From the January 1978 issue of the Socialist Standard
The 1967 sexual offences Act decriminalized homosexual acts in England and Wales conducted in “private” (no third person present) between consenting males over 21 with the exception of members of the armed forces, merchant navy or police. Since then several homophile organizations, notably the Campaign for Homosexual Equality (CHE), have campaigned for further reform to “gain the rights and opportunities heterosexuals take for granted”, e.g. lowering the age of consent to 16.
Implementation of CHE’s demands, bringing Britain in line with other European countries like Holland, is a possibility though in June 1977 the House of Lords, fearful of “corruption of youth” and “debasement of morals”, refused a second reading to the Earl of Arran’s Bill seeking to lower the age of consent to 18.
Yet if CHE’s demands are met it must be realized that the securing of such “rights” in no way guarantees liberation from social discrimination. Homosexual liberation, like that of women or black people, requires a change in social structure that cannot be achieved by law reform. The failure of legislation to stop discrimination against both women and black people shows the futility of this when social attitudes are based on myth and prejudice. Furthermore legal rights can be revoked, as was seen in Miami, America last June. Anita Bryant headed a “bible-toting” campaign for a referendum to vote on repealing a bill, passed in January, protecting homosexuals from discrimination in housing and employment. As a result of a two-thirds majority the bill was revoked. One of Bryant’s claims was that a recent drought had been inflicted as punishment by God for increasing tolerance of homosexuals! whilst one of the slogans used by her supporters was “kill a queer for Christ” (Gay News No. 121).
Sex as Sin
Whilst homosexuality appears to be a “natural” aspect of human behaviour, occurring as it does throughout history, hostility to it has only been evident since the development of the Judaeo-Christian religion with its sex-as-sin-except-for-procreation moral code in general and thus its outright condemnation of homosexuality in particular. Despite the decline in formal religious practice, the sexual repressions resulting from religious teaching continue to inhibit most people's sexual attitudes.
This becomes apparent when people object to homosexuality by claiming it is “unnatural”. Sexual behaviour, like most other behaviour, is learnt and dependent upon social custom. Use of such phrases reflects the influence of religious teaching.
And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly. (Romans 1:27. Our emphasis)
Moral codes are not “God-given” but arise out of material conditions in accordance with social needs.
In primitive societies—with dirt, disease and death all round them—the overwhelming need was for people to propagate, reproduce their kind for society to survive. Any habits that impeded or frustrated this end were apt to be disapproved of—sometimes savagely, as in the case of the ferocious Old Testament Jews, exceptionally hard put to it to survive and naturally doubly keen on survival.
(Homosexuals in History. A Study of Ambivalence in Society. Literature and the Arts, A. L. Rowse, 1977, p. 2)
It is this same “sex for procreation only” morality that lies behind Catholic opposition to other sexual issues such as contraception and abortion.
But knowing that religion is the origin of homophobic attitudes does not explain their perpetuation at a time when the idea of “sinfulness” is declining
Psychiatry, which for many has supplanted religion as the definer of what is socially acceptable, has replaced the doctrine of “sin” with the doctrine of “sickness”, since psychiatry developed on the basis of accepting prevailing assumptions. Thus what was illegal (the law itself being a reflection of prevailing moral assumptions), e.g., sodomy, oral-genital contacts, homosexuality, became “neurotic” or “perverted” (Society and the Healthy Homosexual, Dr. George Weinberg, 1975. pp. 23-24). This idea was reinforced by the fact that early investigation depended upon “case-histories” from prisons and mental institutions.
Sociological studies—“intellectual voyeurism” as Altman calls it—also take a moral attitude to homosexuality; for if their definition of deviancy was based merely on “lack of adherence to a statistical norm”, then the sexuality of priests and nuns would also be “deviant behaviour” since their celibacy is even further from the statistical norm than homosexuality. (Homosexual Oppression and Liberation, Dennis Altman, 1974. p.62.).
D. J. West in Homosexuality Re-examined, p. 320, points out that no “single, predominant cause for all cases of homosexual orientation is ever likely to be found”, yet the search for the “cause” continues, revealing the underlying moral attitude of homosexuality as a “problem”. The problem, as Altman notes,
ceases to be of great concern once one is prepared to accept homosexuality as neither a sin nor a pathology but rather as one way of ordering one’s sexual drive, intrinsically no better nor worse than the heterosexual and with the same potential for love and hate, fulfilment or disappointment. (Altman, ibid, p. 19)
But how much does the perpetuation of homophobic attitudes owe to capitalism and will socialism remove them?
