The time seems to have come for gay marriage to be become effective in UK law. Until now civil partnership ceremonies in the UK could receive no blessing from, or mention of, a religious organisation- even if the religious organisation was perfectly accepting of homosexuality. How to implement this is under significant debate as the Lib Dems once again kick their heels into government policy, and it certainly seems like an approaching reality.
But this all begs the question: who would want their civil partnership in a religious building? Surely, given the scripture, homosexuality and religion simply cannot co-exist?
Well, I’m here to argue that they can. In fact, the scriptures of Christianity and Islam (and to a lesser extent, Judaism) can be viably interpreted to have no anti-gay stance whatsoever. And, as many of us non-religious folk often decry, religion does seem to be all about interpretation.
It’s well known that some homosexuals are religious. Just typing “gay Christians” into Google gets you a myriad of websites, so it’s
clear that there is some sort of market for religious civil partnerships. One such website, the Lesbian & Gay Christians and Friends, states “human sexuality in all its richness is a gift of God gladly to be accepted… it is entirely compatible with the Christian faith not only to love another person of the same sex but also to express that love fully in a personal sexual relationship”. This is somewhat at odds with organisations such as the Westboro Baptist Church, whose mantra is…slightly…different, to say the least.
The Abrahamic religions (Judiasm, Christianity, Islam) are perhaps the most explicitly anti-gay of the major world religions. They all share similar passages that believers link to God’s anti-gay stance, but many religious homosexuals claim these passages are being misinterpreted or simply aren’t relevant anymore. How can this be so, when centuries of teachings have taught the contrary?
Let’s start at the beginning. The story of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 18-19), what appears to be the most blatantly anti-gay, could well be being misconstrued according to some. In the story, Abraham attempts to save Sodom by finding ten righteous men in it after God hears an outcry to him from the city. His nephew Lot then takes two observing angels into his home in Sodom, but the townspeople then demand to know who these people are, and to have sex with them. Lot offers his (presumably consenting) daughters instead, but the townspeople demand the angels. According to most interpretations, the townspeople attempt to rape the angels.
Read it yourself: the passage states that God hears an outcry from the city and when angels investigate, the people attempt to rape the guests. God, naturally, is a bit disgusted and then burns the city to the ground because he can’t find anyone righteous. Surely, if you read the words of the Bible as stated, the sin of Sodom is not homosexuality- but rape and inhospitality? After all, why would there be cries to God from the city if the homosexuality was entirely consensual? Moreover, the book of Ezekiel states that the main sins of Sodom were arrogance, selfishness and being unconcerned with the plight of others.
The Qu’ran has many more seemingly-explicit references to homosexuality, but they are always in reference to the “Sin of (Sodom)”, which is ultimately called into question depending on your interpretation of the story of Sodom. Whilst a minority viewpoint, members of organisations such as the Al-Fatiha Foundation often hold that Allah does not condemn homosexual love, merely lust.
Leviticus has been flogged to death and long disproven, but it seems to be a staple in the cache of homophobic Christians. In Acts 15:24-29, Jesus explicity states that the “old laws” are irrelevant: all you need to do is not strangle animals, avoid blood, avoid sexual immorality and love God. Not so relevant to Jews, but even the Muslims believe in Jesus’ teachings so any old laws such as “don’t lay with another man as you would a woman” are to be thrown out.
Throughout the New Testament, you’ll find references to avoiding sexual immorality. But in most accepted translations it never really states what this is, other than lust and prostitution. It’s hardly a ground-breaking concept to believe that God isn’t too hot on whoring yourself. Homosexual-tolerant Christians even go as far to claim that reading anything more than that would be warping the teachings of God.
Now, I’m not saying this is the true meaning of these sacred texts (being agnostic, I’m rather neutral on the subject), but am merely showing that an interpretation does exist allowing for the incorporation of homosexuals with the major religions.
Unfortunately, such religious argument will always rage on. The futile thing about a 1300+ year old text is that the original writers aren’t here to clarify what they claim God really meant, and years and years of translation and modifications have left it difficult to know what to interpret and how.
Homosexuality and religion, despite their apparent conflict, needn’t always be at locked horns. The text is right there in front of you, and faith is ultimately about your interpretation and having a personal relationship with God, nature or the universe. You can be homosexual and religious, and it’s just as scripturally accurate as being anti-gay.
I think it’s time for everyone to accept the core of these old religions is interpretation, and that just because you have your interpretation it doesn’t make everyone else wrong. People have the right to their own opinions, beliefs and faiths. Open discussion of opinion is always healthy, but mud-slinging and legislation is definitely not a healthy way to suppress other people and their beliefs and actions. That goes for the gays too, unfortunately. We all need to grow up on this matter.
This post was written by Stuart Benefield of Nottingham LGBT.