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Column 34
From hormones to homosexuals

Gay men, religion and morality

By © Martin Foreman
Word Count: 798 words
Publication date: October 2, 2005

I began suspecting I was gay – although I did not have the words for it – when I was about four years old. I came out until shortly after my twenty-first birthday. For the last thirty years I have been comfortable with my sexuality and have experienced moments of great joy with both physical and emotional partners.

I suspect that my experience of intercourse and love differ little from well-adjusted heterosexual men. I am not naturally monogamous but I have learned to be honest with my partners. In every situation I have wanted them to be happy and that, I would argue strongly, is a more moral stance than universal chastity or fidelity.

Of course, I am not a typical homosexual. No-one is. And my atheism is not a consequence of my sexual orientation. Many gay men and lesbians are believers. Sex between men or women may be incompatible with the primitive religion of the Old Testament and Koran, but it sits easily with the teachings of more mature religions, such as Buddhism and the Gospels.

Men have had sex with each other since history began – as have women with women. In some societies sex between men has been vilified; in others it has been accepted in specific circumstances. These include passage to manhood (think ancient Greece and some Polynesian tribes), soldiering (examples include samurais in medieval Japan) and religion (Native American berdache).

Research into the causes of homosexuality began in the nineteenth century and focused for a long time on psychology. We have only recently begun to realize that it has a biological component.

There is much that we still do not understand and research is often hampered by the perspectives of those who undertake it. A common mistake is to examine the cause of homosexuality rather than sexuality itself – which is about as logical approach as as describing the life of plants while ignoring seeds and fertilisation.

Much that should be researched is taken for granted. What exactly is (homo-)sexuality? How is it expressed? What is the mechanism that leads to that expression? (Put bluntly, what is the biochemistry in the brain that leads to arousal in men’s groins?) How is that mechanism triggered? And what establishes that mechanism in the first place?

The answers are usually vague, but they are beginning to point in the same direction. Sexuality is highly complex. Male and female sexuality are different and probably linked to sexual identity.

Boys’ sexual orientation appears to be influenced in the womb by the mother’s hormone levels. Genetics and birth order may influence the extent to which these have an impact.

Sexual attraction probably first manifests with the infant’s sense of smell but in time attaches itself to concepts of masculinity and femininity. Upbringing may play a role, although much less than previously thought.

Details may change over the next decade or two, but the general picture seems accurate. It matches observations in the animal world – penguins, sheep and many others – where a minority of males consistently display homosexual behavior.

Two recent news items prompted that long introduction. The first came from the Vatican, where the Roman Catholic church will reportedly ban all gay men from joining the clergy even if they accept a vow of celibacy.

The second came from Iran, where a witchhunt of homosexual men has been under way for several months. Two teenagers in the city of Mashad were hung in July this year for consenting sexual activity. Others have been imprisoned, whipped and tortured and several have fled into exile.

The events in Iran, which are echoed elsewhere, but not everywhere, in the Muslim world, are appalling and deserve the outrage of everyone who respects basic human rights. The Vatican’s decision is merely eccentric and displays a deep ignorance of human sexuality.

In America there is, thank reason, a slow move away from homophobia, as E J Graff points out in a recent New Republic article. The fact that the pace of change is considerably slower than in Canada, the European Union and elsewhere is a reflection of the harsh grip of primitive religion on a country that was once a beacon of progress and enlightenment.

It is not only gay men who suffer the consequences of primitive religion’s failure to understand sexuality. For millennia women have been forced to marry and suffer marital rape so that men can exercise their “God-given right” to intercourse.

Ultimately, it is ignorant and mean-spirited men – seldom women – who impose their prejudices on humanity in the name of God. As I have written before, people who profess little or no sexual experience should be the last to express an opinion on sexual behavior, far less attempt to control it. True morality comes not from suppressing sex but from understanding, respecting and rejoicing in it.

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If God existed, he would...

admire the beauty of a universe that he did not create

recognize that eternity is meaningless

deny both heaven and hell

disown all men and women who speak in his name

denounce the harm caused by religious "morality"

help the human race to thrive without him

If God existed, he would be an atheist.

What is the difference between science and faith?

science is certain of nothing and requires proof of everything

faith is certain of everything and requires proof of nothing

Which do you trust?

"I know there is no God"
"I believe there is no God"

Check the answer

wear the Scarlet letter

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