Homosexuality — the issues and the facts
Posted March 11, 2005
A lot of discussion has been going on amongst practitioners of Krishna Consciousness in internet forums on the topic of homosexuality. Some offer good ideas and thoughts for addressing the subject. Some offer homophobic views and misuse philosophy for justifying their fanaticism, as in the article "ISKCON should not accommodate gays."
Homosexuality raises several questions in the matter of ethics. The main issue is: where do we turn to for finding answers to these questions?
Many of the social values with respect to human sexuality in the vedic times were very different from what we find in our modern society. For example, vedic society approved polygamy but disapproved polygyny, condemned widow remarriage, (in fact, widows were expected to immolate themselves at the funeral pyre of their demised husbands), supported child marriage, favoured hypergamy or the practice of marrying upward in social position for women but disallowed this privilege for men. Besides not making much sense, some of these practices are illegal in our society. Consequently, satisfactory answers to ethical issues surrounding the issue on homosexuality can't possibly lie in the Vedas.
Theology must be distinguished from ethics. Both of them are important components of the Vedas. Theology is the absolute essence and is beyond the influence of time, place and culture. On the other hand, ethics are very much influenced by culture and vary with time, people and geography. Behaviour considered favorable or acceptable at a certain time in the past within a society may be considered unfavorable or unacceptable in the future or in another geographical setting.
Modern-day society differs vastly from the Vedic society. It is unique in its own way in that it opens up many avenues for spiritual growth and simultaneously introduces problems that are idiosyncratic to our times. We can neither fully understand our problems nor solve them effectively using moral codes from another culture. We must look for solutions primarily within the context of knowledge on human nature of our times.
Homosexuality is exhibited by both animals and humans
Modern biology has taught us that homosexuality is not a condition specific to human beings. Like hunger, thirst and heterosexual urges, man shares this condition with animals. Many species from the lower rungs of the evolution ladder such as bees, bugs and fruit flies to highly evolved ones such as chimpanzees, baboons and macaques exhibit homosexuality. Research has shown that over 450 species of animals exhibit homosexuality both in wild and in captivity. (Bruce Bagemihl, Biological Exuberance: Animal homosexuality and natural diversity).
Homosexuality is not deviant behaviour
It was estimated in the year 2000 that there are anywhere between 1.2 to 2.1 million same-sex couples in the United States. (Census 2000 and Voter news service exit polls). Statistics show that homosexuality is not a deviant behaviour. We must shed our simplistic notions on the subject and look to address it with a better understanding.
Homosexuality is a genetic phenomenon
Homosexuality is not a preference or a conscious choice that one makes. Rather, as Tripurari Swami calls it, from a humanistic understanding, it is a "psycho-physical reality that some people are born with". Studies on homosexuality, particularly on identical twins, suggest strong evidence to view homosexuality as a genetic phenomenon. The studies on identical twins by L.L. Heston and James Shields reveal identical (homo)sexual orientations and modes of sexual behaviour by the twins.
Bhakti does not mean to relinquish one's psycho-physical nature. Rather, bhakti urges us to use that nature in the service of transcendence. This being the case, a spiritual society that preaches the principles of bhakti cannot ask an individual to ignore his/her inherent nature. Doing so would only lead to repression and mental conflicts within the individual. The Lord himself points to the folly of such an approach. "Even a man of knowledge acts according to his own nature, for everyone follows the nature he has acquired from the three modes. What can repression accomplish?"
Marriage as a vehicle for spiritual growth
The varna-ashrama system is primarily meant for facilitating a person's spiritual growth. The Grhastha ashrama in particular allows one to manage one's lower needs and simultaneously work on one's spiritual growth. The following can be said to be key benefits of the Grhastha ashrama.
- Helps mitigate loneliness. Provides companionship.
- Provides a motivation for performing productive work
- Provides spiritual association in one's journey of spiritual growth.
- Facilitates satiation of intimacy and sexual needs.
- Through parenting, opens up opportunities for breaking away from primitive narcissism and gives a glimpse of the joy of devoting to a cause beyond oneself.
One of the arguments against homosexual marriages is that there is no possibility for procreation. Procreation as a benefit of marriage doesn't refer to the physical process of conceiving or giving birth. Rather, it refers to the experiences of raising a child. After all, it doesn't take much to participate in the process of reproduction when compared with the years of service one performs in the capacity as a parent. If we understand procreation to mean the process of parenting, Gay-Lesbian couples can reap the same benefit as heterosexual couples through adoption.
Some people suggest celibacy as the solution to all homosexual devotees. Celibate life is not suited for all. For many, marriage is vital for making spiritual growth. Only people with simplistic thinking view marriage as merely a license for sexual activities. When homosexual couples can derive all the benefits of a heterosexual marriage within the grhastha ashram, why should they not enjoy the same privileges for spiritual growth as their heterosexual counterparts?
Approach to addressing homosexuality
A society mustn't be hasty in denouncing behaviour that may not be
consistent with traditional values. It is heartening to see many
devotees address the issue in a rational way and advocate a more
inclusive and broad-minded approach. What is more important is to carry
forward these thoughts and ideas and implement them effectively within
the society. This means educating the members of the society on human
sexuality and marriage and addressing social issues with respect,
empathy and sensitivity.