Homosexuality is sexual orientation toward people of the same sex

November 30, 2012 5:56 am

Homosexuality
I
INTRODUCTION
Homosexuality, sexual orientation toward people of the same sex. Homosexuality contrasts with heterosexuality, sexual orientation toward people of the opposite sex. People with a sexual orientation toward members of both sexes are called bisexuals (see Bisexuality). Female homosexuals are frequently called lesbians. In recent years, the term gayhas been applied to both homosexual men and women.
Homosexuality appears in virtually all social contexts—within different community settings, socioeconomic levels, and ethnic and religious groups. The number of homosexuals in the population is difficult to determine, and reliable data do not exist. However, current estimates suggest that the term homosexualmay apply to 2 to 4 percent of men. Estimates for lesbians are lower. Not all people who engage in homosexual activity necessarily identify themselves as homosexual.
II
HISTORICAL AND CROSS-CULTURAL PERSPECTIVES
Attitudes toward homosexual behavior have varied with time and place. In ancient Greece, homosexual relations were accepted and, in some cases, expected activity in certain segments of society. Later attitudes toward homosexuality in the Western world were determined largely by prevailing Judeo-Christian moral codes, which treat homosexuality as immoral or sinful. But like many other sins, homosexual relations were seen as expressions of the weakness inherent in all human beings, and not as a mental disorder or as the behavior of a specific type of person. This latter view, which regarded homosexuality as a pathology, developed in the late 19th century. By the beginning of the 20th century, psychoanalysts viewed homosexuals as the victims of faulty development. Austrian physician Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis, considered homosexuality a deviant condition. More recently, scientists have searched for a biological explanation of sexual orientation. A study published in 1993 sought to identify a genetic marker for sexual orientation. The research, which did not include a cross section of the population, was inconclusive.
During the first half of the 20th century, attitudes toward homosexuality were overwhelmingly negative. Homosexual activities were hidden and spoken of only in whispers, and homosexual behavior, even among consenting adults, was a criminal offense in most of the United States. Homosexuals were subject to stereotypes and prejudice. Gay men were viewed as effeminate, lesbians were portrayed as mannish, and both were seen as being obsessed with sex, with little self-control or morality. Homosexuals frequently were thought to be potential child molesters. In the 1930s and during World War II (1939-1945), homosexuals were targets of persecution in Nazi Germany.
Prejudices against homosexuals in Western societies have only recently begun to change. The first major shift followed the publication of two famous reports, Sexual Behavior in the Human Male (1948) and Sexual Behavior in the Human Female (1952), by American biologist Alfred Charles Kinsey. Although these works contained inflated estimates of the homosexual population and the incidence of behavior, they provided a more realistic picture of homosexuality and helped demystify it. Unlike earlier studies which focused on homosexuals who had sought medical or psychological help, the Kinsey reports described homosexuals outside of clinical settings. Kinsey found homosexuals in all walks of life, growing up in all kinds of families, practicing many different religions. As a result of the ensuing scientific discussion, the American Psychiatric Association in 1973 eliminated homosexuality from its list of mental illnesses and, in 1980, dropped it from its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders(DSM).
III
GAY RIGHTS ACTIVISM
In recent years, people who support homosexual rights have worked and demonstrated to increase those rights. In the United States, the watershed event for homosexual activism was the Stonewall riot, which protested a police raid on a gay bar in New York City in 1969. It was the first public protest by homosexuals against harassment by police. Since then, homosexual communities in the United States have organized to work for gay rights. Such groups include the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, a civil rights organization that promotes equality and freedom from prejudice and discrimination for gays and lesbians; Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, which provides legal representation for gays and lesbians; and the Human Rights Campaign Fund, which lobbies state and national legislators. In Canada, Equality for Gays and Lesbians Everywhere (EGALE) has worked to secure equal rights for gays and lesbians and to influence federal legislation on gay rights. Canadian gay rights groups helped bring about the amendment in 1996 of the Canadian Human Rights Act to explicitly prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation. Other countries that have specifically outlawed discrimination against homosexuals and bisexuals include The Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand.
One of the greatest challenges to face the homosexual community was the outbreak of acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) in the early 1980s. In the United States, the disease first became prevalent among gay men and spread with devastating effect. When little was known about the disease and how it was spread, AIDS patients and homosexuals experienced an increase in discrimination in housing and health insurance. Many people protested against agencies of the U.S. government—including the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)—claiming they were slow to study the disease and search for treatment. More organizations were formed to help educate people about the disease and to help AIDS patients get proper care.
IV
SAME-SEX UNIONS AND GAY MARRIAGE
In the 1990s and 2000s homosexual rights groups addressed a number of other issues, including the rights of gay and lesbian families. In 2001 The Netherlands became the first country to legalize same-sex marriages, giving same-sex couples the same rights that heterosexual couples have in areas such as inheritance, taxes, divorce, and pension benefits. Belgium legalized same-sex marriages in 2003. Spain and Canada followed suit in 2005. Canada became the fourth nation to legalize same-sex marriage and the first outside of Europe. Several other European countries recognize homosexual unions, although these unions are generally called civil unions or registered partnerships rather than marriages. The United Kingdom, for example, permitted civil partnerships beginning in December 2005. The same month the Constitutional Court of South Africa struck down the country’s Marriage Act as unconstitutional because it did not permit same-sex marriage. The court stayed its ruling for one year to allow parliament to amend the act, but it stipulated that the ruling would go into effect regardless by December 2006. In December 2006 South Africa became the fifth country to legalize gay marriage. The federal district of Mexico City allowed civil unions for same-sex couples in late 2006.
