18 May 2010

Homosexuality

Homosexuality has become the most prominent social issue of my generation, and I continually have conversations about it. To some the issue is equivalent to the civil rights movement, fighting against discrimination, injustice, and religious fanaticism. To others, the issue is a classic battle of values against an increasingly immoral civilization.

The differing opinions revolve around a few key issues that are difficult to talk about. Without good communication, people unwittingly fall into categories of pro- or anti-gay. Below are some of my thoughts on how to navigate the conversation. As you may know, the Baha'i teachings don't fall into either the pro or anti category.


Identity

To those arguing for the social acceptance of homosexuality to discourage it would be to commit an injustice because it is viewed as an identity. Even to ask the question, "Do you accept homosexuals?" assumes an identity based on sexual orientation that is innate. In other words, it's not like "Do you accept soccer players?"

Some people have argued that being attracted to the same sex is a choice. I disagree. There is almost certainly some kind of unconscious predisposition towards same-sex attraction that appears in varying degrees in a small percentage of people.

From a medical perspective, it can be explained as a congenital abnormality, meaning something goes wrong during development in the womb. A fetus, by default, starts out as a female, but if the testis develop and secrete large amounts of testosterone, then the fetus becomes male. Sometimes that hormone bath goes awry. In a 2004 article about a proposed root cause of homosexuality, David W. Gregg, Ph.D. writes,
"Since both options [male and female] are genetically available, a selection process is taking place. This process selects which part of the genetic code will be expressed and which will be suppressed. Included in this are the genetically carried codes for sexual attraction. At the appropriate stage of development, the sexual attraction program is selected irreversibly. It is as irreversible as the selection between a clitoris and penis. It is not clear exactly what stage this particular selection happens. It is only clear that it does happen. This is the point where an error is made for homosexuals. The inappropriate program is selected."
Dr. Gregg also claims that 3% of males, and 1% of females have this chemical yield that goes the wrong way, with nothing abnormal about the genetic makeup. This is corroborated by other sources claiming 2% of humans are born with a homosexual predisposition with no hereditary link.

An objective view of same-sex attraction, then, would see it as a disorder, a case where genes fail to accomplish their intended purpose in a small percentage of people. Now don't jump to any moral conclusions. If this approach is correct it means that homosexual attraction has been around forever and likely will be around for a long long time.

It shouldn't be a surprise to suggest that gene expression can create same-sex attraction, because that's how opposite-sex attraction works. There are also interesting examples of genetically controlled sexual behavior in animals. Naked mole rats live in a colony of about 90 with one female queen that dominates a small handful of breeding males, then all other naked mole rats don't breed, they just work for the colony. Contrast that with the Cape mole rat, which lives solitary and breeds promiscuously with any other mole rat in sight. Both monogamous and promiscuous behavior, and varying degrees of libido are developed in nature to serve a purpose.

In a well documented attempt to discover its roots, a 2006 study of thousands of twins found that homosexual behavior has genetic, prenatal, social, and environmental origins. The modeling revealed that family and social attitudes explained 0% of men's and 16-17% of women's same-sex behavior; genetic effects explained 34-39% of men and 18-19% of women; and the unique environment of pregnancy and childbirth, physical and psychological trauma, peer groups, and sexual experiences explained 61-66% of men's and 64-66% of women's same-sex behavior. In other words, gene expression explains homosexuality in twice as many men as women (similar to Dr. Gregg's suggestion), and about two thirds of cases of same sex attraction are caused by the social environment and personal experience.

Is there a predisposition to homosexual behavior? Almost certainly yes, but in the US and Britain, about 10% of respondents claim to have had a homosexual experience. That number nearly doubled from 20 years earlier. A better question is, what are the social and environmental causes of homosexuality? These remain largely unexplored due to the social stigma around suggesting that it is an undesirable deviation from the norm. This gets to the heart of the issue for some people. In the nature vs nurture debate, what comes from nature can be changed through medicine, while what comes through nurture can be changed through self-control and free will, because it is a behavior or lifestyle.

For example, for me to say that I have no choice but to engage in drunkenness because my genes encourage me to be an alcoholic, a trait documented as genetic, I would be denying my free will and living as a slave to instinct. In this light, the identity question becomes a non-issue. People may find themselves with all kinds of predispositions as a result of genetic irregularity or social conditioning, but they should strive to live a moral life and control their instincts.

Freedom

There is a popular idea that sexual relations are moral as long all parties are consenting. This view of sexual freedom is in conflict with traditional sexual morality, which says that sex is only appropriate in marriage, and divorce is discouraged. Thus a traditionally moral person would likely only be with one partner in their life, or possibly remain celibate if unable to contract marriage.

This traditional approach has largely been discarded in lieu of a morality that encourages personal freedom and sees abstinence as unjust, restrictive and unnecessary. The foundations of traditional morality have been ripped apart by criticism, having been associated with the suppression of women and attached to religious dogma. To even suggest that abstinence should be recommended to youth is almost universally condemned as naive. Any imposition of a firm moral standard in regard to sex is countered with the refrain of, "Why don't you just mind your own business?"

This needs a deeper look. Morality establishes what is right and wrong based on doing benefit or harm to oneself or society. While giving room for any ethical tradition to be questioned, ethical traditions do exist. Excluding self-gratification for its own sake, the idea of sexual freedom has no benefit. On the other hand, the over-emphasis on and even promotion of the sex drive does real harm to the individual and society. There is a wide range of possible behavioral addictions with harmful consequences. Most common among these are gambling, internet, eating, and sex.

