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The term homosexuality was coined in the late 19th century by a German psychologist Karoly Maria Benkert.

Although the term is new, discussions about sexuality in general, and same-sex attraction in particular, have occasioned philosophical discussion ranging from Plato’s Symposium. However, we still cannot say for sure whether homosexuality, and hence also heterosexuality and bisexuality, is socially constructed or purely driven by biological forces.

I was born this way

Many homosexuals argue that they have not chosen their condition, but that they were born that way. It is making homosexual behavior natural for them. However, because something was not chosen does not mean it was inborn. Some desires are acquired or strengthened by habituation and conditioning instead of by conscious choice of some person. For example, no one chooses to be an alcoholic, but one can become habituated to alcohol, so just as one can acquire alcoholic desires without consciously choosing them, so one may acquire homosexual desires, by engaging in homosexual fantasies or behavior. This could happen even without consciously choosing them. Since sexual desire is subject to a high degree of cognitive conditioning in humans, it would be most unusual if homosexual desires were not subject to a similar degree of cognitive conditioning. Even if there is a genetic predisposition toward homosexuality and studies on this point are inconclusive, the behavior remains unnatural because homosexuality is still not part of the natural design of humanity. It does not make homosexual behavior acceptable. Other behaviors are not rendered acceptable simply because there may be a genetic predisposition toward them. For example, scientific studies suggest some people are born with a hereditary disposition to alcoholism. However, no one would argue someone ought to fulfill these inborn urges by becoming an alcoholic. Alcoholism is not an acceptable lifestyle any more than homosexuality is. 

History of homosexuallity

As has been frequently noted, the ancient Greeks did not have terms or concepts that correspond to the contemporary dichotomy of homosexual and heterosexual. Probably the most frequent assumption of sexual orientation is that persons can respond erotically to beauty in either sex. Laeurtius wrote that in his adolescence he drew away the husbands from their wives, and as a young man the wives from their husbands. Some persons were noted for their exclusive interests in persons of one gender, such as Alexander the Great was known for his exclusive interest in boys and other men. Such persons are generally portrayed as the exception. Even though the gender that one was erotically attracted to was not important, other issues were salient, such as whether one exercised moderation. Status concerns were also of the highest importance, and given that only free men had full status, women and male slaves were not problematic sexual partners. Sex between freemen, on the other hand, was problematic for status. The central distinction in ancient Greek sexual relations was between taking an active or insertive role, versus a passive or penetrated one, where the passive role was acceptable only for inferiors, such as women, slaves, or male youths who were not yet citizens. There is also evidence that penetration was often avoided by having the erastes face his beloved and place his penis between the thighs of the eromenos. This is known as intercrural sex. The relationship was to be temporary and should end upon the boy reaching his adulthood. Ancient Rome had many parallels in its understanding of same-sex attraction and sexual issues more generally to ancient Greece. This is especially true under the Republic. Yet under the Empire, Roman society slowly became more negative in its views towards sexuality. It is probably due to social and economic turmoil, even before Christianity became influential. Their viewpoint was that procreative sex within marriage is allowed, while every other expression of sexuality is sinful. The Church itself started to appeal to a conception of nature as the standard of morality. Church drew it in such a way so as to forbid homosexual sex, as well as extramarital sex, nonprocreative sex within marriage, and often masturbation. This appeal to natural law became very influential in the Western tradition. An important point to note, however, is that the key category here is the sodomite. This word differs from the contemporary idea of homosexual. A sodomite was understood as act-defined, rather than as a type of person and someone who had desires to engage in sodomy, yet did not act upon them, was not a sodomite. Also, persons who engaged in heterosexual sodomy were also sodomites, and there are reports of persons being burned to death or beheaded for sodomy with a spouse. Finally, a person who had engaged in sodomy, yet who had repented of his sin and vowed to never do it again, was no longer sodomite. The gender of one’s partner is again not of decisive importance, although some medieval theologians single out same-sex sodomy as the worst type of sexual crime person could have. For the next several centuries in Europe, the laws against homosexual sex were severe in their penalties although enforcement was episodic. In some regions, decades would pass without any prosecutions at all. At these times, even with the risk of severe punishment, same-sex oriented subcultures would flourish in cities, sometimes only to be suppressed by the authorities.

