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Homosexuality

Defining homosexuality;
Defining sexual orientation.
Who cares about its cause/causes?
Why are the causes so controversial?

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Conflicting definitions of "homosexuality" and "sexual orientation:"

Whether sexual orientation, or abortion access, or any other "hot" controversial topic is being discussed, the group who gets to define the terms has a tremendous advantage in any dialogue or debate.

There are four quite different definitions of the term "sexual orientation:"

bulletA few conservative Christian organizations define "sexual orientation" very broadly. They view orientation as a list of parameters that define all aspects of one's sexual desires. For example, a man might be particularly attracted to women who are of medium height, African American, a few years younger than he is, and with red hair. This collection of gender, height, skin color, age and hair color factors would define the man's sexual orientation. Thus, being attracted only to members of the same gender would only be one component of a person's sexual orientation. Pedophilia -- being sexually attracted to children -- would be another part for a small minority of adults. So would bestiality -- being attracted to animals. Under this definition, hundreds of sexual orientations are possible.

Accepting this definition would complicate government legislation dealing with sexual orientation. Any civil rights legislation which extends protection to persons on the basis of their sexual orientation would, under this definition, also decriminalize pedophilia and bestiality. To our knowledge, this definition does not appear in any dictionary or medical text; it seems to be used only by a very small minority of fundamentalist and other evangelical Christians. It surfaced prominently during debate on a federal hate crime bill.
 
bulletThe American Family Association (AFA) and Traditional Values Coalition (TVC) state that there are a total of 30 sexual orientations. They have taken the three generally accepted sexual orientations -- heterosexuality, homosexuality and bisexuality -- and added to them 27 paraphilias listed by the American Psychiatric Association in their  "Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders." 1,2,3 According to Wikipedia, paraphilia:

"... is a term that describes a family of persistent, intense fantasies, aberrant urges, or behaviors involving sexual arousal to nonhuman objects, pain or humiliation experienced by oneself or one's partner, children, or nonconsenting individuals or unsuitable partners." 4

Examples are voyeurism, bestiality, necrophilia, sexual masochism, sexual sadism, etc.

Finally, these groups tossed in some definitions of their own, including incest, prostitution, transsexuality, etc. If conservatives adopt such a broad definition of sexual orientation, they could argue that civil rights legislation intended to equally protect heterosexuals, homosexuals and bisexuals would also protect persons engaging in incest, bestiality, prostitution, etc. It is thus of critical importance for such legislation to clarify exactly what it includes by including a definition of "sexual orientation." More information.


bulletMost religious and social conservatives define sexual orientation in terms of behavior: specifically the gender with which one engages in sexual behavior. Thus:
bulletHeterosexuals are those who have sex with others of the opposite gender.
bulletHomosexuals are those who have sex with others of the same gender.
bulletBisexuals are rarely discussed and often ignored.

bulletAlmost all human sexuality researchers, gays, bisexuals, lesbians, religious liberals, and professionals in the medical and therapeutic professions define a person's "sexual orientation" according to the gender(s) of the person to whom that person is sexually attracted:
bullet Heterosexuality includes about 90% of adults -- those who are sexually attracted only to members of the opposite gender.
bulletHomosexuality includes a small minority of adults -- perhaps 5% -- who are attracted only to members of the same gender.
bullet Bisexuality also includes perhaps 5% of adults who are attracted to both men and women, although not necessarily to the same degree.

Impact of multiple, conflicting definitions:

Having multiple definitions causes major chaos. It is almost as if people with different views intentionally sat down and designed conflicting definitions that would make communication, dialogue and debate impossible. For example:

bullet How can one discuss legislation that bans hate crimes or that bans discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation when some folks define sexual orientation in terms only of the gender to which a person is attracted while other folks define sexual orientation to include pedophilia, bestiality, incest, etc.
 
bulletIf one group defines sexual orientation in terms of behavior and another group defines it in terms of sexual attraction, then how does one handle:

bulletA sexually active lesbian who has decided to become celibate. In terms of behavior, she is no longer homosexual and might be called "ex-gay." In terms of sexual attraction, she her sexual orientation remains homosexual and her self-identification probably remains lesbian.
 
bullet A bisexual male who has had sex with other men who simply decides to have sex only with women. In terms of behavior, he is no longer homosexual but has become an ex-gay -- he has switched to heterosexuality. In terms of sexual attraction, he remains unchanged as a bisexual.

