Faith: The Journal of the International League of Religious Socialists

Summer 2005 Edition (HTML Version)

Previous Editions
Marriage, Religion and Equality: Gay Marriage and Human Rights
On Pastoral Prudence and Homosexual Marriage - Carlos García de Andoin
Civil Unions for All - Andrew Hammer
Homosexuality and Same-Sex Acts in Islam - Al-Fatiha

Marriage, Religion and Equality: Gay Marriage and Human Rights

Following from our previous edition, where we published the speech of Canadian New Democratic Party leader Jack Layton on gay marriage, the question has become increasingly relevant to both religious and political discussions in many other countries. Canada passed the Civil Marriage Act on 20 July. Only a few days earlier on 3 July, Spain legalised marriage between same-sex partners.

In this edition we are publishing two articles from religious socialists on the issue, which sits at the very centre of the relationship between religion and secular civil society. The third article provides a gay Muslim perspective on homosexuality itself and how it is treated within Islam.

We begin with the leader of our Spanish member organisation, Carlos García de Andoin.

On Pastoral Prudence and Homosexual Marriage

Carlos García de Andoin

Descargen en español (PDF)

The bishops have fundamental reasons to reject the inclusion of same-sex unions in the institution of marriage. Such is the position, for example, of Lionel Jospin, significant because in 1999 as the socialist Prime minister of France he promoted the legislative recognition of same-sex partnerships through the Civil Pact of Solidarity (PACS). Still, last year a press article affirmed that ‘marriage is in principle an institution created from the union of a man and a woman’. And it added that ‘one can disapprove of and fight homophobia while at the same time not being in favour of homosexual marriage, as in my case’ (Le Journal du Dimanche 16.05.04). Such a position is not shared by the gay and lesbian movement, who consider such a distinction to be discrimination at its heart.

Nevertheless the doctrinal and anthropological reasons of the Church do not justify any type of opposition to the decision of the [Spanish] Parliament. There are at least two Catholic traditions on how to conceive the relationship between morals and policy. First is the prophetic, guided by the proclamation of principles. A good example of this is Isaiah and Jeremiah. Here one finds the ethics of conviction in the Weberian distinction. Second is the prudent, rooted in the Wisdom tradition, represented well by Saint Paul, and which is oriented to the selection of means adequate for the attainment of the goal. It would come to be related with the ethics of responsibility. Prudence stops to consider the most suitable ways for the real achievement of the goal at hand. It is not enough to know if a thing is good by itself; it is also necessary to discern if it is also good in the present circumstances, and to evaluate if it is better than another thing and more or less suitable for the intended end. A good example of this is that of Saint Thomas, who in the 13th century and in a denominational society, defined the civil law as a ‘certain arrangement of reason appointed to the common good’ that does not necessarily have to identify itself with divine law because it can carry more evils than benefits for the common good.

What the bishops have to bring about today, by virtue of itself, is pastoral prudence. It is necessary to look ahead with wisdom to the day after the battle with the Government [over gay marriage]. One could have acted in a more prudent way, helping to find a more mature position in the social assembly, but the Church cannot, moreover does not have to ‘burn all the ships’, so to speak. If it does, it will find it impossible to carry out those tasks that by fidelity to the Gospel, do not permit any delay. Which are these?

First, the recognition of the existence of homosexuals and the firm support to the same inside the Church. There are homosexual men and women in the Christian community, among priests, monks and the laity. They live a double life. They suffer a lack of acceptance and recognition. The doctrinal proposal is lived in fact like a negation of their identity, dignity and rights. The Christian faith, far from meaning liberation to them, has instead caused and is causing emotional blocks and anguishing experiences. Fewer and fewer do not remain in the experience of the Love of God in spite of remaining in the [Catholic] Church. Many have not had another remedy in order to realise their particular exodus of liberation until they find a space of fresh air far from the Church. Quite a few have left the faith, although a few hold on to embers that allow them to continue living in a Christian way, but deeply removed from any commitment to the Christian community. Since the first claims in the 1970s the Spanish Church has not taken a single step forward. In order to begin, in a suitable context of course, a public dialogue between a bishop and a gay or lesbian Christian would be important. A visible dialogue, with pictures, would be even better. Not only does this not go against some doctrine, but rather stands in favour of the evangelical principle of non-discrimination.