To the individual, promiscuity is associated with some obvious harms: the risk of disease, unwanted pregnancies, depression, addiction, and divorce. But the real damage is subtle, and the long-term deficit is often obscured by the short-term pleasure. To be a slave to carnal instincts is to be an animal; the conduct of such a person is frivolous, attached to trivial and misdirected pleasures that contribute not to human happiness, but to shallow entertainment that can never quench one’s desire. Humans find distinction in practicing virtue, by self-control, honesty, moderation, decency, purity, and power of a rational mind that is not controlled by instinct. Such a life demonstrates by example the hollowness of self-indulgence, the falsity of low standards, the perversity of vices, and impermanence of material excess.

This encouragement of self-denial is not to support the opposite extreme of monasticism and asceticism. We are not to live as monks in a cave in the mountains, or be in constant repression of any and all physical pleasure. Thanks to evolution, we get pleasure from eating salt, fat, and sugar, all things that are scarce in the wild, but when we have them available in abundance we have to live at a higher level of consciousness. Nobody wants to be overweight, but the natural desire for high-density food overwhelms some people and they have a compulsion to consume it.

Likewise, sex has a place in our lives, a rather unique place. Evolution gave us sexual pleasure to perpetuate the species, but in a social world, that drive has to be tamed for the good of society. It’s no longer beneficial for a man to mate with as many women as possible to spread his seed in hopes that a fraction of the offspring will survive. It is beneficial for that same man to practice restraint and chastity before choosing a mate, because that allows for the most successful marriage, and then spend his energy raising and instructing the children to contribute towards the profit of themselves and others. This act of raising children is one of the most rewarding accomplishments in life, and in reality is an assistance to the parents.

The sex act, then, is merely one moment in a long process, from courtship through marriage, the procreation of children, their education and raising, that contributes towards a mutually sustaining relationship between two people. Its misuse, especially when unintended or abandoned children are the inevitable result, is not just a bad idea and harmful to the individual’s mental health, but destructive to our collective ability to sustain a civilization.

Religion

Every major religion of the world (Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, etc.) teaches personal restraint, chastity, and marriage. A quick overview of Judaism sheds some light on just how clear sexual morality was. If an unmarried man and woman had sex, there are only two possibilities. If the woman was married to someone else, they would both be stoned to death (unless it was rape, then just the man would be killed). If the woman was not married, then they had just consummated a marriage and the man was obliged to take care of her for the rest of his life (if he was already married, polygamy was acceptable). Of course this is a crude legal code of an ancient civilization, but the basic principle of abstinence outside of marriage is carried over in every other religion, including the Baha'i Faith, and the level of adherence to this standard has risen and fallen many times throughout history. Today though, religion is increasingly regarded as irrelevant to the issues of practical life. As social religious teachings are increasingly viewed as relics of past ages that are incompatible with the modern world, sexual morality itself needs to be reviewed.

Here is where the real rub comes with homosexuality and religion. If this moral code of sexuality is adhered to, as it should, and sex outside of a marriage is condemned as harmful, then it would not seem strange to include same-sex relations as condemned. But in modern society that standard of sexual chastity is almost totally abandoned and mocked. Those that don't condemn heterosexual promiscuity, yet discourage homosexuality are being dogmatic and hypocritical.

For religious adherents who want to follow their teachings of traditional, conservative sexuality, the question is not so much a debate about sexual freedom because the teachings of all religions are very clear. In the face changing social attitudes towards sexuality, the question is how to navigate the new world without offending others and encouraging them to see the conservative path as the right model.

Criticism

Judgment of others has a bad history. In response to a tradition of social intolerance towards others by religious adherents, some people take a relativistic stance that no moral standard should be taught at all, to contrast the fundamentalist approach.

This is a false dichotomy. Morality does exist, there are always better ways of doing things, and malicious denunciation can itself be denounced. If you are aware of a certain truth, of which others are deprived, it should be shared in compassionate language and in a spirit of goodwill. If the intention is to help others better themselves, and the advice is accepted, then your goal is attained. If the advice is refused, then any further pressing of the issue will have the opposite of the intended result.

Every person influences other people, it’s part of living in society, but this persuasion is most effective by example or inspiration, so that people accept the wisdom of principles inwardly and out of their own conviction. Thrusting demands on people is fruitless and harmful. Only in the most severe circumstances should others use force, and this is the realm of laws and government, not individuals.

The laws in the USA over homosexuality followed a framework of traditional morality, which excluded pre-marital or homosexual relationships. In 2003, Lawrence v. Texas was brought to the Supreme Court, which ruled that sodomy law violated the constitution by applying the law to homosexual conduct only. In other words, since society does not want to legally impede consensual sex between unrelated persons above the age of consent, then it would be discriminating to single out homosexual relations as a criminal offense, punishable by jail. This is a reasonable approach. As I already mentioned, anyone singling out homosexuality is being hypocritical.

So this leaves those that recognize sexual freedom as harmful in a delicate situation. Because of past and current discrimination, often anything short of full acceptance of such behavior is immediately associated with intolerance. With regard to homosexuality that is particularly true. It is one thing to stand on a street corner and tell people they are going to hell, but when a stance on homosexuality is directly inquired, I have often found myself at a loss for words, because there is no one-line answer that can convey that it is not a desirable trait, but avoids a lot of assumptions. Often my response is indirect: sex outside of marriage should be discouraged.

Once it’s clear that a religion teaches to abstain from the modern version of sexual freedom, and thus homosexual relationships, it's important to also communicate that religion, every religion, also condemns intolerance and hate of others. For example, Baha'is are taught that they should not try to hold others accountable to their moral code. If Baha'is were to not associate with people breaking Baha'i laws, then they would have nobody to associate with. It would create a ridiculous situation.