Beliefs about homosexuality by theologians and scientists:

Normally, there are minimal conflicts between scientists and theologians. They usually work in different areas of study. Theologians are rarely interested in the tensile strength of steel. Scientists are rarely interested in the soul, salvation, heaven or hell. But there are some shared areas where both scientists and theologians promote their beliefs. Often, these beliefs are in conflict. As of 2007, the main areas of conflict are the origins of the universe, and various human sexuality topics.

bulletHomosexual orientation is measurable and is thus a legitimate area of study for human sexuality researchers. They have generally concluded that adult human sexuality comes in the three natural, normal, unchosen, and unchangeable orientations as defined above.

bulletSame-sex behavior is mentioned in the Bible, the Qur'an, writings of the Baha'i Prophet Baha'u'llah, and in other texts considered sacred in various world religions. Thus, homosexuality is also a legitimate area for theologians to study. Speaking generally:

bullet Many religious conservatives who follow western religions believe that their holy texts were written by God, or dictated by an Archangel on behalf of God, or written by persons who were inspired by God to produce books which are inerrant -- free of error. They base their beliefs about homosexual behavior on their interpretation of the Bible, and on church tradition. They conclude that it is unnatural, abnormal, chosen and changeable behavior.

bulletReligious liberals and progressives generally approach the Bible as a historical document. They note that the authors of their religious texts lived in a pre-scientific era and had no special knowledge of sexual orientation. Religious liberals base their beliefs about homosexual orientation both on their interpretation of the Bible, on the findings of sexuality researchers, on church tradition, and personal experience. They generally agree with scientists that homosexuality is a natural, normal, unchosen, and unchangeable orientation.

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Who cares about the causes?

If the root cause of a homosexual orientation is genetic, as it is for Class 1 (early onset diabetes) and left-handedness, then the person will probably be unable to change their sexual orientation. As adults, they may decide to remain sexually inactive. However, their sexual attraction to persons of the same sex will continue.

If the root cause of a homosexual orientation is something in the environment, then there might be a significant possibility that the individual can change their orientation through therapy. Many religious and social conservatives believe that incompetent parenting and/or child sexual abuse can cause -- or at least influence -- a person to choose a homosexual orientation later in life.

Whether homosexuality is within or beyond the ability of a person to change may well influence people's attitudes towards homosexuality. It would certainly help homosexuals decide whether to try to change their orientation through reparative therapy in spite of its near zero success rate, cost, time, agony, and danger of extreme depression and suicidal ideation.

An article in The Advocate, a gay-positive magazine states:

"Polls repeatedly indicate that Americans who believe sexual orientation is either genetic or biological are much more likely to support gay and lesbian civil rights than those who believe it is determined primarily by environmental influences." 5

This may or may not be an accurate conclusion. Many religious and social conservatives are generally opposed to equal rights for sexual minorities, and believe on biblical grounds that sexual orientation is a decision made after puberty -- perhaps triggered by incompetent parenting or childhood sexual abuse. Those who favor gay, lesbian, bisexual and transsexual rights tend to base their beliefs more on scientific findings and less on holy texts. So the root cause of support for equal rights for all might be more related to religious beliefs than beliefs about the cause of homosexuality. Besides, race has been known for centuries to be genetically determined. Yet this knowledge has not eliminated racial bigotry.

Why it is the question so controversial?

This topic has triggered many angry Emails from visitors to this web site:

bulletMany are from religious conservatives who are 100% certain that homosexuality is totally caused by something in the environment.
bulletA few are from gays and lesbians who are 100% certain that homosexuality is totally caused by genes.

Evidence seems to point consistently to a genes as the root cause which either lies dormant or is triggered into causing the individual to have a homosexual orientation later in life. Such a finding makes many people -- both religious conservatives and homosexuals -- angry because their cherished beliefs are disproved. Some direct that anger at us because we report the information. Fortunately, we have developed very thick skins at this job.

References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Rev. Lou Sheldon, "What is a 'Sexual Orientation'," News release, Traditional Values Coalition, 2007-JUN-04.
  2. "What is a 'Sexual Orientation'," Special report, Traditional Values Coalition, undated, at: http://www.traditionalvalues.org/
  3. "What is a 'Sexual Orientation'?" American Family Association, undated, at: http://www.afa.net/
  4. "Paraphilia," Wikipedia, at: http://en.wikipedia.org/
  5. David Mubarak, "Why are we gay? -- opinions and research," The Advocate, 2001-JUL-17, at: http://www.findarticles.com/

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Home page > "Hot" religious topics > Homosexuality > Cause > here

Copyright © 1997 to 2013 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2013-JAN-20
Author: B.A. Robinson

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