Second, to reinterpret the call to abstention from love. The Church no longer puts so much emphasis on the legal non-regulation of the homosexual union, but on the legal non-comparison to marriage. The Compendium for Social Doctrine of the Church leaves the question open on the legal recognition of homosexual union (n. 228). A. Rouco, while president of the EEC, in its Plenary Assembly said that ‘it is not to deny the legitimate rights of anybody’ but to defend the institution of marriage and the family (3.05.04). If this is so, the Church has before itself the challenge of continuing to propose the evangelical perspective of love for the homosexual couple. The homosexual, Christian or not, can find in the commitment of the mutual donation without reservation and without terms an inspiration and a reference for orienting, supporting and enriching reciprocal love. For a couple of decades the Church proposed the abstention-like quality of Christian love to spouses, not in the sense of sexual abstinence, but in the sense of a sexuality lived with radicalness in love: ‘abstention is to live in the order of the heart’ (John Paul II). If there is a homosexual practice from the Christian perspective. it would be better if it is inspired and signified by the mutual donation.

Third, the struggle against homophobia with decisiveness and without concession. Homophobia exists in our society and could yet increase in spite of the ample and increasing social acceptance of the reality of homosexual love. Highly offensive messages circulate on the Internet. There are episodes of insults and aggressions. In any case, opposition by the Church to same-sex marriage does not serve as a legitimation of homophobic conduct. It is clear that the Church does not try to do that, but it also does not have to appear unconscious on these undesired effects of said conduct. What it says in its texts must become a determined action: ‘it is to deplore with firmness that homosexuals have been and are still the object of malevolent expressions and violent actions. Such behaviors deserve the condemnation of the shepherds of the Church, wherever they can be verified [... ]. the dignity of all persons must always be respected in words, actions and legislation’ (J. Ratzinger, 1.10.86). In this sense the gay and lesbian movement suffers from an attitude held by the Church at the international level that is more decided against the elimination of homophobic legislation that persists in a remarkable number of countries. The Church could sign on to the proposal to declare the 17th of May as an International Day Against Homophobia. On this date in 1990 the WHO eliminated homosexuality from the list of mental diseases.

As the reader can observe there are solid arguments that appeal to prudence. It is necessary to look to the days ahead. The gospel is infested with passages in which Jesus disturbs and scandalizes those who loved to put the moral code over people. Many of us have wondered ourselves if the general call to civil disobedience by Catholics, to politicians and to the person of King Juan Carlos I, is pastorally prudent. And it is not because the author is against civil disobedience. On the contrary, the democracy that emerged after absolutism owes itself very much to the right of resistance to authority and particularly to the Christian idea of spiritual freedom before power. The objection of conscience that postulates the Christian tradition is often a more radically democratic form of political commitment. At least this way we live through a good generation of young people who, before the call to learn virtues and skills for war, decide to exercise their fundamental right to the objection of conscience, with well little support from bishops or governments.

[translation by Andrew Hammer]

Civil Unions for All

Andrew Hammer

If other nations are agreeing to allow gay marriage as a matter of social equality and civil rights, the United States is one nation where conservative politicians and activists are working to ban the idea outright. Seven US states have passed laws allowing civil unions, but nationally opposition remains strong.

ILRS Secretary General Andrew Hammer, who lives in the US, takes up the issue from the perspective of separation between religious institutions and the secular state.

When my wife and I were married, we signed a piece of paper in a dingy office, received plastic cards to show that we were married, and in a rare show of bureaucratic humour, we were given a tiny bottle of dishwashing liquid as a reminder of some of the more mundane duties that lay ahead for us. Then we went to the temple, and really got married.

Before I dig any further into what has become a political hot potato, let me be clear on the question of the political rights of homosexuals. I support the right of my gay and lesbian brothers and sisters to have full legal access to all of the same public services that I do because of my heterosexuality. I support their right to have their unions legally recognised by the state, so that they may be guaranteed equal treatment under the law when it comes to the multitude of life’s protocols that heterosexuals take for granted. And I support the right of gay people to worship and take part in the rituals of my faith.

But I am not in favour of the state either sanctioning or banning what is being called gay marriage. My position is not that homosexuals should not be married; it’s that many heterosexuals shouldn’t be either. I’m not interested in an argument over homosexuality, but rather on the separation of church and state. What I’m about to offer here may seem little more than a dance with semantics, but hear me out.

As far as the law is concerned, the first “marriage” I had — symbolised not by the holy symbols of the chuppah and two rings, but by the plastic cards and dishwashing liquid — was all I needed to secure whatever legal rights would accrue to me by virtue of being “married”. But the truth is that this was a civil union, as is any other similar ceremony performed by a secular body or the representative thereof. We needed nothing else to gain the legal entitlements that one receives from such a union.

However, we wanted to be married, and that meant that we needed to find a synagogue to give to us that state of being which the state cannot impart. In the same way that we would not have gone to a Baptist church for a Jewish wedding, we would not go to the state to be married. The state legally united my wife and I, it did not marry us. The concept of marriage is at its heart a religious one, its terms and catechism defined by each religious faith and denomination. Alternately it is also a tribal one, which is bound by similar rules and traditions. Thus, marriage is by its nature exclusive, and therefore not the proper domain of the state, which in a democracy is obliged to be inclusive.

Forget sexuality. As I have defined it, atheists have neither use for nor right to marriage. What everyone, regardless of faith or sexuality, does have a right to, and must have in order to legally begin life as a couple, is the civil union. The civil union is the actual contract between all those who seek the legal benefits of marriage without wanting to embrace the inherently religious rite of marriage itself. The state calls it marriage, but that is a misnomer, when you consider that those who have a marriage, an act sanctioned by a religious institution, are required to have that act legitimised by the state in order to gain those legal benefits. A civil union is not a marriage, but the state’s way of confirming that united couples can begin to enjoy the legal rights granted to them. And the essence of the debate over gay marriage is one of civil and legal rights.

Looking at it this way, it becomes clear that if we insist on using the term marriage to describe these civil unions, then the state has usurped the role and authority of religious institutions by performing them. Never mind the well-founded concern that religion might encroach upon the state; by seeking to determine what constitutes marriage, the state places itself in a dangerous position whereby it begins to act as an interpreter of religious law. Religious people, especially those who would support the idea of a constitutional amendment on marriage, should be very concerned about that. The state can and should determine to what degree, if any, religious law will be allowed to supercede civil law; what it cannot do is determine what religious law is.

The real debate on gay marriage
So if we accept that the state has the right to perform nothing more than a civil union for all couples, what about those homosexuals who want to be married by a religious institution?

That’s a battle that must be fought out within each religious institution. But while people can indeed raise all kinds of calls and issues within those institutions, we should remember that religious institutions do not control your health insurance, your tax burden, or your right to be considered the legal guardian or heir in relation to your life partner. I pray that it stays that way.

What religious institutions do control are the terms of their own membership. No matter how discriminatory those terms are deemed to be by progressive-minded people, no group of people who are considered to have violated those terms has the right to insist that the institution change those terms, especially on matters that the owners of that institution believe to be unambiguously decided for all time by their holy scriptures.

Luckily, many progressive-minded people control some religious institutions, and there are options. A gay Jew can find a Reconstructionist congregation that will accept him as a member and even as a rabbi. A gay Christian may have a harder search on his hands, but there are many congregations where gay and lesbian families are welcomed as equals.

While those who favour a catholic (in the true sense of the word) solution to the matter will disagree, I believe that each congregation has to decide how they operate in regard to the question of gay marriage. If people are to have the freedom to love who they wish, they certainly must be free to think as they wish, associate with whom they wish, and form organisations on that basis, whether or not we agree with the tenets of those organisations or the thinking behind them. That goes for both sides in the debate, inclusive and exclusive.

Marriage is a religious institution, the requirements of which are entwined with the teachings of each religion that performs it. So long as we hold to the notion that everyone has a secular legal right to be married, we are tying what should be an explicit universal guarantee of rights to a condition of exclusivity defined by religious institutions. My gay friends and comrades may be willing to accept such a quasi-theocratic situation. I’m not so sure about it.

The Soviet Union, which was hardly an example to anyone for anything, did get one thing right. Millions of people were given all of the rights and legal benefits of marriage without ever being married. The civil union was the 'marriage ceremony' in that most secular of secular states. In the same way, we should leave marriages to religious institutions, and let the state do what it does best; confer legal benefits to those who meet the criteria to receive them, regardless of sexual orientation. And give out dishwashing liquid.

Homosexuality and Same-Sex Acts in Islam

Al-Fatiha is an international organisation of gay Muslims founded in 1998. They state their purpose thus: ‘Al-Fatiha promotes the progressive Islamic notions of peace, equality and justice. We envision a world that is free from prejudice, injustice and discrimination, where all people are fully embraced and accepted into their faith, their families and their communities.’

The following article is taken from their pamphlet, and provides a perspective based on the experience of gay Muslims in their faith community.

There is a general consensus amongst the scholars of Islam (both past and present) that homosexuality is a deviation of man's true (heterosexual) nature. Thus the act of homosexuality is sinful and perverted and is viewed with contempt in most Muslim societies and Islamic countries.

There are approximately seven verses in the Qu'ran (the holy text of the Muslims) that supposedly refer to homosexuality and same-sex acts. The majority of these verses refer to the nation of Lot) the biblical nation of Sodom and Gomorrah). The following are examples of a few verses:

"We also sent Lut (Lot): he said to his people: "Do ye commit lewdness such as no people in creation ever committed before you? For ye practice your lusts on men in preference to women: ye are indeed a people transgressing beyond bounds." Surah VII (Araf), Verses 80-81

"Of all creatures in the world, will ye approach males. And leave those whom Allah (God) has created for you to be your mates? Nay, ye are people transgressing all limits?" Surah XXVI (Shu'araa), Verses 165-166)

"If two men among you are guilty of lewdness, punish them both. If they repent and amend, leave them alone: for Allah (God) is Oft-Returning, Most merciful." Surah IV (Nisaa), Verse 16

There are approximately four hadith (sayings attributed to the Prophet Muhammad) in reference to homosexuality, same-sex acts, and cross-dressing. A few include the following:

"When a man mounts another man, the throne of God shakes" - Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him)

"Kill the one that is doing it and also kill the one that it is being done to." (in reference to intercourse) - Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him)

"Cursed are those men who wear women's clothing and those women who wear men's clothing." - Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him)

During the time of the Prophet Muhammad (d. 632 AD) there was not one single case of a reported punishment or execution for homosexuality or same-sex acts. The first execution to ever have been carried out was during the time of the third Caliph, Omar, who ordered a homosexual man to be burned alive. Scholars at the time differed in opinion on this form of punishment, arguing that no human should be burned (according to the traditions of the Prophet Muhammad), thus it was decided that homosexuals should be thrown off the highest building and then stoned to death.

Islamic schools of thought and jurisprudence differ on the issue of homosexuality. Sex between males was treated differently by the various legal schools, on the basis of differing interpretation of the traditional literature. All the legal schools regard sex between males as unlawful, but they differ over the severity of the punishment. The Hanafite school (predominant in South Asia and Eastern Asia today) maintains that it (same-gender sex) does not merit any physical punishment. The Hanabalites, on the other hand (predominant in the Arab world) believe that sex between males must be punished severely. The Sha'fi school of thought (also predominant in the Arab world) argues that punishment for sodomy can only be carried out if there are four adult male witnesses who actually see the penetration, "as though the key is going into the key hole."

According to the Ahmadi Muslim Jama'at (a small sect within Islam), homosexual behavior is a symptom of the decadence of society. In an essay entitled "Homosexuality & Islam" the Ahmadi sect states (regarding the decadence of society), "As the is process continues, people find an invent even more bizarre and perverted means to satisfy natural urges, and trends like child and adult pornography, bisexuality, homosexuality and beastiality appear." They go on to say that homosexuality "is utterly contrary to every natural law of human and animal life, and counter to the morals, purposes and institutions of a procreative society."

The Ismaili sect of Islam (also known as the Agha Khani movement), with a population of approximately 2 million people believes Islam to be a continuously evolving faith that must be reinterpreted to adapt to modern-day society and culture. Their spiritual leader, the Prince Agha Khan, who is thought to be the direct descendent of the Prophet Muhammad, has been open to dialogue and communication with progressive movements within Islam. Although he has not officially made any gay-affirming statements, it is believed that he will soon make a declaration regarding this issue.

In 1988, scholars from Al-Azhar University, the oldest and most prominent Islamic school in the world, located in Cairo, Egypt, passed a fatwa decree that sex reassignment surgeries were permissable in Islam. The Grand Mufti of the University stated, "It is permissible to perform the operation in order to reveal what was hidden of male or female organs. Indeed, it is obligatory to do so on the grounds that it must be considered a treatment...It is, however, not permissible to do it at the mere wish to change sex from woman to man, or vice versa." This fatwa has set a precedent for the Muslim transgender movement for acceptance within the bounds of the Islamic faith.

There have been many executions and arrests of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender Muslims. These stories range from executions in Afghanistan, deportations of transvestites and cross-dressers in Saudi Arabia, to the present-day corruption and sodomy trial of ex-Prime Minister Anwar in Malaysia. It is also estimated that since the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran, the government has executed more than 4,000 homosexuals.

Although Islam has been declared as the official religion in most Arab countries (except for Lebanon), European law heavily influences their constitutions. For example, in Algeria, a country heavily influenced by French law(s), sodomy may be punished with imprisonment for two months to two years and a fine (500-2,000 Algerian dinars). Saudi Arabia, on the other hand, where shariah (Islamic law) was always enforced, liwat (sodomy) is to be treated like fornication, and must be punished in the same way. If muhsan (sane) and free, one must be stoned to death, while a free bachelor must be whipped 100 lashes and banished for one year. However a non-Muslim who sodomizes a Muslim must also be stoned to death. Sodomy is proved either by the culprit confessing four times or by the testimony of four trustworthy Muslim men.

Since the occupation of Afghanistan, in 1992, by the extreme conservative army of the Taliban, there have been approximately 10 public executions in the country. The men, all accused of committing sodomy had a wall toppled on top of them. According to the Taliban law, if the accused survive the execution after 30 minutes, they are innocent and are taken to a hospital for their injuries.

Islamic extremists tried to beat up a gay man and threatened to kill him at a London conference on "Islamaphobia," designed to promote understanding and tolerance of Muslim values, and attended by Muslim, Jewish and Christian leaders. The conference, held in London, England claimed that "Islam is wrongly and unjustly portrayed as barbaric, irrational, primitive, sexist, violent and aggressive." During the question and answer session, an OutRage! Activist and former Muslim of Pakistani descent, asked the panel of speakers how negative attitudes towards Muslims among gay people could be overcome, given that Islam advocates the burning alive of homosexuals. Most of the conference (then) turned on him. He was surrounded by over a hundred Muslims who screamed abuse and threatened to kill him. None of the Muslim, Christian or Jewish leaders on the platform (panel) intervened to calm the homosexual: all he had to do was look at the audience's reaction. The man was quoted as saying, "Muslims want tolerance for themselves but not lesbians and gays. They condemn Islamophobia, while zealously promoting hatred and violence against homosexuals."

Imam Siraj Wahaj, an African-American convert to Islam, and a prominent cleric and scholar of Islam in the United States was quoted as saying the following in 1992, in reference to the supposed opening of a gay mosque in Toronto: "I would burn down the masjid (mosque) myself, if I could."

After hearing about the First International Retreat for GLBT Muslims held in Boston in October of 1998, Imam Talal Eid of the Islamic Center of New England, based in Quincy and Sharon, Massachusetts, USA, was quoted as saying, "This is their life. It's up to them. They are acting against the teaching in Islam. I do not distribute blessing. I'm not in the position to give licenses to people. Nobody has the power to say that is okay. There is nothing I can do except call this person to repent, because he is committing one of the greatest sins in Islam. This is how it is described by the prophet Mohammed. Usually people who do such things don't practice being Muslims. If they do, they are betraying themselves."

The Islamic Society of North America's Dr. Muzammil Siddiqi, answering a question posed on homosexuality, says, "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." Attempting to explain why homosexuality is a sin, he says, "There are many reasons why it is forbidden in Islam. Homosexuality is dangerous for the health of the individuals and for the society. It is a main cause of one of the most harmful and fatal diseases. It is disgraceful for both men and women. It degrades a person. Islam teaches that men should be men and women should be women. Homosexuality deprives a man of his manhood and a woman of her womanhood. It is the most un-natural way of life. Homosexuality leads to the destruction of family life."

Although mainstream Islam officially condemns homosexuality there is a growing movement of progressive-minded Muslims, especially in the Western world, who see Islam as an evolving religion that must adapt to modern-day society. It is within the movement that Al-Fatiha Foundation hopes to work in order to enlighten the world that Islam is a religion of tolerance and not hate, and that Allah (God) loves His creation, no matter what their sexual orientation might be.

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