Natural law

Today natural law theory offers the most common intellectual defense for differential treatment of gays and lesbians, and merits attention. The development of natural law is a long and very complicated story. However, it is reasonable place to begin is with the dialogues of Plato, for this is where some of the central ideas are first articulated, and are immediately applied to the sexual domain. Some other figures played important roles in the development of natural law theory. Aristotle, with his emphasis upon reason as the distinctive human function helped to shape the natural law perspective which says that true law is right reason in agreement with nature. Aristotle, in his approach, did allow for change to occur according to nature, and therefore the way that natural law is embodied could itself change with time. That was an idea Aquinas later incorporated into his own natural law theory. Aristotle did not write extensively about sexual issues, since he was less concerned with the appetites than Plato was. Probably the best reconstruction of his views places him in mainstream Greek society. The main issue is that of active versus a passive role, with only the latter problematic for those who either are or will become citizens. Contrary, Cicero, a later Stoic, was dismissive about sexuality in general, with some harsher remarks towards same-sex pursuits.

Queer theory

With the rise of the gay liberation movement in the post-Stonewall era, overtly gay and lesbian perspectives began to be put forward in politics and philosophy. Initially these often were overtly linked to feminist analyses of patriarchy or other, earlier approaches to theory. There are a number of ways in which queer theory differed from earlier gay liberation theory, but an important initial difference can be gotten at by examining the reasons for opting for the term queer as opposed term to gay and lesbian. Some versions of lesbian theory portrayed the essence of lesbian identity and sexuality in very specific terms. These were non-hierarchical, consensual, and, specifically in terms of sexuality, as not necessarily focused upon genitalia. Lesbians arguing from this framework, for example, could very well criticize natural law theorists as inscribing into the very law of nature, an essentially masculine sexuality, focused upon the genitals, penetration, and the status of the male orgasm. This approach, based upon characterizations of lesbian and gay identity and sexuality, suffered from some difficulties. It appeared even though the goal was to critique a heterosexist regime for its exclusion and marginalization of those whose sexuality is different, any specific or essentialist account of gay or lesbian sexuality had absolutely the same effect.

Conclusion about homosexuallity

The debates about homosexuality, in part because they often involve public policy and legal issues, always tend to be sharply polarized. Those most concerned with homosexuality, positively or negatively, are also those most engaged, with natural law theorists arguing for gays and lesbians having a reduced legal status. In the same time queer theorists engaged in critique and deconstruction of what they see as a heterosexist regime. Yet the two do not talk much to one another, but rather ignore or talk past one another, and there are some theorists in the middle. For example it is Michael Sandel who takes an Aristotelian approach from which he argues that gay and lesbian relationships can realize the same goods that heterosexual relationships do. He largely shares the account of important human goods that natural law theorists have. Yet in his evaluation of the worth of same-sex relationships, he is clearly sympathetic to gay and lesbian concerns. Similarly, Bruce Bawer and Andrew Sullivan have written eloquent defenses of full legal equality for gays and lesbians, including marriage rights. Yet neither argue for any systematic reform of broader American culture or politics, and in this they are essentially conservative. Therefore, rather unsurprisingly, these centrists are attacked from both sides. Sullivan, for example, has been criticized at length both by queer theorists and natural law theorists. Yet as the foregoing also clearly shows, the policy and legal debates surrounding homosexuality involve fundamental issues of morality and justice, where perhaps most centrally of all, they cut to issues of personal identity and self-definition. Hence there is another, and even deeper, set of reasons for the polarization that marks these constant debates.