Homosexuality, for major part of human history has been considered a taboo; the origins of its condemnation can be traced back to primitive religious beliefs and ancient superstitions. As societies become more advanced and modern, with attendant increase in awareness of the subject, a greater degree of tolerance and understanding of homosexuality is seen these days. Moreover, the issues of gays and lesbians are increasingly being discussed in mainstream culture, even infiltrating political debates. While the practice of homosexuality can be said to belong to popular cultural discourse, gay marriage, in contrast, brings with it a legal angle. While the history of homosexuality goes back several millennia, this aspiration on part of the sexual minorities to gain legal recognition for their same-sex partnerships is a recent phenomenon. This essay will discuss the origins of the taboo associated with homosexuality and how its status as a taboo is being challenged by modern civilization’s ethos.
In primitive human societies, where the lives of people were intricately intertwined with the natural world, the notion of same-sex sexual experience was seen as going against nature. This was understandable, for homosexuality then as is now, is practiced by a small section of the community. In a cultural atmosphere ridden with practices of ritual sacrifice and fears of divine retribution, the sexual minorities were seen as the instigators of divine wrath. They were also marked out as martyrs in sacrificial offerings to gods, believed to please the latter. Such rituals made it difficult for homosexuals to freely and openly express their sexual preferences, while also making it a taboo. To think that the days of ignorance and superstition that contributed the taboo status were over is a mistake. Even in a supposedly liberal and progressive society as that of theUnited States of America, there is still significant resistance to gays and lesbians in their attempts to win legal recognition (Labi, 2007).
A case that illustrates this plight is the church group Dignity, founded in 1969 by gay Catholics inLos Angeles. Dignity provided a much needed source of community support for gays inLos Angeles, until 1986, after which “theVaticanissued a Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons and ordered dioceses to withdraw all support from groups like Dignity”. The following year, Dignity released a polemical reply to the church’s position, arguing that Christianity and homosexuality are not incompatible. Yet, in spite of its earnest protestations, “Dignity was then barred from church facilities in most dioceses and the church continues to hold that homosexuals do not choose their condition, but argues nonetheless that homosexual sex is sinful and that gays and lesbians should seek to lead chaste lives” (Zeller, 2000). Such rigid interpretations of the Bible means that gay relationships will continue to be seen as taboo, at least in societies dominated by religious authority. TheUnited States, while being the economic and military superpower, is also home to a strong contingency of conservative Christians. This condition is the biggest impediment to cultural progress in the country.
Such orthodox views on intimate interpersonal relationships are not confined to Christianity. Almost all religious faiths condemn homosexuality to various degrees. But, the last few decades have seen collective gay-rights activism, not just here in theUnited Statesbut also across the world. As a result of such sustained pressure on the governing authorities gays have succeeded to win some concessions already. For example, gays inVermont
“weighed in with the state legislature as it considered how to implement a December 1999 state supreme court decision that requiredVermontto provide equal benefits and rights to gay couples as to married heterosexuals.Vermontstate lawmakers passed legislation in the spring of 1998, establishing a system of ‘civil unions’ for gay couples, and the state’s Democratic governor, Howard Dean, signed the bill in late April.” (Zeller, 2000)