In the United States, 39 states have passed laws forbidding same-sex marriages and denying recognition of same-sex marriages obtained elsewhere. In 2004, 13 states—most of which already prohibited such marriages by law—enacted constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriages, joining four other states that had previously done so. Gay couples can legally marry in only one state in the United States, the state of Massachusetts. Four states—Connecticut, New Hampshire, New Jersey, and Vermont—permit civil unions, which extend the same legal rights of marriage to same-sex couples that heterosexual couples have under state law. Vermont legalized civil unions in 2000, Connecticut did so in 2005, New Jersey in 2006, and New Hampshire in 2007. In addition California state law extends full marriage rights to domestic partnerships.
In November 2003 the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, the state’s highest court, ruled that gay couples have the right to marry under the state’s constitution. In February 2004 the court clarified its ruling, saying that civil unions were not sufficient and that only marriage met its criteria for equal rights for gays. The court ruled that “the history of our nation has demonstrated that separate is seldom, if ever, equal,” in affirming that homosexuals are entitled to the same rights of marriage as heterosexuals. On May 17, 2004, same-sex marriages became legal in Massachusetts, and authorities there began to marry gay couples. State legislators pledged to amend the state constitution to ban gay marriage but allow civil unions. Such an amendment would require voter approval.
A growing number of local governments and private corporations have implemented domestic partnership laws or policies that extend some of the legal benefits of marriage to same-sex couples. Generally, however, homosexual couples in long-term relationships do not have the same legal protection as people in heterosexual marriages. Under the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, for example, many federal marriage benefits, such as tax breaks and Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid provisions, are denied to gay couples. Adopting children is also problematic for homosexuals. One state, Florida, has laws that explicitly prohibit homosexuals from adopting children. Other states, such as Utah, have administrative rules that prohibit adoptions by unmarried couples, which would preclude gays. Other states allow a same-sex partner to adopt the biological child of the other partner. The vast majority of states do not explicitly prohibit gay couples from adopting. New Hampshire is one of the few states that explicitly allows gay couples to adopt.
V
OTHER ARENAS OF ACTIVISM
Another area in which activists have worked for change is the policy toward gays and lesbians in the military. Before the administration of President Bill Clinton altered the policy in 1993, candidates for military service filled out a form that included a question on sexual orientation. Under the new policy, popularly called “don’t ask, don’t tell,” that question has been eliminated. Sexual orientation is now considered a personal matter and not a bar to entry or a cause for separation from the military unless the individual engages in homosexual behavior. However, some people consider the policy inadequate because it still forbids homosexual activity, and government surveys have found that harassment of gays remains rampant on U.S. military bases.
As activists have worked to secure the rights of homosexuals, the homosexual community has become a more visible presence in society. National publications, such as Christopher Street and The Advocate, have appeared, and churches to serve the homosexual community have been established. With the advent of gay rights studies programs at many universities, homosexuals have begun to reclaim their history.
As homosexual communities became more visible, large numbers of homosexuals—including some prominent people—have openly declared their identity as homosexuals and demanded their right to equal and respectful treatment. There are now openly gay representatives in the Congress of the United States. Across the country openly gay officials have pursued and often won office at both state and local levels of government. Gay and lesbian activists are found in both liberal and conservative political organizations. In 2003 the Episcopal Church USA confirmed an openly gay man as the bishop of New Hampshire, the first gay bishop in an American church.
VI
RECENT DEVELOPMENTS
The year 2003 marked a milestone in extending legal rights to homosexuals in North America. In June 2003 the Supreme Court of the United States struck down laws that criminalized homosexual behavior. Gay rights activists regarded it as a landmark ruling. The decision in the case, Lawrence v. Texas, involved a Texas state law that made sodomy (oral and anal sex) between members of the same sex illegal. Five of the nine Supreme Court justices ruled that the law violated the Constitution’s guarantee of due process, and their opinion drew on other court precedents regarding privacy. In a forceful opinion written by Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, the Court found that gays are “entitled to respect for their private lives” and that “the state cannot demean their existence or control their destiny by making their private sexual conduct a crime.” The opinion reversed an earlier 1986 decision known as Bowers v. Hardwick, which had upheld a similar law against sodomy in the state of Georgia. “Bowerswas not correct when it was decided, and it is not correct today,” Justice Kennedy wrote. A sixth justice, Sandra Day O’Connor, issued a concurring opinion but based her objection to the Texas law on the grounds that it violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution. O’Connor noted that the Texas law applied only to gays and therefore discriminated against gays as a class. (See the Sidebars “Lawrence v. Texas” and “Bowersv. Hardwick.”)
The ruling struck down sodomy laws still in existence in 13 states. Although many of these laws were rarely enforced, they nevertheless had widespread implications and often resulted in denying gays the right to hold certain jobs, the right to adopt children, and rights to child custody and visitation on the grounds that they were engaged in criminal conduct.
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