Regardless of their position on homosexuality, many people of faith look to both sacred texts and tradition for guidance on this issue. However, the authority of various traditions or scriptural passages and the correctness of translations and interpretations may be hotly disputed.
Today some major denominations within these religions, such as Reform Judaism and the United Church of Christ, accept homosexuality. They believe that injunctions against the sexual acts were originally intended as a means of distinguishing religious worship between Abrahamic and pagan faiths, specifically ancient Greek (Ganymede) and Egyptian rituals that made homosexuality an idolatrous religious practice as opposed to a loving expression of human sexuality. Thus, the prohibitions are no longer relevant. Some Christian denominations, such as the Presbyterian and Anglican churches, now welcome members regardless of same-sex sexual practices, and perform same-sex marriages, as do Reform and Reconstructionist Judaism.
Rabbinic Jewish tradition understands this verse to specifically prohibit a man from having anal sex with another man. Rabbinic works ban lesbian sex as well. What people today describe as psychological or biological homosexual inclination is not discussed among classical rabbis. The sources only discuss specific same-sex acts and not the modern concepts of homosexual identities/relationships.
Orthodox Judaism views homosexuality as sinful. Many Orthodox Jews view homosexuality as a choice; some sources claim it to be a deliberate deviance. The majority view is to consider all homosexual activity as an abomination (as per Leviticus 20:12-14). A trend of studying the issue of homosexuality has recently begun to occur, with a view towards understanding and reaching out to religious homosexual Jews. It is common practise amongst Orthodox Jews to encourage young Jews known to be gay to marry (someone of the opposite sex) in the hope that this will "cure" them. Many Rabbis and community leaders have condemned this as potentially cruel to both spouses.
Conservative Judaism has engaged in an in-depth study of homosexuality since the 1990s with various rabbis presenting a wide array of responsa (papers with legal arguments) for communal consideration. The official position of the movement is to welcome homosexual Jews into their synagogues, and also campaign against any discrimination in civil law and public society, but also to uphold a ban on homosexual sex as a religious requirement. However, a recent split decision of the movement's Committee on Jewish Law and Standards, in January 2007, has significantly reinterpreted the issue, and now allows gay men and lesbians to become rabbis or cantors. Some form of commitment ceremony is now also viewed as legitimate. Conservative rabbis who voted on this change used the issue of Kavod HaBriyot, honoring a person's dignity, as honor for someone's rights may override rabbinic restrictions. See Conservative Halakha for a full discussion.
Progressive forms of Judaism, including Reform Judaism and Reconstructionist Judaism in North America and Liberal Judaism in the United Kingdom, view homosexuality to be acceptable on the same basis as heterosexuality. Progressive Jewish authorities believe either that traditional laws against homosexuality are no longer binding or that they are subject to changes that reflect a new understanding of human sexuality. Some of these authorities rely on modern biblical scholarship suggesting that the prohibition in the Torah was intended to ban coercive or ritualized homosexual sex, such as those practices ascribed to Egyptian and Canaanite fertility cults and temple prostitution.
Conservative Christians also see homosexual relationships as an impediment to heterosexual relationships. They interpret some Biblical passages to be commandments to be heterosexually married such as "Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh"() and "Nevertheless neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord"(). A number of gay Christians have reported satisfaction in their heterosexual marriages.
Denunciation of homosexuality is also seen in surviving early Christian writings; such as in the Didache and the writings of Justin Martyr, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, St. Cyprian, Eusebius, St. Basil the Great, St. John Chrysostom, St. Augustine of Hippo, and in doctrinal sources such as the Apostolic Constitutions — for example, Eusebius of Caesarea's statement which condemns "the union of women with women and men with men.” Many prominent Christian theologians have been critical of homosexuality throughout the religion's history. Thomas Aquinas denounced sodomy as second only to bestiality as the worst of all sexual sins, and Hildegard of Bingen's book Scivias, which was officially approved by Pope Eugene III, condemned sexual relations between women as "perverted forms."
In the 20th and 21st century, a few historians and theologians have challenged the traditional understanding and argue that passages have been mistranslated or that they do not refer to what we understand as “homosexuality.”
The Roman Catholic Church, on the other hand, affirms early Christian teachings on homosexuality: "Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that 'homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.' They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved."
The Catholic Church requires people struggling with homosexuality to practice chastity, which is also required of every heterosexual man and woman. It insists that the only appropriate expression of sexuality is within the context of marriage, which by definition is permanent, procreative, heterosexual, and monogamous. The Church acknowledges that homosexuality can be "a trial" and stresses that people with such tendencies "must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. In reference to the possible ordination of homosexuals to the priesthood, distinguishing between "deep-seated homosexual tendencies" and those that are "only the expression of a transitory problem", the Vatican requires that any homosexual tendencies "must be clearly overcome at least three years before ordination to the diaconate.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints makes clear that same-gender attraction is not sinful and no one should be blamed for it, but that a few people have been able to overcome it. However, it considers homoerotic thoughts, feelings and behaviors to be a problem that everyone can and should overcome. Homosexual activity is considered a serious sin on par or greater than other sexual activity outside of a legal, heterosexual marriage and those involved may be excommunicated.
While same-sex sexual behavior is rejected to the present day by many Christian denominations, contemporary Catholic guides to pastoral care reflect an ethos informed by compassion and respect of the sanctity of other.
There is a current movement in the Evangelical Christian community of the United States to bring about national revival. In regards to the prayers for the nation, the Evangelical Christian Community has identified what it has called "America's Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse": abortion, extremist Islam, homosexuality and pornography.
Other Christian denominations do not condemn homosexual acts as bad or evil. Many liberal Christians are open and affirming to active homosexuals. Indeed, there is a denomination of 40,000 members, the Metropolitan Community Church, devoted to being open and affirming to active homosexuals. The United Church of Christ also condones gay marriage and some parts of the Anglican and Lutheran churches allow for the blessing of gay unions. The United Church of Canada also allows same-sex marriage, and views sexual orientation as a gift from God.
All major Islamic sects disapprove of homosexuality, Islam views same-sex desires as an unnatural temptation; but, sexual relations are seen as a transgression of the natural role and aim of sexual activity. Same-sex intercourse is an offence punishable by execution in six Muslim nations: Saudi Arabia, Iran, Mauritania, Sudan, Somalia and Yemen. It also carried the death penalty in Afghanistan under the Taliban. In other Muslim nations, such as Bahrain, Qatar, Algeria, Pakistan the Maldives, and Malaysia, homosexuality is punished with prison, fines, or corporal punishment.
Islamic teachings (in the hadith tradition) presume same-sex attraction, extol abstention and (in the Qur'an) condemn consummation. In concordance with those creeds, in Islamic countries, male desire for attractive male youths is widely expected and condoned as a human characteristic similar as the admiration or attraction for an older or wiser sibling. Homosexual intercourse itself has been interpreted to be a form of lust and a violation of the Qur'an.
The discourse on homosexuality in Islam is primarily concerned with activities between men. Relations between women, if they are regarded as problems, are treated akin to adultery, and al-Tabari records an execution of a harem couple under Caliph al-Hadi.
Islam allows and promotes filial love between siblings of the same gender. Sexual activities between them, however, are totally prohibited. Ibn Hazm, Ibn Daud, Al-Mutamid, Abu Nuwas and many others used this edict to write extensively and openly of brotherly love between men while proclaiming to be chaste.
The teachings of Islam have themselves been used to justify love and sexual expression between males. As for bearing witness, it takes emotional considerations into the subject. See Qur'an, iv. 38; Qur'an, ii. 282; Qur'an, iv. 175), and thus, by a process of induction, they must be worthier objects of desire as well. Debate Between the Wise Woman and the Sage
Hinduism has taken various positions, ranging from positive to neutral or antagonistic. Sexuality is rarely discussed openly in Hindu society today, and homosexuality is largely a taboo subject — especially among the strongly religious. In a 2004 survey, most swamis said they opposed the concept of a Hindu-sanctified gay marriage. Some of the law codes, such as that of Manu Smriti refer to both female and male homosexuality as a punishable crime. Punishments include ritual baths, fines, public humiliation and having fingers cut off. However, the bulk of sexual matters dealt with by the law books are heterosexual in nature.
A "third gender" has been acknowledged within Hinduism since Vedic times. Several Hindu texts, such as Manu Smriti and Sushruta Samhita, assert that some people are born with either mixed male and female natures, or sexually neuter, as a matter of natural biology. They worked as hairdressers, flower-sellers, servants, masseurs and prostitutes. Today, many people of a "third gender" (hijras) live throughout India, mostly on the margins of society, and many still work in prostitution, or make a livelihood as beggars.
The Indian Kama Sutra, written in the 4th century AD, contains passages describing eunuchs or "third-sex" males performing oral sex on men. However, the author was "not a fan of homosexual activities" and treated such individuals with disdain, according to historian Devdutt Pattanaik. Similarly, some medieval Hindu temples and artifacts openly depict both male homosexuality and lesbianism within their carvings, such as the temple walls at Khajuraho. Some infer from these images that Hindu society and religion were previously more open to variations in human sexuality than they are at present.
In Hinduism many divinities are androgynous. There are Hindu deities who are intersex (both male and female); who manifest in all three genders; who switch from male to female or from female to male; male deities with female moods and female deities with male moods; deities born from two males or from two females; deities born from a single male or single female; deities who avoid the opposite sex; deities with principal companions of the same sex, and so on. One of the most important aspects of Hinduism is the belief that both God and nature are unlimitedly diverse.
Asian societies shaped by Buddhist traditions takes a strong ethical stand in human affairs and sexual behavior in particular. However, unlike most other world religions, most variations of Buddhism do not go into details what is right and what is wrong in what it regards as mundane activities of life. Details of accepted or unaccepted human sexual conduct is not specifically mentioned in any of the religious scriptures in Pali language. The most common formulation of Buddhist ethics are the Five Precepts and the Eightfold Path, one should neither be attached to nor crave sensual pleasure. These precepts take the form of voluntary, personal undertakings, not divine mandate or instruction. The third of the Five Precepts is "To refrain from committing sexual misconduct.. However, the "sexual misconduct" is such a broad term, and is subjected to interpretation relative to the social norms of the followers. In fact, Buddhism in its fundamental form, does not define what is right and what is wrong in absolute terms for lay followers. Therefore the interpretation of whether homosexuality is acceptable for a layperson or not, is not a religious matter as far as fundamental Buddhism is concerned.
Buddhism is often characterised as distrustful of sensual enjoyment and sexuality in general. In particular, homosexual conduct and gender variance are seen as obstacles to spiritual progress in most schools of Buddhism. Traditionally, monks are expected to refrain from all sexual activity, and the Vinaya (the first book of the Tripitaka) specifically prohibits sexual intercourse, then further explain that both anal, oral as well as vaginal intercourse amount to sexual intercourse, which will result in permanent exclusion from Sangha. A notable exception in the history of Buddhism occurred in Japan during the Edo period, in which male homosexuality, or more specifically, pederasty between young novices and older monks, was celebrated.
References to pandaka, a deviant sex/gender category that is usually interpreted to include homosexual males, can be found throughout the Pali canon as well as other Sanskrit scriptures. Leonard Zwilling refers extensively to Buddhaghosa's Samantapasadika, where pandaka are described as being filled with defiled passions and insatiable lusts, and are dominated by their libido. The Abhidharma states that a pandaka cannot achieve enlightenment in their own life time, but must wait for rebirth as a normal man or woman. According to one scriptural story, Ananda—Buddha's cousin and disciple—was a pandaka in one of his many previous lives.
The third of the Five Precepts of Buddhism states that one is to refrain from sexual misconduct; this precept has sometimes been interpreted to include homosexuality. The Dalai Lama of Tibetan Buddhism interprets sexual misconduct to include lesbian and gay sex, and indeed any sex other than penis-vagina intercourse, including oral sex, anal sex, and masturbation or other sexual activity with the hand. However, the Dalai Lama supports human rights for all, "regardless of sexual orientation.
In Thailand, traditional accounts propose that "homosexuality arises as a kammic consequence of violating Buddhist proscriptions against heterosexual misconduct. These kammic accounts describe homosexuality as a congenital condition which cannot be altered, at least in a homosexual person's current lifetime, and have been linked with calls for compassion and understanding from the non-homosexual populace." However, Buddhist leaders in Thailand have also condemned homosexuality, ousted monks accused of homosexual acts, and banned kathoey from ordination.
Within Japanese traditions, there is a widespread forklore that homosexuality was "invented" by the Bodhisattva Manjusri of wisdom and the sage Kūkai, the founder of Buddhism in Japan. Japanese Buddhist scholar and author of Wild Azaleas Kitamura Kigin said that heterosexuality was to be avoided for priests and homosexuality encouraged.
Sikhism has no written view on the matter, but in 2005, the world's highest Sikh religious authority described homosexuality as "against the Sikh religion and the Sikh code of conduct and totally against the laws of nature," and called on Sikhs to support laws against gay marriage.
Confucianism has allowed homosexual sex with the precondition of procreation. In China where Buddhists often belong to Confucianism as well, traditionally exclusive homosexuality was discouraged because it would prevent a son from carrying out his Confucian religious duty to reproduce, whereas non-exclusive homosexuality was permissible and widely practiced. Monogamy was an unusual and foreign idea to many Asians until contact with the West. Chinese traditions attribute homosexuality to Huang Di ("Yellow Emperor"), the father of Chinese civilization.
It is difficult to determine a single position on homosexuality in Taoism, as the term Taoism is used to describe a number of disparate religious traditions, from organised religious movements such as Quanzhen to Chinese folk religion and even a school of philosophy. The vast majority of adherents live in China and among Chinese Diaspora communities elsewhere, and so attitudes to homosexuality within Taoism often reflect the values and sexual norms of broader Chinese society (see Homosexuality in China).
Taoism stresses the relationship between yin and yang: two opposing forces which maintain harmony through balance. The Taoist tradition holds that males need the energies of females, and vice versa, in order to bring about balance, completion and transformation. Heterosexuality is seen as the physical and emotional embodiment of the harmonious balance between yin and yang. Homosexuality on the other hand is often seen as the union of two yins or two yangs, and therefore unbalanced. People in same-sex relationships or people who engage in same-sex sexual behaviour are thought to be susceptible to illness.
Homosexuality has found a place within the history of Taoism, at certain times and places. For example, Taoist nuns exchanged love poems during the Tang dynasty.
In Classical antiquity, religious views on same-sex romance cannot be separated from the general societal view of the subject. Attitudes toward same-sex intercourse differed somewhat between the Greeks and the Romans. In ancient Greece same-sex love was integrated in sacred texts and rituals, reflecting the fact that in antiquity it was considered normal to be open to romantic engagements with either sex. Certain surviving myths depict homosexual bonds (see History), sanctified by divinities modeling such relationships (e.g. Zeus and Ganymede). The Romans viewed sexuality somewhat differently. It was considered appropriate for someone of higher social standing to sexually penetrate someone of lower social standing. Thus, an upper-class male could engage in sexual relations with either a slave or a woman (both below him in standing). It would be inappropriate and indeed condemned for a free Roman man to be penetrated by another man.
The Sumerian religion also held homosexuality sacred. It also was incorporated into various New World religions, such as the Aztec. It is thought to have been common in shamanic practice. In part due to the spread of medieval Christianity there is no clear record of homosexuality in ancient Germanic Paganism. On one hand effeminate and homosexual men were deemed capable of performing a powerful type of female sorcery, called seid; however the trickster and occasional transsexual God Loki accused Norse Paganism's grand patriarch Odin of engaging in the same kind of sorcery.
Wicca, like other religions, has adherents with a spectrum of views ranging from conservative to liberal. It is a largely undogmatic religion, and nothing in Wiccan philosophy prohibits sexual intercourse outside of marriage or relationships between members of the same sex. On the contrary, the Wiccan Rede "An it harm none, do as thou wilt" is interpreted by many as allowing and endorsing responsible sexual relationships of all varieties.
The Wiccan Charge of the Goddess, one of the most famous texts in Neopaganism, states in the words of the Goddess, "all acts of love and pleasure are my rituals. In traditional forms of Wicca, such as Gardnerian and Alexandrian Wicca, magic is often performed between a man and a woman, and the "Great Rite" is a sex ritual performed between a Priest and Priestess representing the God and Goddess; however, this is not generally seen as excluding homosexuals or magic between same-sex couples. Most groups still insist, however, that initiations be conferred from man to woman or woman to man. Any ritual sexual acts, whether actual or symbolic, take place between two consenting adults, normally a couple who are already lovers. See also LGBT issues and Wicca.
Other religions collectively termed "Pagan," including Druidism are also accepting in general.
On the other hand, the Unitarian Universalist Association supports the freedom to marry and compares resistance to it to the resistance to abolition of slavery, women's suffrage, and the end of anti-miscegenation laws.
Some religious groups have even promoted boycotts of corporations whose policies support the LGBT community. In early 2005, the American Family Association threatened a boycott of Ford products to protest Ford's perceived support of "the homosexual agenda and homosexual marriage". After meeting with representatives of the group, Ford announced it was curtailing ads in a number of major gay publications (thus depriving them of a major source of income), an action it claimed to be determined not by cultural but by "cost-cutting" factors. That statement was contradicted by the AFA, which claimed it had a "good faith agreement" that Ford would cease such ads. Soon afterwards, as a result of a strong outcry from the gay community, Ford backtracked and announced it would continue ads in gay publications, in response to which the AFA denounced Ford for "violating" the agreement, and renewed threats of a boycott.
LGBT rights activists often argue that the conservative position on homosexuality is oppresive.
Some translations of the Old Testament have been used to argue that gay men should be punished with death, and AIDS has been portrayed by some such as Fred Phelps and Jerry Falwell as a punishment by God against gay men and lesbians.
Others consider that Christ made the commandments to "love God and one's neighbour," and to "love one's neighbour as oneself" touchstones of the moral law; that these imply a radical equality, and that, by this principle of equality, the Law of Moses is to be adjusted. Jesus exemplified this principle in his teaching on divorce. Furthermore, it is said that Jesus Christ instituted a virtue ethic, whereby the worth of one's action is to be adjudged by one's interior disposition. For these reasons, it is said that to condemn homosexuality is to fall into a pre-Christian "Pharasaical" legalism.
People adopting one of the foregoing positions would hold that morality which applies to heterosexuals should similarly apply to gay men and lesbians, i.e. sex is acceptable within a monogamous relationship or a same-sex marriage.
Others seek a naturalistic justification for the view that homosexual behavior is moral or that morality does not apply, pointing to evidence of the existence of such behavior in the animal kingdom. Therefore it is said to be natural, perhaps even integral to a species' survival.