(Revised September 20, 2016)
Some believe that the acceptance of homosexuals as worthy members of society will spell the downfall of Western Civilization, Culture and Values.
Anti-sodomy laws, outlawing oral and anal sex, have been intended as an indirect method of outlawing homosexuality.
Technically, sodomy refers to oral sex, anal sex, and bestiality–all of which are outlawed by anti-sodomy laws. The first of the trio would apply to gays, lesbians, and heterosexual couples. The second pretty much exempts lesbians, and the third doesn’t usually figure into the attempt to prohibit homosexuality.
Some have feared that the open acceptance of homosexuality will lead to its spread, especially through the indoctrination of youth, and will destroy “everything we hold dear.” However, the problem has often been expressed in terms of sexual practices rather than sexual orientation. Those defending Louisiana’s anti-sodomy law called sodomy “dangerous, unhealthy, and immoral,” illustrating the mixture of concerns.
While many opponents of same-sex relations often claim a Christian basis for their actions and concerns, the specific justifications are elusive. Jesus had nothing to say about homosexuality as far as we know, and the few Old Testament condemnations of homosexuality are outnumbered by the justifications of slavery, polygamy, and the mistreatment of women. In the New Testament, we find the Apostle Paul speaking against homosexuality at times, but he was equally concerned with wives surrendering to the authority of their husbands. In other words, while it is possible to find Biblical injunctions against homosexuality, it’s not a major theme. It didn’t make the Ten Commandments, for example, though adultery did.
In pursuing this issue, it is useful to distinguish between having homosexual sex and identification as being a homosexual. The former has been reasonably common throughout history. In both Greek and Roman societies, for example, wealthy men could claim the right to have sex with young boys to augment the sex they had with their wives and their concubines. No one called them names or questioned their masculinity.
In some societies, same-sex sexual encounters have been ritualized as rites of passage. Some societies mark passage to male adulthood with a ritual deflowering of boys by older men. When I was a university professor, one of my female students introduced me to the term, LUG: Lesbian Until Graduation. The number of people having same-sex sexual encounters has always exceeded the number being identified or self-identifying as solely homosexual or even bisexual.
All states in the United States have had anti-sodomy laws in the past, but
in 2003, the U. S. Supreme Court ruled such laws unconstitutional. Today, 12 states still have anti-sodomy laws on the books, but they are rarely, if ever, enforced. As of this writing, Louisiana, North Carolina, Oklahoma, and Kansas have anti-sodomy laws prohibiting oral sex, but necrophilia—sex with a corpse—is legal. (Between consenting adults, presumably.)
Was the Problem Real?
Let’s examine some of the “problems” that led to the “solution” of anti-sodomy laws. First, let’s consider oral sex.
In December 2013 the National Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyle (NATSAL)
survey announced that in all age groups except the over-65s, the majority of people now say that they have oral sex sometimes.
For instance, 71 per cent of young adults (age 16 to 24) reported that they’d had oral sex in the last year. And 80 per cent of 25 to 34 year olds said the same thing.
So this is hardly the behavior of a tiny, perverted minority. It’s certainly
not limited to gays. As to being “unhealthy,” experts do not completely agree, but the general conclusion is that oral sex is safer than vaginal or anal sex when it comes to the transmission of disease. Moreover, the risk of pregnancy is, well, pretty slim.
Most would regard vaginal and anal sex as more disease-risky, particularly when tissue lesions occur. (The same would be true of oral sex, but it’s much less likely.) And in all cases, the risks of disease are radically reduced by the use of condoms. There is no agreement that anal sex is more dangerous than vaginal sex.
Since morality is in the eye of the condemner, I’ll leave the question of whether oral and anal sex are “immoral” to the moralists. However, I think we can gauge the danger of homosexuality taking over in America. Not really. If it seems as though there are more gays than there used to be, that is probably because it is safer for them to “come out.”
But has the growing acceptance of homosexuality in America produced the feared breakdown of Western Civilization, Culture, and Values? To answer, we need to specify what is meant by that august phrase. Here’s one statement:
The great ideas of the West—rationalism, self-criticism, the disinterested search for truth, the separation of church and state, the rule of law, equality before the law, freedom of conscience and expression, human rights, liberal democracy—together constitute quite an achievement, surely, for any civilization. This set of principles remains the best and perhaps the only means for all people, no matter what race or creed, to live in freedom and reach their full potential.
The above quotation is from Ibn Warraq, a self-described “Muslim Apostate,” challenged in a London debate to describe Western Values in no more than eight minutes. This excerpt is how he began. It is worth noting that his full presentation largely contrasted Western Values with those of other societies around the world, including those operating under Sharia Law.