Aligning one's life to religious teachings is one thing, many people want to know why those laws are the way they are. If you can't explain why you follow certain traditions, then isn't that blind faith? If sex is acceptable in marriage, shouldn’t those born with a homosexual predisposition be encouraged to marry in the same way that a heterosexual couple does even if they don’t have kids? If even this is considered immoral, then surely this is a sign of injustice and discrimination, right?

Rights, Love, and Reciprocity

There are three more false assumptions that need to be approached to answer the question of why gay marriage is not allowed in any religious text. One is that every person has the right to sexual expression, another is that sex and love are equivalent, and the last is that men and women are the same.

Regarding rights, clearly there are some people that, for whatever reason, will never be married. The moral approach already outlined suggests that such people should remain celibate their entire lives. This is not injustice. The predisposition towards same-sex attraction is a very small section of the population (2%) and having that predisposition doesn’t preclude a normal marriage. The research so far has not identified the predisposition and studied those with it, it has only studied those who regard it as innate, which may include people without the predisposition who develop the habit. Thus, people who may be disposed towards same-sex attraction and overcame it to an extent that they never acted on those desires would never be included in any statistics. Further, several times more people practice homosexuality than can be attributed to the congenital predisposition, so it’s clear that even people with it can practice heterosexuality. So it’s not to say that these 2% of people can never marry, but if that were the case, it would still not be unfair to include them in a category of conditions that don’t allow for sexual expression, a category that includes a range of physical and psychological deficiencies.

A common phrase I hear when discussing homosexuality is that, “If two people love each other, they should be allowed to be together.” This is illogical and easily contradicted. Sex is not love. I love my mom, I love my sister, I love my friend Riaz, but no matter how fine and pure a love is between two people, to let it find expression in sexual acts, outside of a marriage, is wrong. Marriage between a man and a woman is the natural and normal way of existence for every sane, healthy, socially-conscious, and responsible person. Its purpose is the perpetuation of the human race.

Lastly, a more subtle topic is the reciprocity between man and woman. I grew being taught that men and women are the same, and only gradually did I see the contradiction with reality. There are whole books written documenting the differences between men and women, and a few points have always stood out to me: women give directions by markers and men by cardinal directions, women like crafts and men like sports, and women dress up to impress other women more so than to impress men (this is extremely strange to a man). Of course these are broad generalities, but mostly true. Some gender roles can be attributed to social constructs, like wearing dresses, but more often than not they are naturally occurring and have an evolutionary explanation (there’s even a reason why women like pink), and these became even more obvious to me after getting married.

The most impressive article I’ve read so far about gender differences came from a summary of the book, “Why Women Have Sex”, in The Guardian newspaper. The authors interviewed over one thousand women and came up with 237 reasons, ranging from physical to emotional, for self-esteem, revenge, to keep a distracted lover, for material gain, or because of coercion (one girl said it was to give STDs to an enemy!). In the past clinical psychologists never wondered why women have sex, because the researchers were men, and to them the answer was obvious: for physical pleasure. As it turns out, that’s not always a priority for women. Nature played a joke on males by giving them physical power, but an insatiable attraction to women, who have psychological power over men. Men’s sex drive makes them want to have sex every 3 days, but women only get a drive every 4 weeks right before ovulation, and 40% of women don’t even have orgasms from vaginal sex. Studies show that men are more happy married than not, but to be considered, men have to show the qualities that women are attracted to, mainly stability, faithfulness, intellectual capacity, determination, and other social tendencies that tell her that once she’s pregnant, he won’t run away, and he has the ability to support her. Women unconsciously realize these relationships and sometimes are threatened by other attractive women, because she knows her man might be too stupid to resist, and she wants to keep him because she knows that his symmetry and smell mean he’s got some good genes. In contrast, men aren’t nearly as threatened by other men.

Another good source on the differences between men and women is the book, “Mr. Mean” by Jed Diamond PhD. It describes how men experience shame and women experience fear in relationships, often without either understanding the dynamic. While there are always exceptions, it’s generally true that men are taller and stronger than women. Women also go through a pregnancy and toddler rearing where they must rely on external support. While both men and women are moved by fear, women react more strongly, and are more sensitive to isolation and lack of contact. This survival mechanism leaves women needing to be cherished, protected, and cared for, more aware of emotional closeness. Men, on the other hand, react more strongly to shame. Due to fierce competition in mating, demonstrated on a microscopic level by fifty million sperm trying to get to a single prized egg, or on a social level by men’s frequent propositioning of women, males often experience a great deal of shame and unworthiness when rejected. Men never forget that they must be chosen by a woman. Men’s basic need, then, is for respect, to feel like a winner, to be the chosen one. Doctors working to rehabilitate violent men say that all serious acts of violence are an attempt to prevent or undo the experience of shame, humiliation, disrespect and ridicule, even if the punishment is imprisonment or death. Unwittingly, women frequently shame men by their emotional strength, criticism, and withholding praise; and men frequently scare women by their voice, anger, and emotional withdrawal. These cycles feed on each other, but if properly understood the dynamic can be mutually beneficial.

It’s not that gender roles are arbitrary social constructs, it’s that each gender has features that are complimentary to the other. Moojan Momen wrote in an excellent article that the goal of achieving equality of women and men “cannot be achieved merely by trying to advance the position of women in society. Rather a much more radical change is needed.” He goes on to argue that putting women into positions of power (e.g. Margaret Thatcher) is not equality. It carries with it the assumption that aggressiveness and force, male qualities, are the highest social value and the basis for judgments about worth. Instead, we must work towards a society that values mental alertness, intuition, love, and service, qualities in which women are strong. The future will see a balance of the masculine and feminine elements of civilization.

