The term same-sex relationship may be used when the sexual orientation of participants in a same-sex relationship is not known. As bisexual or pansexual people may participate in same-sex relationships, some activists claim that referring to a same-sex relationship as a "gay relationship" or a "lesbian relationship" is a form of bisexual erasure. The term same-sex marriage is used similarly.
The lives of many historical figures, including Socrates, Alexander the Great, Lord Byron, Edward II, Hadrian, Julius Caesar, Michelangelo, Donatello, Leonardo DaVinci, and Christopher Marlowe included or were centered upon love and sexual relationships with people of their own sex. Terms such as gay or bisexual have been often applied to them; some, such as Michel Foucault, regard this as risking the anachronistic introduction of a contemporary construction of sexuality foreign to their times, though others challenge this.
Scholars who investigate the various forms that same-sex relationships have taken in different societies, and look for patterns as well as differences, group these socio-historical variations into three separate categories:
|Egalitarian||Features two partners with no relevance to age. Additionally, both play the same socially accepted sex role as heterosexuals of their own sex. This is exemplified by relationships currently prevalent in Western society between partners of similar age and sex.||Sexuality and gender identity-based cultures|
|Gender-structured||Features each partner playing a different gender role. This is exemplified by traditional relations between men in the Mediterranean Basin, the Middle East and Central and South Asia, as well as Two-Spirit or shamanic gender-changing practices seen in native societies. In North America, this is best represented by the butch–femme practice.||Homosexuality and Islam, Two-Spirit, and Hijra|
|Age-structured||Features partners of different ages, usually one adolescent and the other adult. This is exemplified by pederasty among the Classical Greeks or those engaged in by novice samurai with more experienced warriors; southern Chinese boy marriage rites; and ongoing Central Asian and Middle Eastern practices.||Shudo, Pederasty, Historical pederastic couples, and Homosexuality in China|
Usually in any society one form of same-sex relationship predominates, though others are likely to co-exist. As historian Rictor Norton points out in his Intergenerational and Egalitarian Models, in ancient Greece egalitarian relationships co-existed (albeit less privileged) with the institution of pederasty, and fascination with adolescents can also be found in modern sexuality, both opposite-sex and same-sex. Egalitarian same-sex relationships is the principal form present in the Western world, while age- and gender-structured same-sex relationships are less common. As a byproduct of growing Western cultural dominance, this form is spreading from Western culture to non-Western societies, although there are still defined differences between the various cultures.
A few ancient and medieval societies, such as Greece and Japan, fostered erotic love bonds between experienced warriors and their apprentices. It was believed that a man and youth who were in love with each other would fight harder and with greater morale. A classic example of a military force built upon this belief is the Sacred Band of Thebes. However, most ancient and medieval cultures such as the Saxons and Vikings did not engage in this practice openly, and these examples must be regarded as isolated.
The adoption of Christianity by the Roman Emperor Constantine in the fourth century and subsequent predominance of Christianity led to a diminished emphasis on erotic love among military forces. By the time of the Crusades, the military of Europe was asserting that carnal relations between males were sinful and therefore had no place in an army that served their perception of God's will. One reason that the Knights Templar, a prominent military order, was destroyed was through accusations of sodomy; these allegations were probably fabricated, however.
The record of same-sex love has been preserved through literature and art. Male homoerotic sensibilities are visible in the foundations of art in the West, to the extent that those roots can be traced back to the ancient Greeks. Homer's Iliad is considered to have the love between two men as its central feature, a view held since antiquity. Plato's Symposium also gives readers commentary on the subject, at one point putting forth the claim that male-male love is superior to male-female love.
The European tradition of homoeroticism was continued in the works of artists and writers such as Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo and Shakespeare. Since the Renaissance, both male and female homoeroticism has remained a common, if subtle and hidden, theme in the visual arts of the West.
In Islamic societies homoeroticism was present in the work of such writers as Abu Nuwas and Omar Khayyam. A large corpus of literature, numbering in the hundreds of works, fostered the shudo tradition in Japan, together with a widespread tradition of homoerotic shunga art.
In the Chinese literary tradition, works such as Bian er Zhai and Jin Ping Mei survived the many purges to record the homoerotic climate of their time. Today, the Japanese anime subgenre yaoi centers on gay youths. Japan is unusual in that the culture's male homoerotic art has typically been the work of female artists addressing a female audience, mirroring the case of lesbian eroticism in western art.
In the twentieth century, entertainers such as Noel Coward, Madonna, k.d. lang, and David Bowie have brought homoeroticism into the field of western popular music. It is through these and other modern songwriters and poets that female homoerotic work by women, rather than erotic art by men with lesbian themes, has had its greatest cultural impact in the West since the ancient Greek poet Sappho.
In the 1990s, a number of American television comedies began to feature themes on same-sex relationships and characters who expressed same-sex attractions. The 1997 coming-out of comedian Ellen DeGeneres on her show Ellen was front-page news in America and brought the show its highest ratings. However, public interest in the show swiftly declined after this, and the show was canceled after one more season. Immediately afterward, Will & Grace, which ran from 1998 to 2005 on NBC, became the most successful series to date focusing on male-male sexual relationships.
Playwrights have penned such popular homoerotic works as Tennessee Williams's Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Tony Kushner's Angels in America. Same-sex relationships have also been a frequent theme in Broadway musicals, such as A Chorus Line and Rent. In 2005, the film Brokeback Mountain was a financial and critical success internationally. Unlike most same-sex couples in film, both the film's lovers were traditionally masculine and married. The movie's success was considered a milestone in the public acceptance of the American gay rights movement.
Government recognition of same-sex marriage is presently available in seven countries and two U.S. states. The Netherlands was the first country to authorize same-sex marriage in 2001 and they are now also recognized in Belgium, Canada, South Africa, Spain, Norway, United Kingdom and the U.S. states of Massachusetts, California and Iowa, though Iowa's issuance of marriage licenses is on hold until a Supreme Court appeal is heard. The states of New York, Rhode Island and New Mexico do not allow same-sex marriages to be performed, but do recognize such marriages performed elsewhere. Israel's High Court of Justice ruled to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other countries, although it is still illegal to perform them within the country.
Other countries, including the majority of European nations, have enacted laws allowing civil unions, designed to give gay couples similar rights as married couples concerning legal issues such as inheritance and immigration. Most Scandinavian countries (Denmark, Sweden, Iceland, Finland, with the sole exception of the Faroe Islands) have enacted civil union laws.
Jurisdictions in the U.S. that offer civil unions or domestic partnerships granting nearly all of the state-recognized rights of marriage to same-sex couples include California (2000), Vermont (2000), Connecticut (2005), New Jersey (2006), Oregon (2007), and New Hampshire (2008). States in the U.S. with domestic partnerships or similar status granting some of the rights of marriage include Hawaii (1996), Maine (1999), Washington (2007), as well as the District of Columbia (Washington, DC) (2001).
Many same-sex couples are parents, often by way of adoption, donor insemination, foster parenting, or surrogacy. In the 2000 U.S. Census, 33 percent of female same-sex couple households and 22 percent of male same-sex couple households reported at least one child under the age of 18 living in the home. In January 2008, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that same-sex couples have the right to adopt a child.
Same-sex couples are supported by the positions of a number of organizations, including the American Psychological Association, the Child Welfare League of America, the American Bar Association, the American Psychiatric Association, the National Association of Social Workers, the North American Council on Adoptable Children, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Psychoanalytic Association, and the American Academy of Family Physicians.
The American Psychological Association has stated that:
there is no scientific evidence that parenting effectiveness is related to parental sexual orientation: lesbian and gay parents are as likely as heterosexual parents to provide supportive and healthy environments for their children…research has shown that the adjustment, development, and psychological well-being of children is unrelated to parental sexual orientation and that the children of lesbian and gay parents are as likely as those of heterosexual parents to flourish….Children's Development of Social Competence Across Family Types, a major report prepared by the Department of Justice (Canada) in July 2006 but not released by the government until forced to do so by a request under the Access to Information Act in May 2007, reaches this conclusion:
The strongest conclusion that can be drawn from the empirical literature is that the vast majority of studies show that children living with two mothers and children living with a mother and father have the same levels of social competence. A few studies suggest that children with two lesbian mothers may have marginally better social competence than children in traditional nuclear families, even fewer studies show the opposite, and most studies fail to find any differences. The very limited body of research on children with two gay fathers supports this same conclusion.
The names of legal same-sex relationships vary depending on the laws of the land. Same-sex relationships may be legally recognized as gender-neutral marriage, same-gender marriage, same-sex marriage, civil union, domestic partnership, or registered partnership.
Equally, not all people with a bisexual or homosexual orientation seek same-sex relationships. According to a 1990 study of The Social Organization of Sexuality, out of 131 women and 108 men who self-reported same-sex attraction, only 43 men (40%) and 42 women (32%) had participated in gay sex. In comparison, a survey by the Family Pride Coalition showed that 50% of gay men had fathered children and 75% of lesbians had children, and even more have had straight sex without having children.
A sodomy law is a law that defines certain sexual acts as sex crimes. The precise sexual acts meant by the term sodomy are rarely spelled out in the law, but is typically understood by courts to include any sexual act which does not lead to procreation. Furthermore, Sodomy has many synonyms: buggery, crime against nature, unnatural act, deviant sexual intercourse. It also has a range of similar euphemisms. While in theory this may include heterosexual oral sex, anal sex, masturbation, and bestiality, in practice such laws are primarily enforced against sex between men (particularly anal sex). In the United States, 47 out of 50 states had repealed any specifically anti-homosexual-conduct laws when the Supreme Court invalidated all sodomy laws in Lawrence v. Texas. Some other countries criminalize homosexual acts. In some Muslim nations (such as Iran) and African countries it remains a capital crime. In a highly publicized case, two male teenagers, Mahmoud Asgari and Ayaz Marhoni, were hanged in Iran in 2005 reportedly because they had been caught having sex with each other.
Men who have sex with men (MSM) is a classification of men who engage in sex with other men, regardless of whether they identify themselves as homosexual/gay, bisexual, or heterosexual. The term is intended to reference a particular category of people as a risk-group for HIV, and is considered a behavioral category. Sex between two males can include mutual masturbation, frot, intercrural sex, oral sex and anal sex. As with any sexual relationship, people may begin with various forms of foreplay such as fondling, caressing, and kissing, and may or may not experiment with other practices, as they see fit. Men who have male partners tend to have more sexual partners overall. A 1990 study of The Social Organization of Sexuality, showed that men who had at least one male sexual partner in the previous 5 years had an average of 16.7 sexual partners during that time period, while men who only had sex with women had an average of 4.8 sexual partners during that time. A 2004 study showed the number of partners for MSM dropped to 13.4 partners per year.
They are more likely to get HIV in the modern West, in Japan, India, and Taiwan than men who don't. In the modern west, they are more likely to have casual sex and unprotected sex, putting them at higher risk for HIV transmission than others in their own cultures. They are also less likely receive services aimed to reduce HIV transmission-risk behaviors. This can lead to the rapid transmission of HIV among small clusters of gay men. In 2006, 62% of American males with AIDS got it through sexual contact with other men. This compares to 13% of American males who get AIDS from sexual contact with a female who is known to have, or is at high risk for, HIV infection. However, HIV infection is increasing at a rate of 12 percent annually among 13 to 24 year old American men who have sex with men.
Men who have sex with men are 17 times more likely to develop anal cancer than heterosexual men, probably due to a higher risk of Human papillomavirus. Many people become infected with HPV soon after becoming sexually active.
Partially because of increased risk for STDs, they are often prohibited from donating blood or tissue for transplantation. Restrictions on donors are often called "deferrals" since in some cases blood donors who are found ineligible may be accepted at a later date.
Religions have had differing views about love and sexual relations between people of the same sex. Presently, a large proportion of the Abrahamic sects view sexual relationships outside of a heterosexual marriage, including sex between same-sex partners, negatively, though there are groups within each faith that disagree with orthodox positions and challenge their doctrinal authority. Opposition to homosexual behavior ranges from quietly discouraging displays and activities to those who explicitly forbid same-sex sexual practices among adherents and actively oppose social acceptance of homosexual relationships. Support of homosexual behavior is reflected in the acceptance of sexually heterodox individuals in all functions of the church, and sanctification of same-sex unions.
Some churches have changed their doctrine to accommodate same-sex relationships. Reform Judaism, the largest branch of Judaism outside Israel has begun to facilitate religious same-sex marriages for adherents in their synagogues. Jewish Theological Seminary, considered to be the flagship institution of Conservative Judaism, decided in March 2007 to begin accepting applicants in same-sex relationships, after scholars who guide the movement lifted the ban on ordaining people in same-sexrelationships. In 2005, the United Church of Christ became the largest Christian denomination in the United States to formally endorse same-sex marriage.
On the other hand, the Anglican Communion encountered discord that caused a rift between the African (except Southern Africa) and Asian Anglican churches on the one hand and North American churches on the other when American and Canadian churches openly ordained clergy in same-sex relations and began blessing same-sex unions. Other churches such as the Methodist Church had experienced trials of clergy in same-sex relations who some claimed were a violation of religious principles resulting in mixed verdicts dependent on geography.
Some religious groups have even promoted boycotts of corporations whose policies support the same-sex relations. In early 2005, the American Family Association threatened a boycott of Ford products to protest Ford's perceived support of "the homosexual agenda and homosexual marriage".