Not So Straight

An Information and Referral Website for Young People

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Frequently Asked Questions - About Religion

It's against my religion - Religions and their attitudes to homosexuality and sexuality

Within almost every religion there are a growing number of people who are reconciling their worship to welcome and affirm people of all sexual orientations. The information below examines some of the teachings of the traditional religious views. These may vary from one denomination to the next. Most denominations also have groups for gay and lesbian members, although the leaders of the faith may not sanction many of these groups.

We will endeavour to present information here about the views on homosexuality of Australia’s five major religions being Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Judaism and Hinduism.

Christianity

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, Christianity is by far the most practiced religion in Australia. Christianity is further divided by many denominations such as Anglican, Catholic and the Uniting Church and many smaller sects and denominations.

Within the Christian church there exists a wide diversity of opinions on the question of homosexuality. While nearly all agree with the need to accept homosexual persons, there is no agreement regarding how to regard homosexual behaviour - what is its moral status, or place in the "order of creation"?

What this shows is that when it comes to reflecting biblically on the issue of homosexuality, there is no easy consensus. Not only do we come to the issue from varying standpoints but we also bring different ways of interpreting scriptures. Some of these differences are fundamental and reflect divisions within the churches. It is, therefore, important to respect these differences. We may, for instance, believe that someone is not interpreting scripture correctly, but the fact is that is where they stand at that point of time. Although it is important to listen to their point of view, we do not have to agree.

One thing is clear; the Bible is not a kind of rulebook we can consult when we want a ruling on an issue like homosexuality. For this reason dependence for insight on selected texts alone ignores the fact that the Bible is to be read as a whole.

Also the Bible has been traditionally interpreted from a heterosexual bias. That is, interpreters have assumed heterosexuality is the norm. Asian Christians complain that the Bible has also been interpreted from the bias of white Europeans. They now read the Bible from their own situation.

Does this mean that homosexual Christians may see the Bible with different perspectives?

Islam

There is no doubt that in Islam homosexuality is considered 'sinful'. Homosexuality as far as Islam is concerned is a profound mistake (as are all sins if they are not intending to do wrong). Islam believes that humans are not homosexual by nature and that people become homosexuals because of their environments.

The Holy Koran and Homosexuality

There are five references in the Koran that have been cited as referring to gay and lesbian behaviour. Some obviously deal with effeminate men and masculine women. Both references relate to gay sexual activities; lesbian practices are not mentioned in the Koran. The references seem to imply that there was no homosexual behaviour before it first appeared in Sodom. This is a uniquely Islamic concept; it does not appear in Jewish or Christian beliefs. The passage also links the sin of Sodom (the reason for its destruction) to homosexuality. That linkage is contradicted by other verses in the Hebrew Scriptures.

Treatment of homosexuals within Islam

According to a pamphlet produced by Al-Fatiha (an international organization for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Muslims), there is a consensus among Islamic scholars that all humans are naturally heterosexual. Homosexuality is seen by scholars to be a sinful and perverted deviation from the norm. Most Islamic schools of thought and jurisprudence consider gay acts to be unlawful.

They differ in terms of penalty:

  • The Hanafite school (currently seen mainly in South and Eastern Asia) teaches that no physical punishment is warranted
  • The Hanabalites, (widely followed in the Arab world) teach that severe punishment is warranted
  • The Sha’fi school of thought (also seen in the Arab world) requires a minimum of 4 adult male witnesses before a person can be found guilty of a homosexual act

Buddhism

There are many schools of Buddhism, such as Zen or Tibetan. Overall Buddhism does not condemn homosexuality. Buddhist countries also tend to have few social and legal prohibitions against homosexuality. Some, such as Thailand, are relatively free of homophobia.

The Dalai Lama, the most respected leader of a Buddhist sect, is ambiguous on the subject of homosexuality. All in all, Buddhism has been more gay-friendly than the major Western faiths. As homosexuality is not explicitly mentioned in any of the Buddha's discourses (more than 20 volumes in the Pali Text Society's English translation), we can only assume that it is meant to be evaluated in the same way that heterosexuality is. And indeed this may be why it is not specifically mentioned.

