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 da Vinci, Oscar Wilde, Vita Sackville-West, Alfonsina Storni 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.||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|
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, other ancient and medieval cultures such as the Saxons and Vikings did not engage in this practice openly; therefore, these examples should not be regarded as a general rule for ancient cultures.
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. 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 cancelled after one more season. Immediately afterward, Will & Grace, which ran from 1998 to 2006 on NBC, became the most successful series to date focusing on male-male sexual relationships, as well Showtime's Queer as Folk, running from 2000 to 2005, which was noted for its somewhat frank depiction of gay life, as well as its vivid sex scenes, containing the first simulated explicit sex scene between two men shown on American television.
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.
State protections and prohibitions regarding (romantic or sexual) same-sex couples vary by jurisdiction. In some locations, same-sex couples are extended full marriage rights just as opposite-sex couples, and in other locations they may be extended limited protections or none at all. Policy also varies regarding the adoption of children by same-sex couples.
Government recognition of same-sex marriage is presently available in seven countries and five U.S. states and the federal district. 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, Sweden, and the U.S. states of Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont, New Hampshire, and the District of Columbia. 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, New Zealand and Uruguay, have enacted laws allowing civil unions or registered partnerships, designed to give gay couples similar rights as married couples concerning legal issues such as inheritance and immigration.
Apart from the five states providing same-sex marriage, 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), the District of Columbia (2002), New Jersey (2007), Oregon (2008), New Hampshire (2008), Washington State (2007/2008/2009) and Nevada (2009). States in the U.S. with domestic partnerships or similar status granting some of the rights of marriage include Hawaii (1997), Maine (2004), Maryland (2008), Colorado (2009) and Wisconsin (2009).
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.
Types of relationships vary from one couple to the next. As in heterosexual relationships, some same-sex relationships are meant to be temporary, casual, or anonymous sex. Other relationships are more permanent, being in committed relationship with one another and not having sexual relationships with anyone else. Some are open relationships, and while committed to each other, allow themselves and their partner to have relationships with others. While other couples may be in secret, whether because of family upbringing, religion, pressure from friends/family, and other reasons.
The names of legal same-sex relationships vary depending on the laws of the land. Same-sex relationships may be legally recognized in the form of marriage, civil unions, domestic partnerships, or registered partnerships.
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).
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) refers to men who engage in sexual activity with other men, regardless of how they identify themselves; many choose not to accept social identities of gay or bisexual. The term was created in the 1990s by epidemiologists in order to study the spread of disease among men who have sex with men, regardless of identity. As a risk category, MSM are not limited to small, self-identified, and visible sub-populations. MSM and gay refer to different things: behaviors and social identities. MSM refers to sexual activities between men, regardless of how they identify whereas gay can include those activities but is more broadly seen as a cultural identity. MSM is often used in medical literature and social research to describe such men as a group for clinical study without considering issues of self-identification.
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. Sex between males can include mutual masturbation, frot, intercrural sex, oral sex and anal sex. All human sexual behavior that involves contact with the bodily fluids of another person is considered to have some risk of transmission of sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Although the likelihood of transmitting infection varies a great deal by activity, in general all sexual activities between two (or more) people is considered a two-way route for the transmission of STIs; "giving" or "receiving" are both risky, although receiving carries a higher risk. Safe Sex immensely reduces the risk of STI/STD infections. Condoms, particularly latex, greatly reduce the risk of getting or passing on many STDs (including HIV) in either anal or oral sex.
Women who have sex with women (WSW) is a term used to identify women who have sex with other women, but may or may not self-identify as lesbian or bisexual. The term includes transwomen (transgender women). Sex between two females can include tribadism and frottage, mutual masturbation, cunnilingus, and the use of sex toys for vaginal or oral penetration or clitoral stimulation. 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. 93% of all people reported in the 2006 General Social Survey that they'd had between 0 and 5 partners in the past 5 years.
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".