Relationships

Under the assumption that men and women are the same, it would seem that gay men and lesbian women have similar relationships.

In one of very few studies on lesbians, respondents gave their understanding of relationships and sexuality, but, similar to the book “Why Women Have Sex”, the results had to be compiled as narratives, not statistics. A few examples show the general character of responses; they said that social conditioning made it “almost impossible for me to have a truly healthy sexual relationship with a man”, that because of their conditioning “women are much more sensitive to other people’s needs”, that they preferred the relationship of power and aesthetics between women, that girls are more “tender and loving”, some went into how they found emotional relationships with women more satisfying than those with men, how they found it hard to trust men, and one said it was easier to “give myself emotionally” to a woman because the women she’d been with “have been my friends first, which was never the case with men.” Lesbianism was perceived generally as an alternative to abstinence or juvenile men. The sex itself was perceived as better, “at least an hour with a woman” instead of “twenty minutes for a man”. Between women sex was “not an ‘exchange’ or a ‘trade’ of services”, and focused on “more kissing and holding”. Another reason given was “political lesbianism”, a new form of rebellion against traditional norms that subordinate women.

For males, homosexuality is quite different. Just as lesbians cite a rejection of men, males often cite the intimidating nature of attracting women as an advantage of gay relationships. The frequent, abundant opportunities for sex, the lack of nagging and criticism, and the similarities of social habits are all attractions to male-male relationships. The level of sexual recreation can be evidenced from the FDA’s prohibition on receiving blood or tissue donations from any man who’s had sex with another man, or from any woman who’s had sex with a man who’s had sex with another man, due to the higher risk of disease.

Most males go through a decade from 5 to 15 years old where they have a close camaraderie in a group of boys, and an aversion to females. Coming out of this period there is a sudden switch from all-boys to boy-and-girl. According to a study by Clive Bromhall, there is a category of men who remain in the “all-boys” stage and never develop further. The reasons for this are vast and complicated, and don’t represent an active choice by the individual, but can easily be attributed to environmental and social experiences that are non-genetic and non-congenital.

In both cases, the social and environmental factors that lead to homosexual relationships that account for the difference between an estimated rate of predisposition (2%) and the actual rate of homosexual experience (10%), can be attributed to dysfunction and the lack of the social conditioning that leads to an ideal heterosexual relationship, one that is reciprocal and mutually beneficial. This dysfunction is associated primarily with males, with their traditionally dominant role and overemphasis on physical pleasure over emotional connection.

The last confounding factor is adoption. While there are clearly more important factors involved in raising children, such as the presence or absence of a second parent, or their level of attention to the child, it would certainly be best for a child to be raised by parents of each gender, with each contributing differently to development. This, by itself, is not a reason to discourage homosexual adoption, but it’s one of several factors that make these relationships non-ideal.

Conclusion

Homosexual attraction comes from both a genetic predisposition and social conditioning. In either case, there are varying degrees of attraction, and this attraction should not be considered an overarching identity. Nor should any moral conclusions be drawn about people who have this attraction. What people do in response to the attraction is another thing. Seeking to normalize homosexual relationships is one of many aspects of a modern liberalization of sex, all of which are opposed by the authoritative teachings of every major religion. Every socially-conscious and responsible person should strive to have a successful marriage and produce children, if possible. Outside of marriage the sex drive should be restrained and controlled, and anyone who never marries should remain celibate. Such a level of self-control is quite difficult, but so is restraining the natural desire for food, alcohol, gambling, and other behaviors that have addictive qualities, which if taken to extremes have a destructive effect on the individual afflicted, who must strive to overcome them. The social implications of such an attitude are very important.

23 comments:

  1. Unless I misapprehend your meaning, the "continuously" in your first line should read *continually* - I hope you're not discussing homosexuality all the time!

    More importantly, I am bound to question the bald statement that "[a]ll indications show [homosexuality] to be congenital" - that must be a gross misreprentation of the truth, whatever the truth may be. I claim no expert knowledge in the field, but I am confident in asserting that most of those who rely on genetic explanations for social behaviour are worshipping an other god than God.

    In your conclusion you state appear to wish to argue that homosexual attraction is both natural and a congenital disorder, but how could that be? On what authority might we conclude the one or the other, never mind both at the same time?

    My own view is, in any case, rather simpler: we are all sexual beings, we make choices regarding how we express our sexuality.

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  2. Thanks for pointing out *continually*. I don't understand why you're questioning the *bald* statement about it being congenital. You'll have to elaborate.

    Defining ourselves as sexual beings is what makes us worship an other god than God. It means we have no control over our actions.

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  3. Thank you for this thought-provoking essay on a subject that is, as you point out, increasingly salient in public discourse and public policy decisions. In the UK, legislation has been enacted that is based on and fixes in law the assumptions about equality that you criticise here. We have reached a point in which those assumptions have become hegemonic - that point at which people, especially power elites, say things like, "Of course sexual conduct is a matter of personal choice; of course equality means that those with homosexual predispositions should be free to act out those predispositions, just as people with heterosexual predispositions are free to act out their choices."

