Abrahamic religions have contributed to the most negative and destructive attitudes towards sexual issues, especially homosexuality. Christian and Islamic communities and organisations are the most vocal assailants on any legal or societal moves towards tolerance and equality. The liberal wings of some of these religions have adapted to the wide (European) acceptance of homosexuality. Many traditional religions reject the scientific, medical and psychological knowledge that we have gained about sexuality and regard homosexuality as "unnatural", a "choice" or a "moral evil". These religions are themselves immoral and evil in their attitude, causing hatred, bigotry, violence and oppression in the name of God. Homosexual communities have become accustomed to the ranting of religious fundamentalists and traditionalists, and this causes a strong anti-religious resentment amongst them.
In the wider religious scene things are much healthier. Eastern history has produced less of the out-and-out violence against homosexuality. For example under Confucian rules after 1840 in Japan, open homosexuality became tolerated including amongst monks1,2. New religious movements and Earth religions are largely accepting of homosexuality, as these religions are more in touch with the natural world. Although there are Pagans, Satanists, Wiccans, etc, who do not like homosexuality very few make the same hateful statements as Muslim and Christian authorities. Although Judaism does not accept homosexuality in theory, Jews have not made many such hateful comments, but partially this may be because Judaism has not yet fully faced the issues although liberal Jewish groups match liberal Christianity in their tolerance. Amongst non-religious folk who campaign for human rights and tolerance, acceptance of sexual pluralism is standard3.
Religions have tended to represent patriarchal norms, enforcing a straight heterosexuality at the expense of any other sexual expressions. This primal instinct, arising from both sexuality and power relations, becomes institutionalized into the religions produced by primitive societies (and minds). Most traditional religions have happened to ritualize and dogmatize practices that tend to place heterosexual males in charge of women, families, religious communities, societies and governments. This form of dominance ends up stigmatizing those who do fit into the scheme, notably, strong females and non-heterosexuals such as homosexuals. Although, thankfully, the direct influence of religion in secular society has receded from the government level, residues of its effects remain entrenched in some areas of law.
There are trends within portions of all the monotheistic religions mentioned here towards tolerance, but, for example with the Anglican church, such changes are causing serious fissures in the internal cohesion of the Church. These are issues that have been accepted by secular society and there are no large organisations devoted to non-tolerance that are not religious in nature.
Wicca is one example amongst many New Religious Movements that have rejected the loathing of homosexuality found in traditional monotheistic religions. But in its foundation Wicca could not cope with homosexuality. The Gardnerian Book of Shadows was strictly a heterosexual affair, and, one of the earliest and most successful Pagan periodicals throughout the 1970s was called The Wiccan, and showed outright hostility towards homosexuality6. But all of this changed. Alex Sanders' version of Wicca removed this bias6, and, the entire Wiccan community (alongside Pagans in general) now proclaim their distaste of prejudice based on sexuality.
Another religion that has reached this pinnacle is Satanism. What they have in common is modernity and non-monotheism.
Satanism is pro-sexuality. We should all shed the weird and stifling sexual inhibitions preached by the world's traditional religions; Sexuality is a pure form of pleasure, something that satisfies our deepest purpose in life. Modern life allows us to enjoy sex without the risks of unplanned pregnancies and sexual diseases assuming that sense is taken. Satanism supports any fetish, kink or flavor of sexual encounter as long as all parties involved are consenting. We are informed by modern and learned psychological, medical and scientific opinions on sex; there are no dogmatic principles or religious intolerance of sexualities within Satanism. It is very optimistic, positive and healthy: This can only be expected of such a carnal religion of the flesh such as Satanism! Some people like quality, some people like quantity: Just be responsible, take emotions and consequences into account, and above all, enjoy your life!”
