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Homosexual & bisexual orientation

Is same-gender sexual behavior moral or immoral?

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Note: The first draft of this essay was written in 1996 and uses the term
"homosexual" as one of three normal and natural sexual orientations.
Since then, the word has become a hate/snarl word in some groups.

It is not intended to be a derogatory term here and on this website.

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Is same-sex sexual behavior moral or immoral?

The answer is a solid Yes and No. It depends upon whom you ask.

The U.S. is a profoundly divided country on matters related to morality; this is particularly true of sexual issues.

  • Many surveys have shown that preventing homosexuals and bisexuals from attaining equal rights -- including same-sex marriage -- is the most important cultural concern among Christian fundamentalists, other evangelical Christians, and conservatives from other religions. It exceeds even their concern to restrict pregnant women's access to abortions.

  • The opposing view is held by the essentially all lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgender persons and transsexuals (LGBT), along with most therapists, social workers, religious liberals, secularists, and some others. They generally would prefer to live in a culture in which persons of all sexual orientations are treated equally, and enjoy employment security, protection from hate crimes, the end to the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy in the military, and the the right of persons with a homosexual or bisexual orientation to marry the person that they love and to whom they are committed.

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The role of the Bible:

Most Christians look to the Bible to guide them in making moral decisions. Since there are about 40 Christians in North America for each member of the next largest religion, the biblical message on same-gender sexual behavior is of great importance. There are six or seven well known passages in the Bible all of which may be related to same-sex sexual activity. Unfortunately, the Bible message is ambiguous in its original Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic. When these passages are translated into English and interpreted by intelligent, sincere, devout theologians, two very different and mutually exclusive impressions emerge:

  1. All of the "clobber" passages condemn all same-sex sexual behavior, whether by two women or two men, regardless of the nature of the couple's relationship.

  2. None of the "clobber" passages relate to loving, committed, same-sex relationships. All but one refer only to males. The exception is in Romans 1; it refers to heterosexual women who were forced by God to go against their basic nature when they engaged in an orgy during a Pagan ritual. Not much of this type of behavior is happening today.

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The deep divisions within the culture:

The Gallup® Organization commented back in 2002 that:

"Homosexuality continues to be one of the more complex and in some ways paradoxical areas of public opinion measured by Gallup. The issue is not only one of significant concern because of its traditional moral and religious overtones, but in recent years has been at the center of state and federal legislative battles, highly publicized court challenges and political debate."1

As this essay is being updated in early 2011, the battles continue. The federal hate crimes legislation that protects everyone -- no matter which of the three sexual orientations they have -- has been in effect for over a year. The bill that may eventually repeal the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy in the military has been signed into law for a week. There is a federal court lawsuit in California to re-legalize same-sex marriage there. The DOMA law that denies same-sex married couples all federal benefits has been declared unconstitutional in Massachusetts. Conflicts show no sign of lessening and probably will not cease until full equality for lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgender persons and transsexuals (LGBT) is achieved.

A major concern has recently emerged among evangelical Christians. Racism (mostly in the form of discrimination and bias against African Americans and Native Americans) and sexism (mostly bias against women) have been increasingly perceived as hateful bigotry as Blacks, Natives and women attain equal rights. Race and gender-based bigotry are considered unacceptable in polite society -- except in the case of discrimination against women in leadership roles by religious organizations. Many conservatives are concerned that they will be widely considered to be homophobic bigots if current cultural trends towards acceptance of LGBTs continues.

Worldwide divisions are even more striking. In six Western countries, same-sex couples fall in love, announce their engagement and happily plan their marriages. In six predominately Muslim countries, lesbians, gays and bisexuals who engage in same-gender sex are hunted down, tried and executed. Uganda, a predominately Christian country, is considering establishing an anti-gay genocide law during 2011.

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Repeating polls by Gallup:

Between 1982 and 2007, Gallop asked the following question:

"Do you feel that homosexuality should be considered an acceptable alternative lifestyle or not?" 2,3

The question is not well designed. First, the term "lifestyle" normally refers to items that a person chooses, like living in an urban, suburban or rural area; choosing to be single or in a committed relationship or married; eating dead animals or following a vegetarian diet; etc. 4 Essentially all human sexuality researchers regard homosexuality to be a sexual orientation that a person discovers about themselves, not a lifestyle that a person chooses.

Most political and religious conservatives probably have no difficulty in responding that the "lifestyle" is always unacceptable. However, we suspect that a substantial portion of the public believes that the morality of a sexual act depends upon the nature of the relationship; the ages of the persons involved; the risk of contracting an STD; the risk of triggering a pregnancy; the presence or absence of compulsion or manipulation; etc. Many would probably regard the question as unanswerable.

A person's response may also depend upon the sexual orientation of the persons involved:

bullet Same-gender sexual activity by persons with a heterosexual orientation might be considered unacceptable because it violates their basic nature. Such activity by homosexuals might be considered acceptable because it is in harmony with their basic nature.

bullet Some poll subjects might interpret the question to with reference to themselves. i.e. whether homosexual behavior is acceptable or wrong for them personally.

bullet Others might interpret the question to refer to Americans generally, who are over 90% heterosexual.

bulletOthers might assume that the question refers only to persons with homosexual orientation.

Unfortunately, a meaningful answer such as "it depends upon the situation" was not one of the options provided.

