In contrast to the ritual significance given homosexuality in some indigenous cultures and religions, the Semitic religions have all condemned homosexuality. A homosexual act between two consenting adult males is an abomination (Lev. 18:22), punishable by death (Lev. 20:13). Talmudic law extends the prohibition, but not the penalty, which is limited to flagellation, also to lesbianism. Rabbinic sources advance various reasons for the strict ban on homosexuality - regarded as a universal law among "the Seven Commandments of the Sons of Noah". It is an unnatural perversion debasing the dignity of man. Such acts frustrate the procreative purpose of sex, and also damage family life, by the homosexual abandoning his wife. Jewish law holds that no hedonistic ethic, even if called "love", can justify the morality of homosexuality any more than it can legitimize adultery or incest, however genuinely such acts may be performed out of love and by mutual consent.
In Christianity, homosexuality is condemned in the strongest terms as a sin alongside other sexual vices (Rom. 1:27, 1 Cor. 6:9, 1 Tim. 1:10), although Christian attitudes have varied over time. The Qur'an describes homosexuality as an "impious act" (7:79) and there are Hadith that allege that Muhammad said both the passive and active agent should be killed. On the Day of Resurrection, the man who sodomises another will suffer eternal damnation, unless he obtains pardon through repentance.
Homosexuality is also forbidden by Bahá'u'lláh. The Aqdas prohibits it (paragraph 107). It is the purpose of these notes to explore some of the reasons for this provision.
A discussion of terms may be useful. Homosexuality is used in a broad sense to include two narrower concepts. The first is what is called the homosexual orientation or disposition, which refers to a relatively stable psychological or mental condition such that a man or woman spontaneously and involuntarily experiences sexual desire for, and sexual fantasies about, persons of the same sex. The second is homosexual behaviour, meaning sexual acts between individuals of the same sex. The former is often acquired, or first manifests itself, during childhood development, by virtue of forces which are poorly understood and over which the child is presumed to have little or no control. The latter involves an act of will for which an adult may ordinarily be held responsible. A person may have a homosexual disposition but never engage in homosexual acts, and it is possible to engage in homosexual acts without having a homosexual orientation.
The Bahá'í teachings advocate different attitudes toward having a homosexual disposition, on the one hand, and homosexual behaviour, on the other. The former should evoke empathy and compassion: "To be afflicted in this way is a great burden upon a conscientious soul". The latter is prohibited in the Bahá'í writings.
As for the homosexual disposition, the Bahá'í writings do not point to the causes of homosexuality, although they do say that it is an "aberration" and is "against nature". In the scientific community, there is no consensus as to its causes. Some recent evidence suggests that there is a genetic element. How would this correlate with the Bahá'í position?
The Bahá'í concept of nature is teleological; that is, that there are certain qualities intended by God for human nature, and qualities which do not accord with these are described as "unnatural". This does not mean that behaviours condemned by the writings may not be caused by the operation of nature. Alcoholism is a good example. Evidence also suggests it is also caused by a genetic susceptibility. In that sense it is due to natural causes, but this does not necessarily mean that it is natural for a person to be an alcoholic. Whether homosexuality is induced by genetic, physiological or psychological causes, the Bahá'í teachings make clear that it is not an intended quality of human nature. Why not? The answer may lie in the effects of homosexuality on individuals and society. In terms of the individual homosexual, a Bahá'í author in 1981 summarised the psychiatric literature and felt that it highlighted four disturbing characteristics in their personality. The first is the prominent role of fear - so frightened is the male homosexual of women, that, as one psychiatrist put it, he flees to a wholly different continent of men. The second is psychic masochism - the indulgence in self-pity, feeling hurt, collecting injustices. A third negative characteristic is the poor self-image manifested by deep seated feelings of inadequacy. And finally the predominance of sexuality in their life is considered unhealthy by therapists. Consequently the rate of alcoholism, depression, sado-masochism, promiscuity and sexually-transmitted disease is higher, although many societal factors are involved. In one study of American homosexuals, with an average age of around 30, 26% had already had sex with over 1,000 different partners, and 74% interviewed said that more than half the time their partners were total strangers. These sort of statistics would argue against the homosexual lifestyle is one of peace and contentment but one of compulsion. Frequent, casual sex is a devastating indictment against homosexuality (and for that matter any form of sexuality), speaking to us of a mentality that is either careless of known dangers (disease, physical abuse, blackmail) or is allured by them, and acts as though it is driven like an addiction and can never find contentment.