All of the anti-gay-marriage religious groups confuse personal religion with what is right under the law. In a democracy, where citizens are free to choose their religion and beliefs, things like marriage are not exclusive to Christians and Muslims, and as such, religious superstitions should not limit who can or cannot get married. If Christians believe that same-sex marriage is wrong, then simply, in order to live in compliance with their beliefs, they merely have to avoid marrying people of the same gender. Job done. When they start imposing their beliefs on others, though, and support prejudice and legal inequality towards LGBT folk, then they have crossed the line into human-rights-abuse, in the name of religion.
This is the concept of "religious rights" trumping those of other people - even of those who don't believe the same things, and I talk about it more on Legislation and Faith: Religious Rights and Religious Wrongs. Here's the intro to that page:
“People act in all kinds of ways for all kinds of reasons. When it comes to actions that cause suffering, the basis of the person's justification doesn't matter - all we are interested in is making it clear the action is not acceptable. When religious ideas of morality and blasphemy are institutionalized, inequality results as other religions are overlooked or even indirectly proscribed. Neil Kressel in his book on religious extremism lists "the enshrinement of religion in the fundamental rules of the state" as one of religion's most dangerous attributes (out of three)8 . Many countries grant that laws that protect religious belief also protect non-belief - the UK has had such secularist law since 20069, and in late 2016 the USA also adopted this stance10. "Secularism" is the idea that in order to treat people fairly, all special religious rights should be abolished as democracies should not legislate on beliefs, but on actions (regardless of religion). Therefore, it is rarely required to mention specific religions in law, or to exempt them from law.”
Three world religions (Judaism, Christianity and then Islam) accepted parts of the Jewish Scriptures as canon. The Christians call them the "Old" testament. There is a lot of hype about the Biblical condemnations of homosexuality. The clearest verses come from the Hebrew scriptures and most others are indirect and unclear.
It is in Leviticus that the surest anti-gay text can be found, but the correctness of the translations have been questioned. There are six quotations taken from the Bible that can be used against homosexuality. A word that is being used is "abomination" as a translation for the word that in the Bible means "taboo", or "unritualistic". Some Bibles use the word "detestable"; it depends on which Bible you own as to how accurate the translation is.
In Genesis, the story of Lot, his daughters, and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah has Lot send out his daughters to get raped by a mob (Genesis 19:7-8), because the homosexual violation of his guests is a worse sin than rape. For this "brave" and "commendable" action (2 Peter 2:6-8), God rewards "just" Lot and saves his family from destruction (Genesis 19:11-13, 15-17, 19). Infamously, this holy man Lot goes on to have sex with both of his own daughters, and they have children by him (Genesis 19:30-38). So are the twisted divine morals of antiquity! See: Lot and the Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah: In Genesis 18 and 19.
"Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination" - Leviticus 18:22.
"If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them" - Leviticus 20:13.
Wrongdoers and "men who have sex with men" and ungodly and cannot go to heaven (1 Corinthians 6:9-10). Although some say the Greek here refers only to male prostitutes, and isn't condemning homosexuality as a whole.
“Why don't fundamentalists organize protests and picket seafood restaurants, oyster bars, church barbecue suppers, all grocery stores, barber shops, tattoo parlours, and stores that sell suits and dresses made of mixed wool, cotton, polyester, and other materials? All of these products and services are abominations in Leviticus. When have you heard a preacher condemn the demonic abomination of garments that are made of mixed fabrics?”
Nearly all the verses mentioning homosexuality are unclear, and it is only via assumption that many have interpreted and translated the verses to be (coincidentally!) in accordance with cultural norms that castigate homosexuality. Approaching the verses neutrally allows one to see they are ambiguous. For Christians it should also be noted that Jesus Christ is never quoted or implied to have spoken about sexuality, so presumably it does not much matter. Christians hold that the Torah's laws are superseded by the New Testament because "we are no longer under the old covenant". The vast majority of the seemingly pointless rules from Leviticus (no clothes made of mixed cloths, no buttons...) are duly ignored. But despite there not being a single sentence from the new testament that condemns a homosexual act as worse than a heterosexual one, because Christianity has had such a strong culture of homophobia, when it comes to homosexuality the Old Testament is embraced as if it were the New although most other condemnations are ignored.
