called three-fifths human in the Constitution." Gene Rivers, a Boston minister, has accused gays of "pimping" the civil rights movement.[118][119]

Some opponents of the movement, such as Ralph Reed, former executive director of the Christian Coalition, say that gay people are seeking special rights, not equal rights, and that the movement should not be referred to as a civil rights movement. They argue, for example, that in seeking the right to marry members of the same sex, gay people are seeking a special right for themselves and disregarding the fact that polygamists and other groups defined by sexual behaviour do not have this right either.[120]


73% of the general public in the United States in 2001 stated that they knew someone who is gay, lesbian, or bisexual.[121] This is the result of a steady increase from 1983 when there were 24%, 43% in 1993, 55% in 1998, or 62% in 2000. The percentage of the general public who say there is more acceptance of LGB people in 2001 than before was 64%. Acceptance was measured on many different levels — 87% of the general public would shop at a store owned by someone who is gay or lesbian but only 46% of the general public would attend a church or synagogue where a minister or rabbi is openly gay or lesbian. 51% of the general public in the United States think that "homosexual behavior" is morally wrong (38% "completely agreeing" it is morally wrong and 13% "somewhat agreeing"). Males and people over 65 years old are more likely to think it is wrong. Among people who don't know someone who is LGB, 61% think the behavior is wrong. Broken down by religion, 60% of evangelical Christians think that it is wrong, whereas 11% with no religious affiliation are against it. 57% of the general public think that gays and lesbians experience a lot of prejudice and discrimination, making it the group most believed to experience prejudice and discrimination. (Black Americans come in second at 42%).[122]

In terms of support of public policies, according to the same 2001 study, 76% of the general public think that there should be laws to protect gay and lesbian people from job discrimination, 74% from housing discrimination, 73% for inheritance rights, 70% support health and other employee benefits for domestic partners, 68% support social security benefits, and 56% support GL people openly serving in the military. 73% favor sexual orientation being included in the hate crimes statutes. 39% support same-sex marriage, while 47% support civil unions, and 46% support adoption rights.

A separate study shows that, in the United States, the younger generation is more supportive of gay rights than average. For example, a Kaiser Family Foundation study found that 18–24 year olds strongly supported gay rights in 2001. However, polling data also shows a trend among Americans in general toward rejection of homosexual-specific legal expansion of rights, especially same-sex marriage. A poll commissioned by CNN/USA Today Gallup in 2005 asked the question, "Do you think marriages between homosexuals should or should not be recognized by the law as valid, with the same rights as traditional marriages?" 56% said "should not be valid", while 39% said "should be valid", and 5% were unsure.[123]

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