What do People REALLY Have Against Same-Sex Marriage?
Last week, an interracial couple were refused a wedding by an events company in a Southern US state. This comes on the back of increasing recent coverage featuring gay and queer couples who have been turned away for everything from hotels to birthday and wedding cakes by business owners claiming that their faith, or their upbringing, prevents them from supporting same-sex relationships. This is itself a result of the strengthening of the laws protecting religious freedom – or, more accurately, the freedom to discriminate on religious grounds.
But why? Can it be true that the victimization of one group is entirely religious in nature? Where does same-sex prejudice really come from?
We have the sense today that homosexuality has always been suppressed. But that might not be the whole truth, and the term ‘homophobia’ only began to gain acceptance in the 60s. (The first time it appeared in Time magazine was 1969.) The violent suppression of the gay community only really began explicitly in the Early Middle Ages, specifically in the 13th Century, at a time when Christianity and Islam had started a kind of ultra-conservative competition, a fundamentalist arms race to test which of the major religions was the MOST religious.
It’s from this ugly broth of religious zealotry that Europe and the Middle East began looking to the Old Testament for the most extreme interpretations they could find that would demonstrate they were the closest to God.
A lot of those interpretations are simply invented, with very little scriptural support. There are only 6 passages in the Old Testament that you could even infer make reference to homosexuality, and only one of those is explicit (Leviticus 18:22, says “Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination”). Jesus is conspicuously silent on the subject, and there’s no mention whatsoever in any of the Big Three holy books of sex between women.
Pre-modern Islam, in the first couple of centuries after the Quran was established, was relatively tolerant with regards. A lot of early Islamic poetry actively cultivated homoerotic imagery – in fact, like the classical Greeks and Romans, it was anticipated that men would be attracted both to women and adolescent boys. The conclusion of Islamic scholars who interpreted the ancient writings was that homosexuality and alcohol were forbidden in this life, but would be enjoyed in the afterlife. The 8th Century poet Abu Nawas describes an element of Paradise like this:
A beautiful lad came carrying the wine
With smooth hands and fingers dyed with henna
And with long hair of golden curls around his cheeks …
I have a lad who is like the beautiful lads of paradise
And his eyes are big and beautiful
The most famous instance of Biblical homophobia comes from the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, in which God razes the city and its inhabitants based on their illicit sexual desires. Gay sex is perhaps alluded to, but it’s open for interpretation. ‘Sodomy’ today has very strong associations with anal sex between men, but that’s a 19th Century invention. It really refers to the much broader sense of ‘fornication’: that’s simply sex for pleasure. And besides, there’s evidence to suggest that this particular story was amended at a much later date to reflect changing cultural attitudes, and the Islamic laws, the hadith, were retrofitted at around the time of the early crusades to fit Mohammed’s original writing, or vice versa.
It’s not fair to blame the Old Testament for homophobic prejudice. Everywhere Biblical faith took hold, it simply overlaid its teachings over existing ones during the conversion of local communities – it’s easier to rename existing deities and rituals with an invading one than it is to overthrow an older order entirely.
(Just a momentary diversion: this is how missionaries still operate today. During the Christianization of Papa New Guinea, the tropical climate was not conducive to the raising of sheep, and as such, none of the natives had ever seen one. The Christian missionaries, then, had to find a way to communicate the same concept in a way the locals could relate to, and settled on the animal most valued by the community: pigs. That meant that at any point in the Bible that referred to lamb or sheep, it had to be translated to ‘swine,’ leaving the missionaries in the singularly difficult position of having to refer to Jesus as ‘the swine of God.’)
In the case of the Old Testament, the cultures it was replacing were heavily centered on incredibly ancient Neolithic fertility rituals. At a time when pregnancy and childbirth were very dangerous, it’s easy to understand how sex would become cultic in nature, and sex for pleasure might be seen as an affront to the aeons-old fertility deities. Christianity, Judaism and Islam simply codified it, and over the centuries, those rituals manifested themselves as homophobia, and a belief that sex between a man and a woman is sacred. If this is even partially accurate, then it’s likely that gay communities across the world are fighting millennia of sexual stigma, not just centuries.
If you’re skeptical that a collective cultural memory can survive thousands of years of change and modulation to the current day, let me ask you this: what do you imagine God to look like? Let me guess – an aging man in a toga with a white beard, clouds, harps, that kind of thing, right? That’s Zeus. The modern image we still retain for the Judeo-Christian deity is the 2,500-year-old Greek god Zeus. To hammer the point home, the Latin word ‘deus,’ for ‘god,’ is a direct continuation of the name ‘Zeus.’
When it comes to religion, the most ancient habits die the hardest. That’s why the conventions around family, fertility and sex are amongst the most contentious in our society: because they’re the oldest.
A recent study of over a thousand Americans, 27% of whom were opposed to same-sex marriage, concluded that 47% considered gay people to be more promiscuous. This means that, even among the group in favor of same-sex relationships, that was a prevalent sense that gay people have more one-night stands and have more sex for pleasure than heterosexual couples.
Even if this was true, why is promiscuity such an issue today?
Sex is the reason. Not love, not family unity. When someone turns away a gay couple for a wedding, the reason is rarely the nature of the bond between the couple, the reason is that the perception of sexual promiscuity is inherently threatening to those who believe in the sanctity of marriage – regardless even of politics or the strength of their religious faith. It all comes down to sex.
Opposition to same-sex marriage may be a strategy employed by people of a more conservative inclination who feel a need to protect their marriages, to protect the perceived sanctity of monogamy, and to defend their community, most of whom are likely of a similar mind. Because the gay community has an association with promiscuity, rightly or wrongly, the idea of same-sex marriage undermines the traditional institution of marriage as taught to them by thousands of years of increasingly codified fertility rituals.
The only way to combat this attitude is slowly, and with patience. Conservative-leaning people need to be educated on one single, inalienable fact: the way two people love each other is not a threat to the way any other couple love each other.
With 16 years in the adult industry, including many years at LELO, it’s fair to say Stu has been around the sex toy block a few times. As LELO’s resident sex geek, he’s been featured in the Independent, the Guardian, HuffPost, Vice, Cosmopolitan, and anywhere people talk about sex. Here on Volonte, he turns his spotlight onto the important events affecting sex right now in a regular op-ed. Views are his own.