Understanding Gay Devotees
Posted May 25, 2008
I commend Anandamaya prabhu's statement in his upcoming book acknowledging homosexual people as living beings (jiva-atma) who can practice Krishna consciousness like everybody else. I also appreciate his viewpoint that non-celibate gays should be encouraged to "remain loyal to one partner." These are the proper applications of our philosophy I expect all thoughtful Vaishnavas to make.
I have a few suggestions regarding his yet-to-be-published book, however. First of all, the statement, "there is no sanction [for homosexuals] in any known religious system," isn't really accurate. Most of the world's indigenous religions accommodated homosexuality prior to foreign (i.e. Christian and Islamic) influence, including it in their rituals and in many cases allowing for same-sex marriage.
This has been well documented among Native American, African, Polynesian and Asian indigenous religions. Even contemporary Hindu sects, such as the Aravani cult of Tamil Nadu, contain ritualized same-sex marriage as a part of their religious practice. While Vaishnavas may not agree with these beliefs, they are nonetheless "known religious systems." (For more information on this topic please see my article, "A Third Sex Around the World.")
I also feel the book may be trivializing religious denominations which, after many years of serious deliberation and debate, have decided to allow same-sex marriage. For an increasing number of Christians, accepting their gay and lesbian brethren is more important and "Christ-like" than rejecting them over gender differences. I would hardly characterize the religious denominations that have adopted same-sex marriage, such as the United Church of Christ or the Church of Sweden, as "self-styled" or "watered down."
Anandamaya's statement that homosexual people "can only gain adherents through exploitation" is perhaps the most questionable and likely to offend. Isn't Anandamaya aware that homosexuals are born, not recruited, and that gay-rights groups such as GALVA provide desperately needed support and friendship, not exploitation? Devotees commenting on this topic should understand that homosexuality is inborn or risk being viewed as ignorant. This is particularly true since our own Vedic scriptures describe it as such (see Sushruta Samhita, 3.2.38-45).
Finally, I suggest removing the statement that homosexuality is "perhaps a denser form of entanglement (conditioning)." This comes across as speculative and condescending. Is a celibate gay man more densely entangled than a heterosexual rapist, simply because he was born with homosexual orientation? I think not. If anything, our scriptures declare that the most powerful entanglement in this world is the attraction between man and woman (see Srila Prabhupada's purports to Srimad-Bhagavatam 1.11.36 or 4.24.11, to cite just a few examples).
I don't know why devotees are so concerned over who is more entangled than whom, however. As Vaishnavas we are taught to view only ourselves as the most entangled, unqualified, fallen, etc. If everyone followed this simple rule there would be no more airs of superiority, homophobia, racism, sexism or anything else.