The relationship between religion and homosexuality has varied greatly across time and place. The present-day doctrines of the world’s major religions vary vastly in their attitudes towards sexual orientations.
Views from Specific Religions
Let’s explore this further and see how different religions view homosexuality.
Judaism, Christianity & Islam
These religions have traditionally forbidden sodomy, believing and teaching that such behaviours are sinful. Today some religions are accepting of homosexuality and are inclusive. For example, such as Reform Judaism, the United Church of Christ and the Metropolitan Community Church.
Reform Judaism incorporates lesbian and gay rabbis and same-sex marriage ceremonies. While Reconstructionist Judaism and Conservative Judaism in the US allows lesbian and gay rabbis and same-sex unions.
Christianity denominations hold a variety of views on homosexuality, ranging from outright condemnation to complete acceptance. Most Christian denominations welcome homosexuals but still teaches that it is sinful. These denominations include the Roman Catholic Church, the East Orthodox Church, the Oriental Orthodox Churches, the United Methodist Church and many more. Liberal Christians are supportive of same-sex relationships and do not view monogamous same-sex relationships as bad or evil.
The Islamic religion disapproves of homosexuality. Islam views same-sex desires as an unnatural temptation. Islamic teachings generally condemn any participation in same-sex acts.
Hinduism, Buddhism and Sikhism
All teachings regarding homosexuality are less clear than among the Abrahamic traditions, and religious authorities voice diverse opinions.
Hinduism has taken various positions, ranging from positive to neutral or antagonistic. One of the four canonical sacred texts of Hinduism says ‘perversity/diversity is what nature is all about, or, what seems unnatural is also natural’. A “third gender” has been acknowledged within Hinduism since Vedic times.
Several Hindu texts, such as Manu Smriti and Sushruta Samhita, assert that some people are born with either mixed male and female genitalia as a matter of natural biology. However, Hindu texts like the Manusmirti do treat homosexuality as a sin that is legally punishable. Each Hindu denomination has developed distinct rules regarding sexuality.
The most common formulation of Buddhist ethics is the Five Precepts and the Eightfold Path stating that one should never be attached to sensual pleasure. The third of the Five Precepts is “To refrain from committing sexual misconduct”. However, “sexual misconduct” is a broad term, and is subjected to interpretation relative to the social norms. The determination of whether or not same-gender relations is appropriate is not considered a religious matter by many Buddhists.
Sikh religious authority describes homosexuality as “against the Sikh religion and the Sikh code of conduct and totally against the laws of nature,” and called on Sikhs to support laws against gay marriage. Many Sikhs are against this view and state that the Sikh Scriptures promote equality and don’t condemn homosexuality. Marriage in Sikhism is seen as a union of souls. The soul is seen as genderless, and the outward appearance of human beings (man, woman) is a temporary state. Same-sex marriage advocates refer to this fact.
Among the Taoic religion of East Asia, such as Taoism, passionate homosexual expression is usually discouraged because it is believed to not lead to human fulfilment. In a similar way to Buddhism, Taoist schools sought history to define what would be sexual misconduct. Sexual misconduct is ‘sex outside of your marriage’ according to Taoism. The married spouses usually suggested male and female, although the scripture itself does not say anything against same-gender relationships.
Homosexuality is not unknown in Taoist history, for instance, the Tang Dynasty when Taoist Nuns would exchange love poems to each other. Attitudes about homosexuality within Taoism often reflect the values and sexual norms of Chinese society.
Religious Views on Homosexuality Throughout History
Regardless of all their position on homosexuality, many people of faith look to both sacred texts and tradition for guidance on homosexuality. However, the authority of various traditions or scriptural passages and the actual accuracy of translations and interpretations are continually disputed to this day.