Spiritually, some Bahá'í writers have argued that the effects are destructive in the following ways: Because the homosexual's fear is not confronted directly, the personality does not gain strength through facing and fighting tests. Instead the pathology is left psychically intact, creating a vicious circle of defensive manoeuvres, unaware that the self is ultimately its own victim. Instead of growing spiritually, the individual sinks under the weight and influence of his own passions and idle fancies.
Society may suffer, not only in the spread of disease, but in the subtle and inevitable impact a personality must have on those around it when viewing people to such an extent as sex objects. Individuals possessed by fear and contempt cannot contribute to a wholesome atmosphere of social unity. And possibly, most importantly, homosexuals consciously exclude themselves in the process of creating families.
Bahá'u'lláh's laws do not represent a sterile and inhumane legal code, but rather a divine prescription, a definition of how an individual must act in order to achieve true freedom and spiritual happiness in this world and the next, in much the same way that a proper appreciation of the laws of nature enables one to live in harmony with the forces of the planet. The Bahá'í teachings on sexuality recognise the divine origin and force of the sex impulse, but state that it must be controlled, and Bahá'u'lláh's law confines its expression to the marriage relationship. The primary purpose of sex is to perpetuate the species. The fact that personal pleasure is derived therefrom is one of the bounties of God. The sex act is merely one moment in a long process, from courtship to marriage, the procreation of children, their nursing and rearing, and involves the establishment of mutually sustaining relationship between two souls which will endure beyond life on this earth.
Some couples are unable to have children, and that, in itself, is an affliction, but this fact does not vitiate all the other bounties of the marital relationship. Some individuals for various reasons are unable to find a spouse, or choose to remain single; they must develop their qualities and talents in other ways. One could have concluded that homosexuals could well establish stable relationships with one another for mutual support, similar to the marital relationship of a heterosexual couple who cannot have children. This is precisely the conclusion that some churches and governments have come to. But Bahá'u'lláh, having divine knowledge of human nature, states that such a relationship is not a permissible or beneficial solution to a homosexual's condition. If a homosexual cannot so overcome his or her condition to extent of being able to have a heterosexual marriage, he or she must remain single, and abstain from sexual relations. These are the same requirements as for a heterosexual person who does not marry.
Having briefly discussed one Bahá'í approach to homosexuality, what are some of the elements in the Bahá'í attitude to homosexuals? The attitude to non-Bahá'í homosexuals is the same as it would be a non-Bahá'í who consumes alcohol. There is no reason to expect them to obey the Bahá'í law in this respect any more than Bahá'ís would expect them to abstain from drinking alcohol. As for Bahá'ís who are homosexuals, there are a number of considerations. Shoghi Effendi has written that, "The Bahá'ís have certainly not yet reached that stage of moral perfection where they are in a position to too harshly scrutinize the private lives of other souls, and each individual should be accepted on the basis of his faith, and sincere willingness to try to live up to the Divine standards". There are many such Bahá'ís who are trying to live up to the Divine standards, but are often experiencing loneliness and isolation, as well as feelings of helplessness and hopelessness, because they fear to disclose to their fellow Bahá'ís the fact of their homosexual disposition lest they experience overt or covert rejection. At the same time, they do not know where to turn for help in their struggle to cope with and overcome their problem. Bahá'í communities should feel great compassion and concern for these souls. The Bahá'í community, as it seeks to reflect God's glory and qualities in this world, should be a haven and refuge for troubled souls of every kind. To achieve this a climate of thought and feeling which is supportive, encouraging and understanding needs to be cultivated. In a sense, the Bahá'í community should act as a workshop or experimental laboratory into which humanity is invited to come, bringing with it the entire range of human problems with which it is burdened, and joining with fellow Bahá'ís in a concerted effort to solve these problems and find healing from these disorders, using the power of faith and the tools provided in the Bahá'í writings. Among these are prayer, meditation, consultation and the spiritual direction that the laws of Bahá'u'lláh give. This workshop should dominated by an atmosphere of cooperation, mutual helpfulness and support.