Homosexuality and bisexuality
Suggested usage of homosexual terms
in articles, essays, reports, etc.
Topics covered in this essay:
At any time over the past 500 years, there has been at least one active "hot"
religious debate. Most conflicts in the distant past have been settled.
These include the shape of the earth, path of the earth around the sun, interest
on loans, childhood vaccinations, etc. But we are currently blessed (or cursed) with a
large number of active religious debates. Most of these tend to
involve human sexuality in some way. The most serious current conflicts appear
to be on abortion and sexual orientation: namely abortion
access and rights for gays, lesbians and
bisexuals, including the right to marry.
Generally speaking, religious conservatives (including Fundamentalist and
other Evangelical Protestants, Roman Catholics, Sikhs, Orthodox and Conservative Jews,
Muslims, etc.) tend to take one side in these debates. Liberals of all religious
traditions tend to take the opposite position, in support of gays, lesbians and
bisexuals. Medical doctors, mental health professionals, and human sexuality
researchers tend to take the liberal view as well.
Language is often used as a weapon in these debates:
||It is sometimes impossible to find truly neutral terms to describe beliefs and
events. Often, the words used will automatically bias the article. Referring
to homosexual behavior as a lifestyle or a preference implies
that a person can choose their sexual orientation. Referring to homosexuality as an orientation implies that it is not changeable and not
chosen. Yet, these are the only commonly used words that are available.|
||Often, terms such as "homosexuality" will be used in confusing
ways - sometimes referring to behavior and other times to feelings of
||Other terms, such as
orientation" have different meanings to the
groups in involved. Some conservative Christian groups define the term as including exhibitionism, sadism, masochism,
pedophilia, bestiality, necrophilia, etc.|
The result is confusion, misunderstanding, anger and a loss in objectivity and balance.
Some examples of biased reporting:
Bias can easily slip into an article:
|Pastor P.J. Peters in his article "Intollerance [sic] of,
discrimination against and the death penalty for homosexuals is prescribed
in the Bible" at: http://www.identity.org/files/homo.html wrote "Homosexuals are willing to...promote their life
style...[and] are willing to prescribe the death penalty to those who
|He uses the term "life style" to imply that homosexual
orientation is a chosen, changeable factor. |
|He takes the inflammatory and perhaps fantasy rhetoric of one
and applies it to all homosexuals. |
anti-Homosexuality Web Site" (now believed to be defunct) at
referred to two frequently cited passages in Leviticus.
He quotes the original Hebrew text which declares certain
behaviors to be to'ebah. This, he translates as "an abhorrence
or a disgusting thing." But to'ebah
is a religious term, usually reserved for criticizing idolatrous practices.
If the writer(s) of Leviticus wished to refer to a moral violation, a sin,
he/they would have used the Hebrew word zimah.
could better be translated "foreign religious cult practice." The author overlooks the facts that the Mosaic code
includes as "to'ebah" the eating a cheeseburger,
charging interest on a loan, shaving a beard, sowing seeds in the corner of a field,
|The Westboro Baptist
Church of Topeka, Kansas has perhaps the best known gay/lesbian hate
site on the Internet, at: http://www.godhatesfags.com/
It has the catchy name "God Hates Fags." Their
Fag Facts section contains some amazing assertions that they
quote from some highly biased sources. Some examples:
|that "homosexuals account for half the murders in large
cities." (It is not clear whether gays and lesbians are
victims or perpetrators of the homicides).|
|homosexuals account for only 1 to 2% of the population of the U.S.|
|homosexuals are responsible for 50% of the suicides.|
|the media age at death of gay men is 42; that of lesbians is 45.|
|homosexuals are 19 times as likely to die in a traffic accident than
the average person.|
|part of the gay agenda is to turn people away from Christianity.|
None of these "facts" are believed to represent reality.
Terminology concerning sexual orientation is a semantic minefield! It is
sometimes impossible write about homosexuality without using words that are
unacceptable to some people. Some of the difficulties are:
|Nature of homosexuality: "Homosexual" is sometimes used to refer to:
|Sexual feelings; a homosexual is a person who
is sexually attracted to members of the same gender. This is the
meaning generally used by gays, lesbians, mental health
professionals, medical professionals, religious liberals, etc.|
|Sexual behavior; a homosexual is one who
engages in sexual activities with a member of the same gender.
This is the meaning generally used by religious conservatives|
author will switch between meanings in the same
article. This causes a great deal of confusion. A person can be considered a homosexual
due to feelings of sexual attraction that they have exclusively to members of the same
gender. But they may
not act on those feelings and engage in homosexual behavior.
The solution is to always qualify the word "homosexual"
with either "orientation" or "behavior."
|Sexual orientations: Some people make the assumption that if a person
does not have a heterosexual orientation,
then they must be homosexual. However, there are more than two sexual
orientations -- as a minimum, there are three:
heterosexual, homosexual, and bisexual. Bisexuals have feelings of sexual attraction to both males and females.
