The below letter was recently sent from the US National Spiritual Assembly to the American believers. It quotes from a letter to an individual on behalf of the Universal House of Justice, and directly clarifies what is perhaps the greatest social issue of my generation. It clearly encourages Baha'is to fight against discrimination and work for social justice, while leaving intact the clear moral guidelines around marriage. The prominent reference here is that with regards to homosexuals, "freedom from discrimination" can be actively supported, while "opportunity for civil marriage" would neither be promoted nor opposed.
This letter won't satisfy those looking for a reform of the underlying belief of homosexuality being an aberration. It does not present a technical case that would hold up in court, and it leaves the obvious conclusion that as the Baha'i Faith spreads, the social attitude towards sexuality will also spread with it. But to Baha'is caught in the line of fire between a polarized pro- and anti-gay society, this message seems to authoritatively address several recent issues. The Congressional bill that repealed the exclusion of homosexuals in the US military can be actively supported by Baha'is (in fact, I was going to blog about it as such but got busy), as can any effort to stem the harassment in public schools that leads to an unseemly high suicide rate among homosexual youth. Regarding the California Prop 8 debate raging in court, Baha'is can change the channel.
January 3, 2011 To the American Bahá'í community Dearest Bahá'í Friends, The National Spiritual Assembly understands that homosexuality is a subject of particular interest and concern to many in this country and is, therefore, moved to share with you a letter dated October 27, 2010, written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice on this topic. A copy of the letter-addressed to an American Bahá'í-was received by our Assembly, and the Supreme Body has kindly granted us permission to share it with you: "...With respect to your question concerning the position Bahá'ís are to take regarding homosexuality and civil rights, we have been asked to convey the following. "The purpose of the Faith of Bahá'u'lláh is the realization of the organic unity of the entire human race, and Bahá'ís are enjoined to eliminate from their lives all forms of prejudice and to manifest respect towards all. Therefore, to regard those with a homosexual orientation with prejudice or disdain would be against the spirit of the Faith. Furthermore, a Bahá'í is exhorted to be "an upholder and defender of the victim of oppression", and it would be entirely appropriate for a believer to come to the defense of those whose fundamental rights are being denied or violated. "At the same time, you are no doubt aware of the relevant teachings of the Faith that govern the personal conduct of Bahá'ís. The Bahá'í Writings state that marriage is a union between a man and a woman and that sexual relations are restricted to a couple who are married to each other. Other passages from the Writings state that the practice of homosexuality is not permitted. The teachings of Bahá'u'lláh on personal morality are binding on Bahá'ís, who strive, as best they can, to live up to the high standards He has established. "In attempting to reconcile what may appear to be conflicting obligations, it is important to understand that the Bahá'í community does not seek to impose its values on others, nor does it pass judgment on others on the basis of its own moral standards. It does not see itself as one among competing social groups and organizations, each vying to establish its particular social agenda. In working for social justice, Bahá'ís must inevitably distinguish between those dimensions of public issues that are in keeping with the Bahá'í Teachings, which they can actively support, and those that are not, which they would neither promote nor necessarily oppose. In connection with issues of concern to homosexuals, the former would be freedom from discrimination and the latter the opportunity for civil marriage. Such distinctions are unavoidable when addressing any social issue. For example, Bahá'ís actively work for the establishment of world peace but, in the process, do not engage in partisan political activities directed against particular governments." We felt it important that the friends have access to this guidance from the House of Justice, and trust that you will find it helpful. With loving Bahá'í greetings, Kenneth E. Bowers Secretary National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of the United States