In the Hebrew Scriptures, there are several seemingly gay relationships, none of which are met with punishment, nor even described in negative terms. For example King David, one of the most holy and revered figures of the Bible, and Jonathan: "The soul of Jonathan was knit with the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul" (1 Samuel 18:1) and "I [David] am distressed for thee, my brother Jonathan: very pleasant hast thou been unto me: thy love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women" (2 Samuel 1:26). Clearly, homosexual love is fully endorsed in the Bible, and, it is hard to read passages like that without realizing that there is no condemnation of physical homosexual love, too.
In this light, Leviticus 18:22 and Leviticus 20:13 are merely saying that while you are laying with a fellow man, don't try to do it in the same way as you would with a woman. The meaning is unclear; perhaps it is saying that men shouldn't be gentle with each other, or, shouldn't adopt the same position with a man as they would with a woman. But rather than try to synthesize these contradictory verses into a coherent doctrine, it is probably best to assume that some of the various authors of the Bible were anti-gay, and others were ambivalent or even positive about it. As to which verses you accept is purely up to culturally-borne prejudice and personal bias.
Of the major monotheistic religions, Judaism has the healthiest attitude towards sex, aside from a few superstitious laws surrounding blood. However, despite this positive sign, it is clear that some shades of Judaism do not accept homosexual partners:
“There is no suggestion in Judaism that the celibate life is specially holy. [Sex is] the most intimate and enjoyable way of deepening a relationship. [...] A man who has no wife is doomed to an existence without joy, without blessing, without experiencing life's true goodness, without Torah, without protection and without peace.”
A man and a wife are acknowledged, but no other combination. It is readily observable that homosexuality is condemned in the Torah although some argue that this is not clear-cut and there are some strong cultural signs and institutional movements that indicate that Judaism is not in the same boat as Christianity and Islam. In the USA 81% of Jews support legalizing gay marriage (2013 data), somewhat more than the appalling national average of 52% and in the 1990s "Reform Judaism officially announced its support for gay marriage"12. The USA does have serious problems when it comes to religious intolerance, however, and in the Europe, where Christian rejection of LGBT equality has been resisted for longer, Judaism still lags behind common culture when it comes to calm tolerance, although there are still some good positive steps being made, for example::
“The Liberal movement has become the first Jewish body in the UK to sanction blessings for gay and lesbian couples in synagogue, according to today´s Jewish Chronicle. Rabbi Frank Dabba Smith, chair of the Union of Liberal and Progressive Synagogues' rabbinic conference, said that there had been "no deep divisions" over the policy.”
On the other hand, Jewish forces of bigotry are still active:
“Homosexuals around the world have faced frequent condemnations15, political campaigns and vitriolic statements against them from Christian organisations, Christian communities and individual Christian preachers and activists.16,17,18. From the 1980s, a resurgent form of powerful, political, well-funded and fundamentalist Christianity has rose to gain influence in many Western countries19, especially the USA19. Similar groups have surfaced in the UK, although they've face tough battles against established Human Rights norms. They fight against societal acceptance of homosexuality17,20, decriminalisation of homosexuality21, equality laws that outlaw discrimination based on sexuality, against gay marriage, against homosexual parents adopting children22,23,24,25, against sex education that includes any positive commentary about homosexuality, and sometimes against the provision of social services to open homosexuals. The results of promoting discrimination includes violence, sometimes murder. In some countries, entire communities of devout Christians can rise up in mobs against perceived homosexuals and almost everywhere, gay clergy are expelled, shamed and ousted (even celibate ones in liberal churches26). All tolerance towards homosexuals in the West has been obtained despite the campaigns of Christian institutions. Some do now preach tolerance, but their voices are too little, too late, and they are generally shouted-down by the larger majority of Christian organisations that continue to shun anything sounding like gay tolerance or equality. The poor state of Christian institutional morality can be highlighted with a question: How many non-religious large organisations would struggle so much to fairly employ a homosexual? Shame on them all, for the needless pain they've caused.27”
Islam is probably the most rigidly and inhumanly anti-homosexual in its practices of all the world religions. The verses from the Qur'an condemning homosexuality are much clearer than those that the Christians use. In all Muslim countries (and all areas where the Islamic Sharia law is enforced), homosexuality is strictly illegal. All of Islam fits within the area of Christianity that we call "fundamentalist" with regards to sexuality. The debates in Islam about homosexuality are not about whether it is acceptable, but merely about how severe the punishment should be. Seven countries in the world can give the death penalty as a punishment for homosexuality - all of them are Muslim, and in other Muslim countries, persecution against homosexuals is rife and violent, stemming from government and religious institutions down to the actions of mobs and individuals28.