Warraq’s description would fit well with the American Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights in the U. S. Constitution. Whether we reflect on the development of “Western Civilization” broadly or limit our view to the United States, I would suggest the civilizing process rests fundamentally on (1) replacing brutality with civility in social relations and (2) broadening the definition of who is a worthy member of society.
When the American Founders declared that “all men were created equal,” they actually meant men. It was too obvious. perhaps, for them to specify that they meant all white men. Over time, however, we have seen the definition of equal Americans to include people of color and women. The process has often been slow and sometimes violent, but the direction of change has been steadily toward inclusiveness.
Ironically, the exclusion of homosexuals from full membership in American society is a reflection of the older exclusivity that once barred women and racial minorities. The anti-sodomy laws were actually a challenge to our fundamental values rather than a protection. The greater acceptance of homosexuals represents a further realization of those fundamental values.
Gays and lesbians have suffered everything from humiliation and discrimination to arrest and imprisonment and even violence and death. The early Commonwealth of Virginia prescribed death as the maximum penalty for homosexuality. Thomas Jefferson, evidently thinking that too harsh, proposed in 1779 that the maximum punishment be changed to castration. However, the state legislature refused that bleeding-heart, liberal proposal, preferring to keep death on the table.
While the official sanctioning of death for homosexuality is a thing of the past in the USA, things are grimmer for gays elsewhere in the world. Homosexual acts can be punished by death in:
United Arab Emirates
You may notice a pattern in this list of countries: they are all African or Middle Eastern and predominantly Muslim. In several cases, outlawing homosexual relations is a part of that country’s version of sharia law. There is a special irony in this, since I would assert (without hard data) that those Americans most opposed to homosexuality are also the most worried about the prospects for sharia law in the USA, a topic addressed elsewhere in this website.
As we’ve seen, there are still places in the world where people can be executed simply because they are gay. They have not stolen from or assaulted anyone. They haven’t revealed state secrets or yelled “fire” in a crowded theater. They can be officially executed for no ‘crime’ but their sexual orientation.
Even where homosexuals are not being executed by the government, even today, they may be killed by extra-legal actions. Matthew Shephard is a name that should never be forgotten. On October 6, 1998, the young University of Wyoming student was at the Fireside Lounge in Laramie, when two other young men pretended to be gay and lured him outside with the intention of robbing him. Once outside, their greed turned to rage and they began beating and torturing Shephard. Eventually, they tied their comatose victim crucifixion-style to a fence and left him there to die. He was discovered 18 hours after his beating and was taken to a hospital where he died six days later.
Matthew Shephard’s brutal murder was so ugly that it attracted wide attention from the media and the public. Almost everyone who learned of the murder was horrified, though some celebrated it as God’s will. And Matthew Shepard was not the first nor the last gay to be killed by homophobic thugs in America.
On June 11, 2016, the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, was the filled with merriment as a gathering of over 300 predominantly Hispanic gays and lesbians enjoyed each others’ company. Then, in the early morning hours of the 12th, a lone gunman, armed with a semi-automatic rifle and semi-automatic pistol, entered the club and opened fire. By the time he finished, 49 were dead and another 53 wounded. Wikipedia summed it up thusly:
It was the deadliest mass shooting by a single shooter, the deadliest incident of violence against LGBT people in United States history, and the deadliest terrorist attack in the United States since the September 11 attacks in 2001.
Death is perhaps the most dramatic negative consequence of the “solution” of stamping out homosexuality. Gays have been and still are discriminated against in a variety of ways: in employment, commercial service, and just about anywhere people interact with one another in society. The persisting reflection of the anti-sodomy mentality still treats gays as second-class citizens, somewhat similar to the treatment of racial and ethnic minorities.
© Earl Babbie 2016, all rights reserved Terms of Service/Privacy
Leviticus 18:22 says it’s an abomination for a man to lie with another man, as with a woman. He is silent with regard to lesbians, though women are not to have sex with animals.
For example, Romans 1:26-28. Paul prescribes death for such acts, but he prescribes the same for slanderers, gossips, and many other miscreants. I Corinthians 7:2-16.
Terri Ruper, “Here are the 10 countries where homosexuality may be punished by death,” Washington Post, February 24, 2014 — http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2014/02/24/here-are-the-10-countries-where-homosexuality-may-be-punished-by-death/ — accessed August 1, 2015.
Wikipedia, “Sodomy laws in the United States,” — https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sodomy_laws_in_the_United_States — accessed August 1, 2015
Adam Weinstein, “Here Are the States Where Blowjobs Are Illegal But Necrophilia’s Cool,” Gawker, April 16, 2014 — http://gawker.com/here-are-the-states-where-blowjobs-are-illegal-but-necr-1563878569 — Accessed August 5, 2015.