Some writers sub-divide bisexuals into three groups, depending upon
whether the individual is attracted mainly to males, to both genders
equally, or mainly to females. This brings the total number of
orientations up to five. We recommend that writers keep in mind that
sexual orientation is not a duality, but that it encompasses three or
Religious conservatives sometimes claim that the term "sexual
orientation" includes such behaviors as homosexuality, abusive pedophilia,
child molesting, sadism, masochism,
bestiality, necrophilia, and other minority sexual activities. This
definition can throw civil rights legislation into confusion. If
individuals of all sexual orientations are protected by employment
legislation, then conservative Christians can claim that (according to
them) this law would protect child molesters and other criminals. No
other group agrees with religious conservatives in this definition;
everyone else accepts that the term "sexual
orientation" relates only to the gender of other adults to which an adult has feelings of
sexual attraction. We recommend that writers use the majority definition.
|Is it a lifestyle?: The term "lifestyle"
normally refers to a choice that a person makes, e.g. to live in the
city or in the country; to marry or remain single; to work for a
company or be self-employed.
|Religious conservatives often refer to the "homosexual
lifestyle," thus reinforcing their belief that
individuals choose among engaging in homosexual behavior, or
heterosexual behavior or celibacy. |
|Others generally refer to "homosexual orientation"
thus reinforcing their belief that individuals cannot choose or
change their sexual orientation. The Associated Press Stylebook
was changed in 2000-JUL to recommend that its writers "Avoid
references to gay, homosexual or alternative 'lifestyle'."
|Is it an orientation or a preference?: This is another pair of
terms that biases discussions about homosexuality.
|Religious conservatives generally talk about "homosexual
preference" in order to reinforce their assertion that
sexual behavior is a choice, and that (through prayer or therapy)
one can change from preferring sexual activity with one gender to
|Others refer to "homosexual orientation" to
reinforce their assertion that sexual behavior is fixed and not
chosen. Evidence seems to indicate that for the vast majority of
adults (perhaps all), their orientation cannot be changed. Many,
perhaps most, bisexuals do have a preferred gender that they find
sexually attractive; for them, the term "preference"
makes sense. However, they comprise a small minority in society,
perhaps on the order of 2%.|
Since the available evidence seems to point towards orientation
being fixed, we recommend against the use of the term "preference."
According to Focus on the Family, a Fundamentalist Christian
"... the current edition of the [Associated Press]
stylebook still avoids the debate over 'sexual orientation' versus
'sexual preference.' Gay organizations, including the Gay and Lesbian
Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) are lobbying to drop the word
'preference' from the language." 1,2
|Normal or abnormal?:
|Gays, lesbians, sociologists, psychologists, researchers into human
sexuality, members of liberal and some mainline faith groups, etc. normally
view homosexual orientation as normal, natural, permanent and unchosen.
It is defined as feelings of attraction exclusively to members of the same gender.
It is believed to be caused by an interaction of genetic and environmental
factors. Studies on identical twins separated at birth and raised
independently have confirmed these beliefs. Pedigree studies of
the sexual orientation of ancestors of gays have added support.
Anatomical and similar studies have been inconclusive.|
|Religious conservatives tend to view homosexual behavior as an abnormal, unnatural,
changeable and chosen preference for sexual activity with persons of the same gender. It
is often viewed as having been caused by poor parenting. A very small
percentage of mental health professionals agree with this position.|
We recommend following the lead of most physical and mental health
professionals, and consider homosexuality to be an unchosen and fixed
sexual orientation that is normal,
natural for a minority of adults.
|Equal rights or special rights?: The conflict between equal
and special rights is often seen in the media:
|Gays, lesbians, and their supporters in various religious communities
often refer to their quest for equal rights for homosexuals.
This would give gays and lesbians the same type of protection against assault and
discrimination as has been already guaranteed to other groups, on the
basis of their gender, race, age, nationality, ability level, etc. They
sometimes draw comparisons between the 1960's civil rights movement for
racial integration and their present anti-discrimination movement which
seeks to extend anti-discrimination laws to include sexual orientation
as a protected class. |
|Some Conservative Christian groups believe that comparing
race with sexual orientation is not valid. Anti-discrimination laws
guarantee protection for groups on the basis of characteristics that
they cannot change: race, gender, age, etc. They feel that to extend
this list of protected classes to include homosexuals is to give them
special rights - rights based on their behavioral choices, not on a
factor that is beyond their control.|
Gays, lesbians and their supporters point out that, in their opinion, a
person's sexual orientation is beyond their control; it is not chosen and is
not changeable. Most conservative Christians reject that argument, and point
to the alleged successes of reparative therapy in
converting persons with a homosexual orientation to heterosexuality. It
is difficult to assess the effectiveness of this therapy because no
studies on it have been published in peer-reviewed journals, and
because no long-term studies have been made into its effectiveness.
It is worth noting that religion has always been a protected class, and it is
certainly both a choice and changeable. Yet persons demanding religious
freedom are never referred to as asking for special rights.
Strictly speaking, no group promotes "gay rights." No proposed
law would actually grant rights to persons with a homosexual orientation that heterosexuals or bisexuals would
not have as well. Instead, they grant equal protection for persons of all
sexual orientations. A heterosexual who was discriminated against on
the basis of their sexual orientation have the same protection as a homosexual
or bisexual -- or for that matter, an asexual person.