    The tyranny of "of course" is one of the great blind spots of "liberal democracy" and it is becoming increasingly risky to question the underlying assumptions upon which equalities legislation and policy are based - in the UK at least. Notoriously, people have been arrested for publicly criticising homosexuality, including a street preacher who was locked up for several hours because he answered a question put to him by a by-stander by saying that homosexuality was a sin. A passing police community support officer who happened to be homosexual arrested him. Some of the media pointed out the risks to freedom of thought, conscience and religion implicit in this arrest and in the "of course" thinking that hegemonic assumptions about equality can give rise to.

    This is a challenge for those seeking to present the Baha'i teachings on sexual conduct and restraint, especially the condemnation of homosexual acts. To offer people with a homosexual predisposition a life of celibacy is seen as being unjust, as wanting to deprive them of the "right" (which is no right) to express their sexuality - and in some minds expressing our sexuality is seen as the highest of human achievements.

    And this is the point that you so neatly sum up in the second paragraph of your reply to Nicholas' comment above.

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  4. This is a thoughtful look at issues involved in same-sex desire. There is a lot of general education needed in the Baha'i community about this, as it would be a mistake either to muddy the Baha'i teachings to gain acceptance by the more "liberal" public, or to stridently and strictly depict those teachings to gain acceptance by the more "conservative" public. We must avoid these extremes that pit people against one another. All human development is a process and, as Shoghi Effendi wrote "We cannot segregate the human heart from the environment outside us and say that once one of these is reformed everything will be improved. Man is organic with the world. His inner life moulds the environment and is itself also deeply affected by it. The one acts upon the other and every abiding change in the life of man is the result of these mutual reactions."

    There will be a long process of emerging from the present confused state of the world to one that is more coherent - that is, where the inner and outer lives of individuals are synchronized. People should not live double lives with secret selves that contradict their public professions, or problematical public lives that are in conflict with powerful personal moral imperatives.

    One of the thorniest problems is the nature/nurture argument. In one statement, Shoghi Effendi calls homosexual acts "against nature." In the above commentary, it is mentioned that there may be some "natural" explanation for the predisposition of some 2% of the population to same-sex desire. Rather than be caught in the definition of what "nature" is, we should take to heart Katharine Hepburn's famous line from THE AFRICAN QUEEN: "Nature... is that which we have been put into the world to rise above." Because we have the power of understanding and the power to choose, we can choose not to be subject to whatever we think nature is, but rather to be subject to the will of God. It is not easy with something as powerful and elemental as sex, but it is precisely when we handle the most explosive of needs that we should be most thoughtful, careful, and protected.

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  5. Regarding nature and naturalness, I think we can distinguish "naturally occurring" as distinct from something naturally intended. For example, Down Syndrome is naturally occurring, and so is light skin, but one is clearly a chromosomal malfunction, and the other a beneficial outcome of adapting to the environment. In that sense, a homosexual predisposition is naturally occurring, but not naturally beneficial or an intended genetic outcome.

    This quote from the House of Justice deals with this subject.

    "…the Faith does not recognize homosexuality as a "natural" or permanent phenomenon. Rather, it sees this as an aberration subject to treatment, however intractable exclusive homosexuality may now seem to be."

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  6. Bryan,

    I'm glad you're having this discussion, but I'm not sure if I agree with you. Take the most recent post you added on May 27th.

    "…the Faith does not recognize homosexuality as a 'natural' or permanent phenomenon. Rather, it sees this as an aberration subject to treatment, however intractable exclusive homosexuality may now seem to be."

    What if homosexuality really is "permanent" and "intractable"? Apart from anything else, I know that my own sexuality feels pretty inflexible. I happen to be heterosexual, but I don't see why it would be that different for someone who's gay. I've always been clearly and unequivocally attracted to women, and this orientation has never felt changeable. So it's not hard to imagine how another man might have an equally inflexible homosexual orientation.

    But this isn't just my own intuition. Take the recent case of George Rekers (google him if you haven't already heard). Here we have a man who spent his whole life arguing that human sexuality is malleable and that homosexuality can be cured. So apart from anything else, his professional reputation was on the line. And yet he couldn't resist hiring a male prostitute to accompany him on his trip to Europe. Even though he risked not only personal humiliation but the invalidation of his life's work, he couldn't change the fact that he was gay. A whole life of trying to cure men who like sex with men, and he couldn't even cure himself!

    That's not to say that everyone is like this. There may be some people whose sexual orientation is more ambiguous or at least more malleable. But it seems clear to me that it isn't this way for everyone. There are at least some people who are either gay or straight for life. I feel that this is true in my own case, and George Rekers seems to have demonstrated it pretty conclusively through his actions if not his words. That's not a decisive argument against condemning sexual orientation on religious grounds, but it makes the whole thing more complicated. It's hard to tell someone who was born gay and will always be gay that they can never have a fulfilling sexual relationship. It's much easier if you can say that they'll be able to modify their feelings and become part of a faithful heterosexual marriage. That's why Rekers and his fellow zealots tried so hard to prove homosexuality can be 'cured'. They didn't feel comfortable telling others -- or in Rekers' own case himself -- that they suffered from an 'object disorder' or an 'aberration' if they were stuck with it for life.

    Thanks again for raising this important topic.

    Brendan

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  7. Unless Gay men and lesbians are welcomed with open arms and loved unconditionally, and the general Baha'i membership sits down with GLBT friends and colleagues to really get to know them, nothing, and I say this forcefully, nothing can come of this... Baha'is need to ask themselves why anyone would think of joining a religious community that continually thinks of them as second class citizens, speaks using spooky terms as "naturally occurring" or "same-sex desire"... its obvious that Baha'is do not want Gay/lesbian people in their communities... they are far to quick to shun, judge, ignore, and allow the AO to sanction good, decent, creative people... to me it is the "most great disappointment"... the community has been tested and lost. To most in the greater progressive community (including GLBT people) the Baha'is have lost respect are no longer taken seriously, how the Baha'is treat GLBT's is noticed... and people I know find it appalling.

