Digest of terms


sexual affection and activity between two people of the same gender. It is remarked on by cultural historians and anthropologists as not uncommon, though less frequent or 'normal' than heterosexuality. Understanding of the genetic givenness of homosexuality is only a recent development. More often than not it has been opposed in religious and cultural traditions. This is especially true in the Judeo-Christian tradition, most especially in texts from the Hebrew Bible, and the proscription has applied to both men and women. Since in Roman Catholic teaching sexual activity is only acceptable with procreative intent, there is little public flexibility in this regard. There has been more within Reform Judaism and on the part of Liberal Protestants. The extensive Orthodox inheritance goes some way, but not entirely, towards explaining the extent and strength of both the negative teaching and treatment of homosexuals in Russia. Within Islam, homosexual activity is similarly regarded as sinful, less so between women where no penetration is recorded. Within Hinduism there is considerable variation, with stricter proscription applying to those from higher castes, yet in the Kama Sutra homosexual acts are treated as to be enjoyed. Within Buddhism the teaching relates more generally to all sexual activity as pertaining to stage of individual development, though homosexual relations are known to exist in the monastic order.

Impulses towards increasing moral tolerance and acceptance of homosexuality emerged in modern secular humanist ethics and in liberal religious circles, illegal homosexual relations coming to be seen as a 'victimless crime' because, it came to be thought, morally harmless (liberty limiting principles). Scientific discoveries relating to gender determination further reinforced moves towards dramatic changes in legal permissibility of homosexuality, extending increasingly to approval of civil partnerships and in some cases also to marriage. Legal provision is sometimes also made for the adoption of children by homosexual partners. The issue of the moral acceptability of sexual acts between homosexual partners is now dividing individual Christians and churches, both within and between nations. In Nigeria and several other African countries the opposition is punitive, in the Church of Scotland there is acceptance of ministers in such consensual partnerships.

A separate but related moral debate from within both religious and non-religious world views has to do with sexual promiscuity. Here the debate ranges between advocates of free sex and those who would treasure it as the preserve of particular couples. On the former view, all sexual activity is good provided it is being enjoyed by all participants, and with no risk of harm. On the latter, the principle is asserted that it should only be between monogamous lifelong partners, whether hetero- or homo-sexual.

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