posted on Jun, 20 2006 @ 04:30 PM
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Modern attitudes toward homosexuality have religious, legal, and medical underpinnings. Before the High Middle Ages, homosexual acts appear to have
been widely tolerated or ignored by the Christian church throughout Europe. Beginning in the latter twelfth century, however, hostility toward
homosexuality began to take root, and eventually spread throughout European religious and secular institutions. Condemnation of homosexual behavior as
"unnatural," which received official expression in the writings of Thomas Aquinas and others, became widespread and has continued through the
present day (Boswell, 1980). [Bibliographic references are on a different web page]
Religious teachings soon were incorporated into legal sanctions. Many of the early American colonies, for example, enacted stiff criminal penalties
for sodomy (which the statutes often described only in Latin or with oblique phrases such as "wickedness not to be named"). In some places, such as
the New Haven colony, male and female homosexual acts were punishable by death (e.g., Katz, 1976).
By the end of the 19th century, medicine and psychiatry were effectively competing with religion and the law for jurisdiction over sexuality. As a
consequence, discourse about homosexuality expanded from the realms of sin and crime to include that of pathology. This historical shift was generally
considered progressive because a sick person was less blameful than a sinner or criminal (e.g., Chauncey, 1982/1983; D'Emilio & Freedman, 1988;
Duberman, Vicinus, & Chauncey, 1989).
Even within medicine and psychiatry, however, homosexuality was not universally viewed as a pathology. Richard von Kraft-Ebing described it as a
degenerative sickness in his Psychopathia Sexualis, but Sigmund Freud and Havelock Ellis both adopted more accepting stances. Early in the twentieth
century, Ellis (1901) argued that homosexuality was inborn and therefore not immoral, that it was not a disease, and that many homosexuals made
outstanding contributions to society (Robinson, 1976).
Sigmund Freud Sigmund Freud's basic theory of human sexuality was different from that of Ellis. He felt that all human beings were innately
bisexual, and that they become heterosexual or homosexual as a result of their experiences with parents and others (Freud, 1905). Nevertheless, Freud
agreed with Ellis that a homosexual orientation should not be viewed as a form of pathology. In a now-famous letter to an American mother in 1935,
"Homosexuality is assuredly no advantage, but it is nothing to be ashamed of, no vice, no degradation, it cannot be classified as an illness; we
consider it to be a variation of the sexual function produced by a certain arrest of sexual development. Many highly respectable individuals of
ancient and modern times have been homosexuals, several of the greatest men among them (Plato, Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, etc.). It is a great
injustice to persecute homosexuality as a crime, and cruelty too....
"If [your son] is unhappy, neurotic, torn by conflicts, inhibited in his social life, analysis may bring him harmony, peace of mind, full efficiency
whether he remains a homosexual or gets changed...." (reprinted in Jones, 1957, pp. 208-209, from the American Journal of Psychiatry, 1951, 107,