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  8. To begin, I would like to thank the author of this essay for putting together such a well represented, essay on a rather difficult subject. I have spent countless hours scouring the web for intelligent, logical viewpoints on the subject of homosexuality and religion, in general – not just as it applies to the Baha'i faith.

    I am not Baha'i. In fact, while I have been aware of the faith for some time, I never really knew what it was about. When I became aware of the Baha'i viewpoint, I couldn't believe it. Here, for so long I've had these thoughts and no one to express them to...and finally, I discover this faith structure that speaks nearly perfectly to everything that has been bouncing around in my cranium for thirty years.

    The problem, though, is that I am part of that 2% the author speaks of. I have what is medically known as gender dysphoria.

    I was raised in a very blue-collar family by two of the most loving, wonderful, and straight parents a kid could ask for. My childhood was very good. I was never molested or otherwise victimized in any way as a child. Still, I was attracted to girls from a very young age. I never hated boys – how could I hate something that I wanted to be?

    While there are some people who may choose to live a homosexual lifestyle, or some bisexual people who choose to swing one way or another, most people in the homosexual community don't actively choose to be gay, lesbian, or transgendered.

    If the case for celibacy is ruled simply on procreational terms, then does that mean that heterosexual couples who can't have children should abstain from having sex? Does this mean that heterosexual couples who choose not to have children should abstain from having sex? Does this mean that post-menopausal women should refrain from having sex? Should older men with erectile dysfunction or prostrate issues just give up the idea of having sex with their wives?

    Most heterosexual people would probably say no.

    I do take a slight offense at being referred to as an abnormality, though I understand where the author is coming from. But, has there ever been a consideration that homosexuals do have a place in God's plan? Population control is one thing to think about. God, as the ultimate engineer, certainly understands exponential growth and how it applies to a population and the resources the population consumes. Other cases could be made as well, this one is just the most obvious to me.

    I am told that I would be welcome in the Baha'i faith and treated with respect and dignity. I sincerely appreciate this. But to then be told that, since marriage can only occur between a man and a woman, and since I could not have my marriage sanctified within the confines of this faith, my relationship would be viewed as sinful. So, no matter how monogamous, loving, and honest my relationship is, it not only lacks value but should be disregarded and actively counseled against. I should also be encouraged to either lie or cordon myself off from any type of physically intimate relationship, regardless of how monogamous, meaningful, and loving it is.

    I hope you see the catch-22 and, with all due respect, this doesn't sound very progressive to me. This truly makes me sad. I thought I had found the answer here.

    My family means everything to me. Quite frankly, I do believe it was God who led me to my partner and it was definitely God who has helped us keep it all together over the years, because it certainly hasn't been easy. I would be with her whether sex was in the equation or not. I love her and have made a commitment to her, her children, and her extended family. The relationship transcends the sex.

    Isn't this, ultimately, what it's all about?

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    1. Hi there anonymous! I am a Baha'i, and have done a good deal of reading on this issue. You mentioned in your statement that you wished you were a boy growing up and that you have gender dysphoria. Taken together--that you like women, wished/wish (?) that you were a man, and describe your self as having gender dysphoria--these all indicate that you are medically not homosexual but instead your biological gender does not match you emotional and mental gender. (Also, your writing I thought you were a man until you indicated otherwise). This is, for the Faith, a separate issue, and the Universal House of Justice has provided clear guidance to the Baha'is and their legislative bodies about sex-changes and gender dysphoria. Namely that the Assemblies should not interfere with or prevent a believer getting a sex change operation, should provide the same support and love that they would to any believer going through a major life change, and that there is no objection to a believer changing his or her biological sex on the advice of doctors.
      I want to add just a couple other things that may or may not be helpful. If not helpful, please disregard:
      The question one must ask when investigating the Faith is "Do I believe that Baha'u'llah is the Manifestation of God for this day as He Himself proclaims?" If the answer is yes after an investigation conducted in a state of detachment from one's own opinions, then another question comes: "Having the bounty of recognizing Him, am I willing to strive to live my life in accordance with the Prescription given by the Divine Physician (Baha'u'llah) for love of His beauty and good-pleasure, and regardless of the difficulty in turning away from the "insistent self seeking itself" which is what has formerly been called Satan? (that is, in accordance with His laws and ordinances)". If this answer is also yes, then the seeker must endeavor to learn about those laws, one of which will be the Covenant. This Covenant is a set of legally binding documents clearly delineating the divinely appointed transition of the power of interpretation from Baha'u'llah to His son 'Abdu'l-Baha, and then from 'Abdu'l-Baha to Shoghi Effendi and from Shoghi Effendi to the Universal House of Justice. If the seeker finds this to be sufficient proof to him or her of the intent of Baha'u'llah and 'Abdu'l-Baha, the vicegerency of Shoghi Effendi and the Universal House of Justice is confirmed. If this is so to the seeker, then one must follow their advice and interpretations just as they would Baha'u'llah's advice and interpretation of the Holy Writ. This does not, of course, mean that those who have not truly believed in this and who do not call themselves Baha'is are obliged to follow the Teachings of the Faith. As the Holy Qur'an states: "there is no compulsion in religion".