In the case of a man and woman where there is mutual consent, where adultery is not involved and where the sexual act is an expression of love, respect, loyalty and warmth, it would not be breaking one of the Precepts. And it is the same when two people are of the same gender. All the principles we would use to evaluate a heterosexual relationship we would also use to evaluate a homosexual one. In Buddhism we could say that it is not the object of one's sexual desire that determines whether a sexual act is morally right or not, but rather the quality of the emotions and intentions involved.

However, the Buddha sometimes advised against certain behaviour not because it is wrong from the point of view of ethics but because it would put one at odds with social norms or because it is subject to legal sanctions. In these cases, the Buddha says that refraining from such behaviour will free one from the anxiety and embarrassment caused by social disapproval or the fear of punitive action. Homosexuality would certainly come under this type of behaviour. In this case, the homosexual has to decide whether she or he is going to acquiesce to what society expects or to try to change public attitudes.

Buddhist countries like Sri Lanka and Burma had no legal statutes against homosexuality between consenting adults until the colonial era when the British introduced them. Thailand, which had no colonial experience, still has no such laws. This led some Western homosexuals to believe that homosexuality is quite accepted in Buddhist countries of South and South-east Asia. This is certainly not true. In such countries, when homosexuals are thought of at all, it is more likely to be in a good-humoured way or with a degree of pity. Certainly the social challenges that the Western homosexual has so often had to endure is absent and this is due, to a very large degree, to Buddhism's humane and tolerant influence.

Judaism

Judaism is a very diverse religion and ethnicity for millions of people all over the world. It is impossible to find two Jewish (or any kind of) people who completely agree on this controversial subject. Because Jewish congregations vary so widely in questions of doctrine and policy, there is no single definitive Jewish policy regarding homosexuality.

Orthodox Jews generally take a severe view, regarding homosexual behaviour as an abomination that is forbidden by the Torah, or the Old Testament of the Christian Bible. Conservative Jews voted in 1990 to recognize the equality of congregation members regardless of sexual orientation. They also went on record as favouring the decriminalisation of homosexual activities between consenting adults, and the passage of laws that prohibit discrimination against gays and lesbians. They support equal rights for homosexuals and gays and lesbians are welcomed at synagogues.

Reconstructionist Jews. The Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association has sponsored, for many years, rabbis who chose to perform same-sex commitment ceremonies.

Reform Jews. In 1990, the Central Conference of American Rabbis accepted gay and lesbian rabbis. They do not currently discriminate on the basis of either gender or sexual orientation when ordaining rabbis. In March 1996, they voted to support same-sex civil marriages and to oppose state government efforts to ban such unions. In practice, Reform rabbis are divided on whether to perform same-sex commitment ceremonies.

From Dayenu- Sydney's Jewish gay & lesbian support and social group ©

Hinduism

The Hindu stance on the issue of homosexuality is not clear. There is conflict in the Hindu scriptures.

The first and foremost injunction in the Bhagavad Gita is that all of us are individual souls who are eternal. Thus, we are not our bodies. To actually come to this realisation, we must act in accordance with our true nature.

That is as spirit souls. Therefore, any action that is based on gratifying the senses of this temporary body will drag us further into the illusion that we are this body.

Another scripture, the Manusmriti does not accept homosexuality. Here, homosexuality was shown as punishable by monetary fines, whipping and even loss of caste. In certain cases, a woman could have her head shaved, two fingers cut off and be paraded on a donkey.

Kama Sutra writer, Vatsayana, says that homosexuality was accepted and allowed by the teachings. Moreover, upper caste Hindus and Muslim rulers supposedly practiced homosexuality during the Muslim period in India.

In general, homosexuality is not talked about openly. Of course, even the topic of sex has become taboo over the centuries. At one time, however, the reliefs on temples depicted sexual acts openly.

As a result of the taboo, it is hard to make any assumption about the ideas of the grassroots Hindu.

The best that can be said is - homosexuality is most likely not viewed as correct but perhaps tolerated. However, the new generation growing up in India is adopting a lot of Western ideas for good or for bad and many of the new generation are more tolerant towards homosexuality.

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