Results of Gallup's polls: 2,3

Date Acceptable Not acceptable No opinion
1982-JUN 34% 51% 15%
1992-JUN 38 57 5
1996-MAR 44 50 6
1997-APR 42 52 6
1999-FEB 50 46 4
2001-MAY 52 43 5
2002-MAY 51 44 5
2003-MAY 54 43 3
2004-JUL 54 42 4
2005-MAY 51 45 4
2006-MAY 54 41 4
2007-MAY 57 39 3

American adults approval of homosexual "lifestyle" appears to have steadily increased over this interval. Approval rose by 23 percentage points, from 34% to 57% over 25 years. This is very close to 1 percentage point a year and is a similar rate to other indications of the growing acceptance of lesbians, gays and bisexuals. Those who found the "lifestyle" unacceptable dropped from 51% to 39% over the same interval. This is a decrease of 12 percentage points or about 0.5 percentage points a year. The percentage of adults who are undecided has dropped slowly as the nation became more polarized.

The trends appear to be sensitive to age. In 2003, 66% of young adults aged 18 to 29 found the "lifestyle" acceptable, compared to 57% for the general population. This may well be because teens and young adults tend to have more lesbian, gay and bisexual acquaintances, friends, and relatives who have come "out" of the closet. Teens and young adults are thus more accepting of homosexuality and bisexuality orientation and behavior. 2 Acceptance is also driven by secular beliefs: 72% of those who seldom or never attend church found the "lifestyle" acceptable.

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Change the question and format, and change the results:

More recently, Gallup Poll has introduced a new questioning technique. The question asked by the pollster is:

"I'm going to read you a list of issues. Regardless of whether or not you think it should be legal, for each one, please tell me whether you personally believe that in general it is morally acceptable or morally wrong."

The list included a series of "hot button" items: divorce, gambling, the death penalty, human stem cell research, premarital sex, medical testing on animals, having a baby outside of marriage, buying and wearing clothing made of animal fur, physician assisted suicide, "homosexual relations," abortion, cloning animals, suicide, cloning humans, polygamy (actually polygyny) and married men and women having an affair.

This question is an improvement over the previous in one way, because it specifically asks the polling subject to different between the legality and the morality of a behavior. Many people feel that certain behaviors are immoral, should be discouraged and may even feel that they are repugnant. However, they might still oppose criminalizing the behavior.

However, there remain very serious problems with this question as well:

  • Some might be confused over the meaning of "homosexual relations:" Do they refer only to sexually active relationships or are other options like Platonic relationships, or commercial relationships included?

  • When a series of questions are asked about "hot button" items, people can develop a more negative attitude towards topics that are asked later. The above topics were asked in random order which reduces this effect. However, on average, the polling subject would have been asked their opinion on 8 or so "hot button" items before coming to the question about homosexual relations.

  • How about transsexuals, some of which are born with male genitals and chromosomes and whose sexual identity is female? -- or vice-versa. Are they to be considered male or female?

  • The term that they used -- "homosexual" -- is considered a snarl word with heavy negative emotional baggage, For example, polls show much less support for "homosexual marriage" than for "same-sex marriage."

For whatever reason, results were significantly different for the two questions, with much higher levels of disapproval.

Results of Gallup's polls on "homosexual relations:"

Date Morally Acceptable Morally Wrong Depends on the situation* Not a moral issue* No opinion
2001-MAY
40%
53
3
1
3
2002-MAY
38
55
2
1
4
2003-MAY
44
52
2
<0.5%
2
2004-MAY
42
54
1
1
2
2005-MAY
44
52
2
<0.5%
2
2006-MAY
44
51
1
1
2
2007-MAY
47
49
2
<0.5%
2

* These were not given as optional answers by the interviewer. They were volunteered by the polling subjects who found a simple acceptable/morally wrong choice to be inadequate.

Data for the year 2007, showed that:

  • The previous wording showed that 57% found the "lifestyle" acceptable and 39% not acceptable, a margin of 18 percentage points in favor of acceptance.
  • The new wording and format showed that 47% found "homosexual relations" morally acceptable and 49% unacceptable, a margin of 2 percentage points against acceptance.

Their polls report opposite results!

It is surprising that a polling organization as skilled and experienced as the Gallup Organization would create such poorly worded questions. They seem to believe that a single answer is possible for a question that involves all situations and persons of all sexual orientations. They don't seem to care about reporting data that is negatively influenced by being lumped together with many other issues.

One is left wondering what the results would be to a survey that asked: "Do you believe that it is morally wrong or morally acceptable for gays, lesbians, and bisexuals to engage in consensual same-sex sexual behavior?"

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Related essays:

bulletWhat determines a person's sexual orientation?
bulletBeliefs about homosexuality. Studies of sexual orientation
bulletIs it beneficial to society; should homosexuals have equal protection?
 
bulletAttempting to change one's sexual orientation via reparative therapy
bulletWhat the Bible says about homosexuality.
bulletLesbian/gay terminology

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References used:

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

  1. "Special report: Homosexuality," 2002-SEP-11, at: http://www.gallup.com/
  2. "Six out of 10 Americans Say Homosexual Relations Should Be Recognized as Legal," The Gallup Organization, 2003-MAY-15, at: http://www.gallup.com/
  3. "Tolerance for Gay Rights at High-Water Mark," Item 24, Gallup, 2007-MAY-29, at: http://www.gallup.com/
  4. Sometimes I cannot resist including shocking statements like this. In reality, many many animals are killed year in order to satisfy my insatiable need for animal protein. Most are chickens.

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Site navigation: Home > "Hot" topics > Homosexuality > Basic data > here

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Copyright © 1996 to 2011 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2011-JAN-03
Author: B.A. Robinson

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