      We Baha'is do not believe homosexuality to be a healthy and useful expression of the sex impulse, but we also believe that to discriminate against anyone, to be intolerant, to be prejudicial, or to engage in premarital heterosexual encounters is as much a moral wrong.
      I hope to have been helpful, and in no way do I intend to offend or suggest that you are any less a person that I am. From my view, you may struggle with a difficult spiritual problem, and I have several difficult spiritual problems that I work to overcome in my life--we are equals and in need of loving each other and working together to build a better world for all people.

      Again from the Holy Qur'an, "O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another."

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  9. "My family means everything to me. Quite frankly, I do believe it was God who led me to my partner and it was definitely God who has helped us keep it all together over the years, because it certainly hasn't been easy. I would be with her whether sex was in the equation or not. I love her and have made a commitment to her, her children, and her extended family. The relationship transcends the sex."

    Amen!

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  10. "So, no matter how monogamous, loving, and honest my relationship is, it not only lacks value but should be disregarded and actively counseled against."

    The language you're using is rather tricky. On the one hand, you would make it seem that the Baha'i teachings are preventing monogamous, loving, and honest relationships. By phrasing it this way, you're missing the point entirely. This is more so a question of self-control and deferring to our higher nature rather than entertaining animalistic impulses, regardless of how strong they are. Obviously loving and honest friendships should be sought after with every person you encounter, but to allow sexual satisfaction to come into the relationship turns it into a different matter entirely, and according to the Baha'i teachings that kind of interaction should be restricted to the marriage relationship.

    To the question of why it is restricted to the marriage relationship and why the relationship is strictly between a male and a female, there is no direct reference in the Baha'i Writings to explain why, nor would I expect one. There is also an ordinance to wash one's feet every day in the summer period, and there is not anywhere an explanation if someone asks, "why?" If the explanation were so simple as to be logically explained in a few sentences, then there would be no need for any ordinance in the first place unless its a reminder of the obvious. But this has to be framed in a much greater view, starting with the fundamental premises of the Baha'i Faith: that the universe has a perfect Creator, that the Creator communicates to humanity through periodic Messengers who establish religious teachings, that these teachings at each stage bring about the greatest level of civilization that is possibly for the age, that these teachings are often contrary to the wishes of the society, and that "It is incumbent upon every man of insight and understanding to strive to translate that which hath been written into reality and action."

    Baha'u'llah tells us to have "discerning faith", and that we should strive to understand why we follow teachings, but if that fails us and we can't understand why, it is better to follow the laws out of pure obedience than to break the laws and reap the negative consequences on ourselves and society. To the extent that you don't see agreement with your perception of reality and Baha'u'llah's teachings, then you may reconcile yourself by asking the question of whether or not you believe Baha'u'llah has divine authority. If He does, then you should trust in Him.

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  11. Where to draw the line?
    In 1990, when I was at university, I came in contact with a male bisexual. He believed that polygamy is natural and he said in Canada homosexual marriage is normal. He said he had love for a woman and for a man. He said one day polygamy will be adopted world wide and that will allow him to marry the women he loves and the man he loves like any hetrosexual who naturally can marry more than one person.

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  12. Bryan stated: "This is more so a question of self-control and deferring to our higher nature rather than entertaining animalistic impulses, regardless of how strong they are."
    It always baffles me that Bahais think once a man and woman are in a holy community sanctioned matrimony- that somehow what goes on in their bedroom is of a "higher nature rather than entertaining animalistic impulses". How much more insulting can you be to a loving, committed gay couple than to make such a bigoted statement? I have news for you. When a straight Bahai married couple has sex without any love, just to get their rocks off- that's all they've done. Had sex! How is that a higher nature, than two loving men who deeply care for each other and are raising kids? And yes- enjoy sex with each other to help bond them even more in this world. How is THAT animalistic compared to a straight Bahai couple who go through the motion of sex in a loveless marriage just because they think they are doing right by God. It is all so blatantly self-righteous and condescending. If I had time, I would dissect your essay above piece by piece. Gays will continue to push for their rights, creating loving families, raising wonderful kids who will advance civilization (something the Bahai community is failing to do at present) and in the end the Bahais will lose out by excluding these wonderful families. Your loss. You've already lost me- 5 generations, Iranian Bahai who woke up and saw the prejudice he lived under in the guise of "unity in diversity"!

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  13. OMG and you cite this: "Just as lesbians cite a rejection of men, males often cite the intimidating nature of attracting women as an advantage of gay relationships. The frequent, abundant opportunities for sex, the lack of nagging and criticism, and the similarities of social habits are all attractions to male-male relationships."
    So let me get this straight (no pun intended), if I could attract a woman who doesn't nag me, puts out abundantly and has a lot of the same social habitats, then I'll switch over, huh? Give me a break! I know women in my life who wanted to have fun together and they are the coolest chics you'd want to hang out with, but guess what? I am not sexually attracted to the female body! Why can't you people understand? It's really that simple- you don't need a PhD. Geez! I can watch a female porn and it would be as exciting as watching CSPAN. I don't get off on CSPAN! I was going to dissect your silly essay, but why bother. You are still delusional about the need of a mom and a dad to raise good children; even though social science has proved you wrong countless of times. But, silly me, why bring up real science with close-minded fundamentalists who only see a literal understanding of their religions- not a spiritual one. Oh well....

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  14. Anonymous,

    You keep hinting that you are going to dissect the essay. So do it. Add to the discussion instead of calling people names.

