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Gay Equality

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Despite all the stunning breakthroughs of science, researchers still haven't found a cause of homosexuality. Various theories -- that it arises from a weak father and strong mother -- or from variations in the hypothalamus -- or from DNA differences -- remain unverified. The American Psychological Association says:

"There is no consensus among scientists about the exact reasons that an individual develops a heterosexual, bisexual, gay, or lesbian orientation. Although much research has examined the possible genetic, hormonal, developmental, social, and cultural influences on sexual orientation, no findings have emerged that permit scientists to conclude that sexual orientation is determined by any particular factor or factors. Many think that nature and nurture both play complex roles; most people experience little or no sense of choice about their sexual orientation."

That last line -- "little or no sense of choice" -- is crucial. It means that gays have no control over their orientation, and cannot be blamed for it. Puritanical fundamentalists constantly claim that same-sex inclination is evil, and that gays "choose" it. This claim is absurd. Nobody would choose to be an outcast, despised by mainstream society, taunted and ridiculed, even sometimes attacked physically or murdered.

All that can be said with certainty is that a small percentage of humanity (scientists cannot even find the correct ratio) seem to be born with an orientation different from the majority. The condition is baffling to most "straights". Since they cannot understand it, some heterosexuals feel hostility or revulsion or contempt for gays. But that's shallow. When you don't understand something, it's best to avoid harsh judgment. "Straights" simply should accept gays as part of society, and give them opportunity to fashion the best lives possible for themselves.

When I was a young news reporter in the 1950s -- back when prison terms awaited any gays who were caught -- I secretly interviewed a West Virginia State University professor who privately acknowledged his orientation. He said "the mark of sorrow" was upon him and his clandestine colleagues, and they could do nothing about it. I printed his story, with his identity concealed.

The mark of sorrow has cursed gays since prehistoric time. Not only the Bible but also other moral codes targeted them for death.

In the year 390, early Christian emperor Theodosius I mandated that gay men must be burned alive. After Islam arose, Caliph Al-Hadi decreed death to gays in 786. Through the Middle Ages, various European countries executed gays. Knight Richard von Hohenberg and his squire were burned at the stake as a pair of lovers in 1482 at Zurich. In France, writer Jacques Chausson was burned in 1661 for attempting to seduce the son of a nobleman. England's Buggery Act of 1534 mandated death, and the penalty remained in effect until 1861, with the last execution in 1835.

Gradually, liberal tolerance began to reduce the terrible vengeance inflicted on gays in western civilization -- but much of the Islamic world and Africa haven't relented. During the 1970s, many American states quietly replaced their old "sodomy" laws with 'sex offender" statutes, and gay sex no longer was a crime. However, a few conservative states still prosecuted "sodomites". That ended in 2003 when the Supreme Court ruled in Lawrence v. Texas that lovemaking between consenting adult same-sex pairs isn't illegal.

However, seventy-five nations around the world still criminalize gay sex, and ten mandate death. Reports said Iran executed more than four thousand for homosexuality after the Ayatollah Khomeini created a cruel theocracy in 1979. The Washington Post recently listed these other nine Islamic or half-Islamic countries that kill gays, mostly under Sharia law: Iraq, Mauritania, Nigeria, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, United Arab Emirates and Yemen.

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In America, amazingly rapid acceptance of gays snowballed in the 21st century. At first, a few states legalized "civil unions" giving homosexual pairs some legal protections of marriage. Then a crusade for complete gay wedlock stampeded. A few states and federal court rulings authorized it. Young Americans generally accepted the notion.

Fundamentalists, Catholics and conservatives howled in protest. Republican presidential candidate and evangelist Mike Huckabee declared in a West Virginia speech that allowing gays to marry would lead to wedlock between people and animals.

After hesitating, President Obama endorsed gay marriage. In 2015, the Supreme Court ruled in Obergefell v. Hodges that gays are entitled to marry, just as heterosexuals are. Five liberal justices concluded that equal treatment is required by the large motto over the Supreme Court building in Washington: "Equal Justice Under Law." Four conservative justices protested, but they lost.

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James A. Haught is editor emeritus of West Virginia's largest newspaper, The Charleston Gazette-Mail.  Mr. Haught has won two dozen national news writing awards. He has written 12 books and hundreds of magazine essays and blog posts. Around 450 of his essays are online. He is a senior editor of Free Inquiry magazine, a weekly blogger at Daylight Atheism, (more...)
 

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