Both "special rights" and "equal rights"
are hot-button terms. They should be used with care. We recommend a phrase
such as "equal rights for persons of all sexual orientations,"
as preferable to either term.
|"Leaving" homosexuality; the Ex-gays: Again there
are two mutually exclusive meanings for these terms:
We recommend that writers be clear and specific when describing a
person who is no longer sexually active with member(s) of the same
gender: Has a miracle or near miracle occurred, and they have changed
from a homosexual to a heterosexual orientation? Are they a bisexual
who has decided to have a relationship with member of the opposite
gender? Do they remain with a homosexual orientation, while deciding
to be celibate?
|The Bible: Conservative Christians and Jews have concluded
|On the basis of many passages in English translations of the Bible, that God
hates homosexuality. |
Others conclude that:
|On the basis of the original Hebrew
and Greek texts, that God hates homosexual rape, homosexual prostitution,
homosexual sex in Pagan temples, men sexually abusing boys, and
heterosexuals engaging in homosexual sex. They conclude that the Bible is
silent on consensual homosexual sex in committed, monogamous relationships. |
difference in interpretation causes much conflict.
|AIDS and other STDs: Sometimes, writers will refer to the higher rate of STD infection among
male gays as a reason for restricting the rights of all homosexuals. They neglect the fact
that the infection rate among lesbians is much lower than that of
heterosexuals and of the general
Terms related to same-sex marriage:
|Status of same sex marriage: Back
in the year 2000,
no jurisdiction in the world permitted two persons of the same gender to
be married. But, early in the 21st century, such opportunities opened
up in the Netherlands, Belgium, Canada and the state of Massachusetts in
the U.S. |
As of late 2004, the available options to gay and lesbian couples are:
|In the Netherlands, gays and lesbian citizens and people with
residency permits were earlier allowed to register as partners.
They were given the right to marry in the year 2001. A
bill allowing same-sex couples "the right to marriage and
all the trappings" passed the lower house on 2000-SEP-12
and was subsequently passed by the upper house. 3 This
was the first political jurisdiction in the world to allow same-sex couples
to marry and receive full benefits that have been routinely given
to opposite-sex married couples for years.|
|Belgium followed the lead of the Netherlands.|
|In a few states, like Vermont and Connecticut, same-sex couples, either residents or
visitors, can enter a civil union. Residents of California can
register as domestic partners. These are not marriages.
However, both are equivalent (or almost equivalent) to marriage in
terms of rights, privileges, and obligations granted by the state. It does not yet include the
over 1,000 federal benefits that heterosexual married couples
|In some jurisdictions couples can register
their relationships and obtain some of the benefits granted to
heterosexual married couples. This includes the Scandinavian
countries, and a few states in the U.S. such as Hawaii and
|Canadian law originally granted same-sex partners equal rights and
privileges with common-law heterosexual couples. However, a
senior court in the Province of Ontario ordered the province to
start issuing marriage licenses in mid 2003. Since then, the federal
government changed the marriage laws. As of 2005-JUL, all couples
can marry -- both same-sex and opposite-sex, except for certain
relationship and age restrictions.|
The public is generally unaware of the precise meaning of terms
like: civil unions, domestic partners, registered same-sex partners,
etc. We recommend that writers take care to use the correct term, and
define the rights and privileges that it brings to the same-sex
couple. Marriage in the state of Massachusetts, or a civil union in
Vermont gives the couple the full set of state benefits and
obligations of marriage. However couples do not receive any of the
federal benefits given to opposite-sex married couples.
|Terminology: We recommend the terms "same-sex marriage"
and "opposite-sex marriage." We suggest that the use of "gay
marriage" or "homosexual marriage be avoided. They are
very commonly used, but are not particularly accurate. That is because
they do not allow for bisexual spouses. |
Bisexuals are an often overlooked group. They are sexually attracted to
both men and women, although not necessarily to the same degree. There
are many possible marriages involving one or more bisexuals which cannot
be accurately described as homosexual or gay marriage: Two bisexual
spouses of the same gender might marry; yet neither would be homosexual.
A bisexual person could marry a homosexual of the same gender; yet only
one would be homosexual.
The use of the term "same-sex marriage" eliminates this problem.
Another concern with "gay marriage" and "homosexual marriage"
is that some gays and lesbians object to the terms. They do not
typically regard themselves as entering into a "gay marriage."
They are simply getting married. They generally do not differentiate
between a same-sex marriage and an opposite-sex marriage.
Related essays on this web site:
- "AP Stylebook bends to homosexual agenda," 2000-SEP-12. Online at:
- Norm Goldstein et al., "The Associated Press Stylebook,"
Perseus Books, (2000-JUL) Read
reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store American
Bookseller calls it "The bible of the newspaper industry."
Copyright © 1999 to 2007 by Ontario Consultants on Religious
Originally posted: 1999-JUL-25
Latest update: 2007-JUN-06
Author: B.A. Robinson