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  15. This whole essay is insulting and condescending to gay people. So why bother? If you can't see that- not worth dissecting it. Any more than I would dissect the rants of a racist who would clothe his words in pseudo science to prove how detrimental it is for children to be raised by a black man and a white woman. Or a religious zealot who would state that a child being brought up by a Bahai and a Moslem would confuse the child and it would be bad for him. Etc etc. Only when it comes to gay people can we be insulted like this and it is completely allowed in the Bahai community.

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  16. "The Purpose of the one true God, exalted be His glory, in revealing Himself unto men is to lay bare those gems that lie hidden within the mine of their true and inmost selves. That the divers communions of the earth, and the manifold systems of religious belief, should never be allowed to foster the feelings of animosity among men, is, in this Day, of the essence of the Faith of God and His Religion." --Baha'u'llah

    "O ye lovers of this wronged one! Cleanse ye your eyes, so that ye behold no man as different from yourselves. See ye no strangers; rather see all men as friends, for love and unity come hard when ye fix your gaze on otherness. And in this new and wondrous age, the Holy Writings say that we must be at one with every people; that we must see neither harshness nor injustice, neither malevolence, nor hostility, nor hate, but rather turn our eyes toward the heaven of ancient glory. For each of the creatures is a sign of God, and it was by the grace of the Lord and His power that each did step into the world; therefore they are not strangers, but in the family; not aliens, but friends, and to be treated as such." --Abdu'l-Baha

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  18. Then Daniel. I suggest that Bahais get rid of sex all together for ALL of their followers. What's good for the goose, must be good for the gander. Right? You don't need sex to bond a man and woman in Bahai matrimony. Oh wait, yes you do. Because it is part of bringing two people together- to fuse their souls in this world. Marriage is both a physical and spiritual union. A union that gay couples have shown over and over again to be as fruitful and beautiful as any Bahai hetero marriage. Maybe you are trying to makes sense of all this for yourself- I don't know. But there is a BIG difference between the bubba who needs to drink Coors and tail gate with his buddies and a couple who are raising children as a family. Or would you like me to equate a Bahai matrimony to, oh I don't know, a couple of heroin addicts that have the need to shoot up together every so often?

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  19. Hi Anonymous,
    Thank you for your thoughtful response. This blog is helpful for reflection, for people to try to understand one another better, even if they don't agree. I should clarify that I wasn't trying to make an analogy between the behaviors of sex in a committed relationship with tailgating and boozin' with buddies; my main point is that lots of people - including people who identify themselves as Baha'is - do things that the Baha'i teachings do not agree with, but that that should not necessarily be a barrier for the Baha'i to strive for a respectful and warm friendship with that person. Meanwhile, as I said, I'd understand (and not fault) - on the other hand - if the other wasn't comfortable with reciprocating, as the committed, homosexual, relationship that that person is in is core to his/her identity and family life.

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  20. Is there any Remover of difficulties save God? Say: Praised be God! He is God! All are His servants, and all abide by His bidding!

    - The Bab -

    This prayer has helped me countless of times, during the death of my beloved cousin brother and grandmother whom until this day I cherish in my heart. Whenever I start crying, I say the remover of difficulties and I am at ease. My mother would say that there is nothing a prayer can't do. That is true. My parents are devout and earnest Bahai's, I was sent to children's class to learn and acquire Bahai principles and teachings. It benefited me in many ways such as my academics and enhanced memory all thanks to getting reward stickers for memorizing prayers when I was a child. Also, I could speak in front of people that later helped me in my school days. Needless to say being a Bahai to me is the most wonderful thing ever because I love my Faith, my family and people around me.
    Then one day, I fell in love. With a girl. You could call it a crush, but to me that was never it. That same day I got back from school and headed straight to my room. I sat down on the floor and years of religious belief and my strong feelings for my faith came crashing down on me. I have never been drawn in by anyone like the girl I fell in love with and it certainly did not help the fact that she was my very best friend. For months I suffered in silence, this feeling that they say is a sin would not wash away. But the funny part is, when I say the prayer that gave me courage and confidence for 18 years, it never really did banish this "animalistic impulses" I have on this friend of mine. Don't get me wrong, I did not lose faith on praying, rather I began questioning myself. Can I pray while I'm sinning? Is loving another that wrong? Is it still a sin if I have this so called animalistic desires on a boy rather than a girl?
    Shoghi Effendi taught that "through the advice and help of doctors, through a strong and determined effort, and through prayer, a soul can overcome this handicap."
    Firstly, as stated above clearly by Shoghi Effendi, homosexuals are perceived as sick people who can easily get cured by a prayer and determined effort, or doctors for that matter. Get cured from what? Loving another human being?
    Secondly, "No matter how devoted and fine the love may be between people of the same sex, to let it find expression in sexual acts is wrong." It is acknowledged there is love, only the sex is forbidden. Why? Is it because a homosexual couple can't reproduce as a heterosexual couple? Does that make our love a lesser one?
    With all due respect I do understand where the author is coming from but you can't possibly know what we have to go through unless you are homosexual yourself. There is absolutely no law to stop two men or two women or a man and a woman from loving each other.

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  21. As mentioned in the blog, love is not sex. You should love everyone, but sex is confined to marriage. Confusing the two is deceptive. I get the impression from comments that people aren't reading the entire thing.

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  22. So love is not sex but sex is confined to marriage. I agree that love is not sex. But in a way love does lead to sex however you look at it. It should be that lust is not love. But if you say sex is confined to marriage then how about divorcees who still need physical intimacy? But in a way you are correct. What I'm trying to say is that the mutual understanding and love that a straight couple has is similar to a gay couple. The only difference is that they're both men or women. The love is there, the understanding is there, the respect is there. And it doesn't always revolve around sex the entire time.

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