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The notion that homosexuality can or should be "cured" is a matter of dispute. In the past 20 years, a number of psychoanalysts have reported limited success with patients who wanted to become heterosexual, but many psychiatrists and sex researchers are dubious about the reported changes.
The results of behavioral therapy to change homosexuals are even more controversial. One common method: to expose male gays to electric shocks or nauseating drugs while pictures of nude men are shown.
Such attempts seem to be going out of fashion. The emphasis now is on helping troubled homosexuals to function well as gays. A number of clinics have sprung up for that purpose. Homosexual "marriage" counseling, for example, addresses itself to problems such as which partner should be dominant in the relationship.
Part of the reason that psychiatry seems less and less interested in helping homosexuals go straight is that so few of them want to, and it is no longer widely seen as the enlightened thing to do. Another reason is that the causes of homosexuality are notoriously obscure. The familiar late-Freudian explanations ("Smother mother," weak or hostile father) fit many male homosexuals—but by no means all. Though some argue that they "were born this way," so far, attempts to find a biological or genetic cause of homosexuality have failed.
Religion: Still a Sin
The reigning theory among sex researchers is that homosexuality, like heterosexuality, is "learned behavior"—the product of subtle interaction between a child and the significant people around him. Only birds and lower mammals are rigidly programmed to mate with the opposite sex. The higher one goes on the mammalian scale, the more the organism is under the sway of learning rather than inherited factors. But that does not really explain anything either. Scientists do not yet know how an individual creates a heterosexual or homosexual value system.
Thus psychiatry and to a lesser extent the law have both heeded the new gay pleas for tolerance. Society in general remains hostile out of the conviction that its own way of life is mocked or threatened by homosexuality. This view is strongly influenced by Christianity and Judaism, which have traditionally taught that homosexuality is unnatural and its practice sinful. Though all the major churches and branches of Judaism have increasingly come to recognize that the homosexual's dilemma is a matter for pastoral care and understanding, they continue to refuse to ordain avowed homosexuals (with the exception of the United Church of Christ, which has ordained one openly gay minister).
But in many denominations, small groups—usually a coalition of liberals, gays, women and youths—are pressing for full acceptance of gays. Says the Rev. Tom Oddo, national chaplain to Dignity, an organization of Catholic gays and their sympathizers: "Listening to these people and feeling the pain of their lives, you can't help but be concerned. They have been hit with all kinds of guilt that they are condemned by God." Dignity plans to present its views at the November meeting of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops. When the United Methodist Church's Council on Youth Ministries announced a drive to persuade next year's general church conference to