Link: Which Countries are Most and Least Tolerant?. All the worse countries are Muslim ones.
Aside from aggressive intolerance within their own countries, Muslim countries attempt to curb gay tolerance, gay rights and gay equality on the international arena:
“An attempt by the United Nations to include gay people in anti-discrimination measures is being derailed by a coalition of Islamic countries. UN sources said that Pakistan, Egypt, Libya, Saudi Arabia and Malaysia were doing everything in their power to stop the resolution. They hope to delay the vote long enough to kill it off entirely. Secretary of the Gay and Lesbian Humanist Association in Britain, George Broadhead, commented that all Muslim countries outlawed homosexuality, and the penalties for those convicted ranged from prison, flogging, execution by a variety of perverted methods - such as throwing the victim off a cliff or pushing a stone wall on to them. "The record of these countries on human rights in general is bad enough, but when it comes to gay human rights, they are disgusting."”
Muslim communities in Europe are the least tolerant towards homosexuals, and hardliners and extremists within those communities apply pressure, violent sometimes, to ensure that no-one speaks out in defence of equality or tolerance. See: Growing Fundamentalism in Islam: How Moderates are Subjugated by Muslim Hardliners. In the UK a recent conviction saw 3 Muslims were convicted of hate crimes as a result of threatening and vitriolic leaflets they handed out in Derby, depicting gays hanging from nooses, stating they will burn in hell, and saying that God abhors them (2012 Jan)28. They defended themselves saying that it was their religious duty as Muslims to warn gays. The UK and other European countries have been subject to a long series of hate preachers, and when found by the mass media, such clerics are widely castigated in national secular news outlets.
Very few individuals speak up for homosexuality, although there is an international Muslim gay rights group, they are widely detested within Muslim countries, and opposed and campaigned against by Muslim groups in Western countries.
“According to a pamphlet produced by Al-Fatiha, 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. All Islamic schools of thought and jurisprudence consider gay acts to be unlawful. [...] Al-Fatiha estimates that 4,000 homosexuals have been executed in Iran since their revolution in 1979. 10 public executions of homosexuals have been performed in Afghanistan by the Taliban army.”
Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance29
The "Arab spring", which saw popular protests against oppressive governments throughout much of the Muslim world, was not the outcry of liberals against strict Islamism. "Hossein Alizadeh of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, a New York-based lobby group, says that religious awakening is strengthening hardline interpretations of Islam"28.
The OCRT also repeat statements from Western Islamic groups citing their negative opinions on homosexuality.
“Dr. Muzammil Siddiqi of the ISNA [Islamic Society of North America] said: "Homosexuality is a moral disorder. It is a moral disease, a sin and corruption... No person is born homosexual, just like no one is born a thief, a liar or murderer. People acquire these evil habits due to a lack of proper guidance and education."”
Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance29
Islamic theology, however, is inconsistent and illogical. It simultaneously states that all homosexuality is a moral evil, a corruption... yet it also holds that the animals of the world have submitted themselves completely to Allah. Yet, in nearly all animal species we witness homosexual behavior. This must mean that it is permissible by Allah to be gay, and that animals who have submitted completely to Allah can therefore also be gay. Islamic tradition is wrong to condemn homosexuality as an evil, and in denying that homosexuality is natural they are ignoring the facts of the world, it is an ignorant religious prejudice equal to that of the Christians during the Dark Ages. If those who submit to Allah are sincere, they must recognize Allah's will: And Allah purposefully creates homosexual animals and homosexual humans. It is not therefore the Muslims' prerogative to question this or condemn homosexuality.
Example Scripture: The Story of Lot in the Qur'an:
In the 7th sura (chapter) of the Qur'an Lot is mentioned briefly and the prime concern is pointing out the immorality of homosexuality. Homosexuality in all the tellings of the story in the Qur'an is "the worst sin", "never committed before" (7:80, 29:28)! Lot's people "practise their lusts on men instead of women". Such homosexuality is sinful transgression, and for this, Lot's people are destroyed in Qur'an 7:84. None of Lot's other behaviour is mentioned, because the Qur'an describes Lot as a prophet (Qur'an 26:161), sent to Sodom and Gomorrah, and therefore cannot be sinful. The Qur'an's solution to the atrocious acts committed by them is simply not to mention them!
I have documented many of the places in the world where tolerance and equality have been victorious over traditional cultures and religions:
“Prejudices against homosexuality were not always encoded into law, however. In the time before the dark ages, European communities were variously accepting of gay marriage. But the Christian age of faith saw violent intolerance sweep the continent as certain types of marriage were made illegal and transformed into social taboos. People could only marry if it fit the Christian prejudices of what marriage should be. Islam arose also, and held to similar monotheistic patriarchal norms. Thankfully, since the enlightenment, much of the religious damage to marriage has been undone and in many countries adults are free to marry whom they choose. Starting with Sweden, Norway, Iceland and the Netherlands the 90s saw the beginning of the gay rights movements victories over established prejudice in an increasing number of developed countries. There is not a single case in all these victories where there have not been multiple large and mainstream Christian groups running campaigns to prevent equal rights for gays. The Catholic Church and the vast majority of Christian denominations continue to battle at local and European levels to repeal those rights already attained. The Catholic Church has gained some ground in 1997 in exempting itself from some European gay rights conventions, and the Church of England has also succeeded in partially exempting itself from UK employment anti-discrimination laws with regards to homosexuality. The traditional churches were wrong about slavery and anti-black racism, and they continue to do wrong on the issue of discrimination against homosexuals. Eventually, when enough of their youth have grown up within gay-tolerant society, the Churches will change to embrace homosexual equality as they did to embrace abolitionism and race equality.”
“Homosexuality is thoroughly natural. It occurs in a massive range of animal species, including humans, so appears to be part of the genetic makeup of life in general. The colourful and varied ways that wild animal species find to express intentional same-sex sexuality with other is surprising and sometimes ingenious, like the male dolphins who penetrate each other's blowholes. Biological causes of homosexuality have been found in Human beings. All this points to the fact that homosexuality is a part of the design of nature. If nature was designed by God, then watching Bonobo Apes for a while is convincing proof that God certainly does not mind gay sex!”
The inheritability of homosexuality (i.e., its genetic basis) is a card that most think to be good in the fight against intolerance. As we demonstrate its biological basis, religionists may admit that homosexuality is part of god's plan for humans, the same as it is for animals, and therefore decrease their prejudice. But much of the homophobia within the church is not rational, it is emotional. Rather than follow the general conservative line on genetic engineering (don't do it)30, some make an exception when it comes to homosexuality. When superstition and prejudice are combined in the same emotional turmoil, it is no surprise to hear such paradoxical considerations as the following one: