Which religions are most anti-gay?


Anja Finger

To person

Anja Finger, born 1976 in Frankfurt am Main, studied sociology, theology and religious studies at universities in Germany, the UK and the USA. She defended her sociological dissertation at the University of Erfurt and she is currently teaching religious studies with a theoretical focus at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland. Her interests lie in the areas of religion and society as well as gender and queer theories.

The spectrum of Christian positions on homosexuality ranges from programs for "re-education" to the marriage of lesbians and gays as married couples. But in other religious communities too, belief and homosexuality not only form oppositions, but sometimes form surprising connections.

Members of the Good Hope Metropolitan Community Church at the annual Gay Pride Parade in Cape Town. (& copy AP)

There are still considerable reservations against homosexuals in the countries of the EU, and particularly in Turkey. One reason for these discriminatory prejudices can be religiosity. People with a religious affiliation show less tolerance for homosexuality than people who do not belong to any religion (Gerhards 2010: 19). In addition, Orthodox Christians, Catholics and Muslims tend to be more hostile to homosexuality than Protestants. And the more closely religious people are bound to their religious institution, the more resolutely they reject homosexuality.

The term homosexuality suggests a clear distinction from heterosexuality. According to sex research and gender theories, however, there is no such clear demarcation. The clear distinction between homosexuality and heterosexuality is a modern fiction, but one that has itself created facts. When it comes to same sex, the question arises of what 'gender' is and who determines it, why and for what purposes. This question is always (also) a question of power. Constellations of power, however, are changeable, and so it can be shown, both in historical and cultural comparisons, that homosexuality has sometimes challenged very different answers from the religions.

With the Abrahamic religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, an ideal has historically established itself in which sex serves the purpose of procreation. This development, but also that of other religious traditions, which were more ambiguous or more balanced towards same-sex love, is told in an exciting way by William Naphy (2006) in his book Born to Be Gay: A History of Homosexuality. As a result, the Christian-Western form of moral devaluation of homosexuality is the exception. In many religious traditions we find deities who display just such behavior; Hindu deities, for example, who not only practice same-sex love, but also change their sex. And like the deities, so are the people: the Indian hijras, who as a rule biological men assume a female or gender-crossing identity, are the most prominent example of this. In addition to depicting same-sex practices as an aspect of life, there are more restrained tones in translations and interpretations of legal texts such as the Manu code. The Buddha himself did not make any explicit statements about same-sex acts, there are stricter rules for Buddhist monks and nuns than for laypeople, and the Dalai Lama sees homosexuality as a form of sexual misconduct.

Naphy recognizes a moderate to merely negative attitude towards male homosexuality towards the passive partner. In some cases, however, he also identifies an appreciation through ritualization in a large number of non-Abrahamic traditions (pre-colonial India, China, Africa, ancient Greece, Africa and Melanesia). In the Christian view that has become dominant, however, sex, which only serves pleasure, was rated negatively and associated with guilt and sin. Gay sex was classified as the Old Testament sin of Sodom (Gen 19), hence the term sodomy. The interpretation of this Bible text is, however, controversial, as is the prohibition in Leviticus 18:22: "You must not sleep with a man as you sleep with a woman; that would be an abomination" (standard translation). One of the points of contention is whether this only excludes anal intercourse between men or all homosexual activity. [1] Another point of contention is whether such biblical texts can even be applied to today's forms of relationships. In proportion, lesbian sexuality has received less attention, since active sexuality was only intended for men. Bisexual sexuality also had to fight for its place and still has to do so in parts of the community today.

  1. More about the history of the impact of this text and its interpretations can be found at: Reck 2008. In my opinion, it should be noted that this story is primarily and almost exclusively a story of same-sex men, to which lesbian and bisexual sexualities were, as it were, subsumed late.