Myths about Socialism
For homosexuals, many myths surround the subject of Socialism. Many point to the inconsistency of the left’s claim that Socialism will overcome oppression and evidence to the contrary in “socialist” countries. But confusion is dispelled when it is realised that Socialism does not and never has existed anywhere in the world. Socialism is a world concept like capitalism and could not exist in isolation. Countries that are labelled socialist or communist are based on state capitalism and it is this that the “left” advocate.
In “Gays and the Backlash” (Gay News No. 121) the Socialist Workers’ Party sees the nuclear family as “essential for transmitting the traditional concepts of male authority and female inferiority”. Yet such “concepts” depend on their acceptance and not on familial forms. The view that the nuclear family is the agent of repression implies the need to abolish it. How do the SWP propose to do this? Reform legislation? Nor are the concepts of “male authority and female inferiority” solely responsible for society’s attitude towards homosexuality. The ancient Greeks “extolled both bisexuality and the supremacy of men” while the Arabs have the custom of “addressing love songs to boys because women are regarded as too inferior to be objects of such praise”. (Altman, op. cit., pp. 82-3.).
Capitalism hinders the development of new attitudes in two ways. Firstly, power to exercise personal prejudice is possible with a social system based on private ownership. Gay News, in their submission to the Royal Commission on the Press (issue No. 124), described how it is “virtually impossible for a gay publication to be distributed” if a wholesaler has “very strong views against homosexuality”. This applies also to landlords, employers, newspaper editors, policemen, etc., whose authority derives from private (including state) ownership.
Secondly, capitalism’s profit priority inhibits circulation of ideas. Gay News found that W. H. Smith’s reluctance to handle their publication was due to purely “commercial considerations”, their impression being that there was “no great market for Gay News”.
“Commercial considerations” help to transmit conventional social values via advertising. The article “Gays and the Persuasion Industry” (Gay News No. 123) shows how advertising sells the idea of the desirability of heterosexuality by depicting “the family, role playing and gender identification”. This it does because in selling a product the advertiser appeals to the largest market, that being composed of heterosexuals, since homosexuals comprise only about ten per cent, of the population.
But advertising is necessary in a society where goods are produced for sale. Different attitudes will come not from featuring “gays in one in ten of their ads” but from changing the economic basis of society to one of common ownership where people have free access to goods produced for use not profit, thus making advertising unnecessary. This does not mean homosexuals, or any other minority, have to wait until after the “revolution” before people’s attitudes start changing, as is implied by the left wing.
Revolution in Ideas
A change in people’s attitudes toward minorities will be part of the revolution in ideas that is the necessary prerequisite of Socialism. This is something that the left wing cannot offer. Their ideology is geared to an “enlightened” minority leading the majority. Here they are no different from CHE who, in their pamphlet No offence (Bob Sturgess, 1975. p.2) see parliamentarians as “guardians of liberty”. Implicit in this or the “enlightened minority” idea is the notion that “they knew best”, that they are somehow superior to the rest of us. The Socialist Party of Great Britain rejects this leadership concept for, like the “blind faith” demanded by religion, it requires people to suspend their reasoning ability and replace it with “trusting belief”.
Until people stop putting their faith in leaders and start using their own reasoning abilities, the only liberation that can be expected is “tolerance”, i.e., pity extended to something regrettable, the result of an “ideological position overriding an emotional attitude (of hostility)”. (Altman, ibid., p. 55, our emphasis.)
It is the superficiality of such tolerance, the “smug liberalism” which one left-winger claims can make “life impossible for gay people inside organizations of the left” (The Politics of Homosexuality, Don Milligan, Pluto Press, 1973, p. 15). But the real danger of tolerance within capitalism is that economic frustrations such as housing problems, unemployment, etc., which are the direct outcome of production for profit, can cause the underlying emotional attitude to override the ideological and direct hostility towards scapegoat minorities like homosexuals.
The SPGB, in requiring an understanding of capitalist society, sees through the myths which it perpetuates and recognizes the validity of a homosexual life-style, not from any “moral obligation” but from knowledge gained by rational investigation of facts. The difference between tolerance and acceptance was made clear in the recent interview of Jeremy Thorpe. If the Liberal Party accepted homosexuality rather than “tolerated” it, it would not have mattered whether he had “ever had a homosexual experience”.
It is possible that ideas about homosexuality will change within capitalism but what is evident is that any liberalization will be superficial in character and subject to reversal. Only Socialism can provide a lasting liberation. Though the majority of people are heterosexual they, like the majority of homosexuals, are dependent upon working for a wage or salary in order to live; they are members of the working class whose common interest lies in establishing Socialism regardless of race, sex or sexuality. It is when members of the working class recognize this common interest that they will reject the myths and prejudices that surround homosexuals and other minorities.