The Bible, Homosexuality and Human Rights

In the 1970s both the American and the Canadian Psychiatric Associations struck homosexuality from their lists of disorders to be cured.

In 1979 a study of the scholarly literature on the subject of sexual orientation was carried out by a professor at Carleton University at the request of the Canadian Human Rights Commission. The writer of the study summarized the results reached by more than 25 scholars who lived and wrote between 1900 and 1975, and referred to a number of others.

The books and articles studied overwhelmingly agree, and the author’s summary concludes, that each person’s sexual orientation is fixed before adolescence is reached. “Sexual orientation is as much an integral part of each individual as is race or gender. It can’t be changed. Neither homosexual experimentation, nor indeed heterosexual experiences by homosexuals detracts from this immutability.”

(As a friend of mine remarked to me, “You may teach a left-handed person to write with his right hand, but he is still a left-handed person.”)

The Canadian Human Rights Commission accepted the professor’s findings, and on its recommendation Parliament added “sexual orientation” to the Canadian Human Rights Act as one of the grounds on which discrimination is prohibited, along with race, ethnic and national origin, colour, religion, age, sex, marital status, family status, disability and conviction of an offence for which a pardon has been granted. Thus the change in the Act was made only after diligent study of the opinions of psychologists and psychiatrists in many countries.

The Human Rights Act does not of course excuse or justify pedophilia or rape or any kind of sexual violence or exploitation; such actions are violations of the law (and of the sanctity of the individual) whether they are homosexual or heterosexual.

It is sometimes claimed that gay individuals have been “cured” of their homosexuality. But scholars are agreed that some persons are bisexual, and can “swing” either way; it is these people who are said to have “changed” or been “cured” – they are bisexuals, not homosexuals.

Some people may feel disgust or aversion at the thought of gay sex. If so, it is their own problem. Such a feeling is not a sufficient ground for adverse legislation, or for the denial of equality to anyone.

I have seen no indication that gay marriage can threaten a traditional marriage, unless of course one of the partners has entered the marriage taking for granted that he/she was heterosexual, and later discovers that he/she is gay. In that case the marriage is in trouble anyway.

A good marriage is one of God’s most valuable gifts. It provides the individual with much needed stability, confidence, joy and moral strength. It encourages the development of a deeper love than would otherwise be possible. It promotes abundant living, for the children as well as for the adult partners.

That being so, it is unfair that gays and lesbians should be denied the full benefits of marriage just because they are constitutionally unable to enter into a satisfying sexual relationship with someone of the opposite sex. To that minority, homosexual partnership is just as meaningful as heterosexual partnership is to the rest of us. I have known a number of couples who were in loving, long-lasting and joyful homosexual relationships. Unfortunately a homophobic society places severe strain on them by its critical attitude.

Principles of fairness and equality demand that if heterosexual relationships can be legitimized by marriage vows and through recognition by church and government, legitimization of homosexual relationships should also be possible.

Some church bodies and some individuals oppose homosexuality and gay marriage on Biblical grounds, and quote verses in Leviticus 17 to 26 on the subject. But if we are to take Leviticus seriously today, we will stone adulterers, burn witches, put to death children who do not treat their parents with respect, avoid eating pork, refuse to wear cloth that combines yarn taken from more than one source, and carry out a number of other practices which none of us would consider appropriate or even Christian in today’s society. Why insist on condemning this one type of action while ignoring all those others? Can it be that we are not meant to apply Leviticus in “the Christian era”?

A careful reading of Genesis 19 shows that the sin of Sodom involved gang rape, which is surely a sin no matter whether it is homosexual or heterosexual. It was not a consensual sex act. And it was a serious breach of hospitality. Hospitality was much valued in Old Testament times, on the edge of the desert.

St. Paul also has something to say on the subject (very little actually – see Romans 1:27 and First Corinthians 6:9). But some Gentile sects in Paul’s day used male and female prostitution in their worship, and the Jewish Christians were concerned that the new church should not be polluted by such practices. At any rate there was no recognition in those days that homosexuality was a characteristic or orientation – no realization of such differences in people. It was seen as an act or practice only.

As far as we know, Jesus had nothing to say about either homosexuality or homosexual acts. But according to the Gospels he was continually breaking down walls, and including those whom others despised or at least left out: the Samaritans, foreigners, Gentiles, women, the poor, lepers, the blind, the chronically ill, those who wouldn’t or couldn’t keep the pharisaic rules (“publicans and sinners”). He incurred the hatred of the self-righteous by trying to remove the burdens and stigmas which they had laid on the disadvantaged. (Why did the congregation cast him out of the synagogue in Luke 4? Was it because he told of God’s mercy to Gentiles?) The New Testament tells us (John 1 and Hebrews 1) that Jesus is the Word of God; surely if we are marinated in his spirit we too will be inclusive and seek to relieve the burdens of those who are suffering through no fault of their own. “God is love”.

Paul nowhere claims that his teaching is equal to that of Jesus; in fact he points to Jesus as his leader, his superior. (See I Corinthians 1 and 3). He also says that we see through a glass, (in a mirror) darkly (I Corinthians 13:12); presumably he includes himself in the word “we”.

I take my cue from Jesus, not from Paul. Or Leviticus.

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