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Collage: Michelangelo/da Vinci/Sappho LGBT Texts
About the collage...
Introduction The Ancient World Hinduism
The Hebrew Bible  The New Testament
Gay Marriage in the Bible
The Qur'an  Other Religions  Other Texts 
Modern Texts  For Further Reading
NEW! Abortion in the Bible

Did you know?

* Of 32,000 verses in the Bible, only five directly mention homosexuality.
* The Qur'an only directly mentions homosexuality once.
* Leviticus, the book of the Bible which stipulates death for homosexuality, requires the same punishment for adultery, pre-marital sex, disobedient children and blasphemy.
* The Biblical Jesus does not condemn homosexuality.
* The destruction of the Biblical city of Sodom was due to their mistreatment of strangers.
* The Bible never condemns same sex marriage.
* The Biblical David and Jonathan had a formal same-sex union.
* 'Traditional marriage' in the Bible includes polygamy.
* No known sacred text forbids same sex marriage.
* Very few sacred texts even mention homosexuality.
* Hindu and other far eastern sacred texts do not condemn homosexuality.
* Homosexuality is not unnatural, it is practised by hundreds of species of animals.

This page indexes resources about LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) issues at sacred-texts. This page deals specifically with the subject of LGBT people in sacred texts. For an overview of the positions of various religions on this topic, including historical and current beliefs, refer to this page at the Ontario Consultants for Religious Tolerance site [external site].

References to the scriptures are being used as the backbone of much of the heated discussion about gay people in a way that has not been seen since the Scopes evolution trial. It is thus crucial to examine the actual texts, and the context in which they were written. This page, which has taken months of research to write, provides all available scriptural quotes on this subject, with links into the full texts, also available at this site. Also included are the complete text of several books on the subject, scanned specially to provide background information for this page.


The Bible, the Qur'an, and Baha'i and Zoroastrian scriptures have a few passages which condemn homosexuality. An out of context interpretation of these passages has been used as justification for persecution of homosexuals, ranging from ridicule, exclusion, and attempts to alter behavior, to imprisonment and even execution. Typically these quotes are employed not because the entire range of scriptural injunctions are being applied consistently, but because the power structure needs cherry-picked scriptural justification for their actions.

Colonialism subsequently imposed this prejudice on a number of non-western societies which did not previously have this sort of persecution. Other major world religions, particularly Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, and Shinto, don't condemn homosexuals in their sacred texts, let alone mention the subject except in passing. This doesn't mean that societies where these religions are dominant or practiced are (or are not) tolerant of LGBT people; simply that whatever discrimination or persecution may be present is not based on religious grounds.

Modern studies of the nature of gender have found that human sexual preference is innate; homosexuality occurs in hundreds of species; and gender and sexual behavior is a continuum rather than two compartmentalized poles. Psychologists no longer consider homosexuality a personality defect or mental illness.

There will always be some that prefer not to accept the findings of science. For instance, there are a handful of Christians who believe that the Earth is flat because the Bible refers to the 'four corners of the Earth'. Some literalist Christians reject the Copernican solar system for similar scriptural reasons. However, many religions, even the most conservative, have shown a capability to incorporate advances in knowledge-- for instance, astronomy, geology and biology--that were previously contradicted by, or simply unknown to, scripture and religious tradition. For instance, modern Roman Catholic doctrine states that scientific theories of cosmology, including the 'Big Bang', are not incompatible with the concept of a creation by the deity-- this from the church that only recently lifted its pro forma censorship of the works of Galileo.

Values of tolerance and acceptance for others can be found at the core of all world religions. Many religious groups have not found it difficult to extend tolerance to LGBT people, even if this does not lead to acceptance within their religion, or sanctioning of same-sex unions or homosexual clergy. And most religious groups and people, across the spectrum, are opposed to violence against gays and other violations of their human and civil rights, regardless of their other beliefs on the subject.

We invite readers to review this material with an open mind.

The Ancient World

The systematic persecution of LGBT people simply did not exist until comparatively recently in world history. LGBT people played important roles at all levels of classical Greek and Roman society. Alexander the Great is well-known to have been bisexual. The Emperor Hadrian attempted to deify his male life-companion, Antinous. In Greek mythology, we have the myth of Tiresias, who changed his gender from male to female and back; Zeus, among his other loves, took Ganymede; the nymph Hermaphrodite was transformed from a woman into an intersex being.

Shamanism in Siberia from Aboriginal Siberia, by M. A. Czaplicka. [1914]
Both male and female Siberian Shamans, healers and spiritual leaders, took on the roles and dress of the opposite gender to enhance their magical power. This was also widespread through North America and Polynesia.

The Poems of Sappho
English and Transliterated Greek
The Poems of Sappho (Unicode)
English and Greek
Sappho, called the 'Tenth Muse' by the ancients, left a huge body of amazing poetry, of which only fragments escaped the bonfires of the dark ages. She celebrated Aphrodite, the Goddess of Love, and some of her love poetry is addressed to women. Through history, her life and works have been a prism through which each generation has viewed same-gender love.

The Symposium of Plato
In this colloquium on the nature of companionship, Plato proposed a theory of the origin of humanity in which Zeus created three genders: men, women and androgynes. The androgynes were split into two and since then each half has been searching for the other. This is actually not an unusual creation story.

The Syrian Goddess of Lucian of Samosata
This is an account of the worship of Astarte in late antiquity, in what is now Turkey. It includes an account of her cross-dressing, transgender priests.

Mimes of the Courtesans
This unexpurgated translation of Lucian's comic dialogues about the Hetaerae includes two pieces which illustrate late classical attitudes about LGBT people.


In contemporary India LGBT people face discrimination and marginalization. This results from cultural attitudes imposed by the British during their long occupation of India. There is no condemnation of homosexuality in the ancient Hindu texts, and no bias against LGBT people is evident up to the 19th century. In a few Hindu lawbooks, same-gender sexuality is described as producing a state of impurity, but it can be expunged by a ritual bath.

The ancient Hindu attitude was that sexuality should be fully integrated into the fabric of life, and nothing to be ashamed of. For instance, in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, IV:4, there is a passage about sex magic which was so explicit that Max Müller felt compelled to translate it into Latin.

Homosexuality is discussed frankly and without condemnation in the ancient Hindu sexual treatises. In the Kama Sutra, in Chapter VI, lesbianism in harems is described, and in Chapter IX, male and female homosexuality in the context of a discussion of oral sex. To quote the Kama Sutra, Chapter IX: " all things connected with love, everybody should act according to the custom of his country and his own inclination."

There are many accounts of beings who transformed their gender by supernatural means in the ancient Hindu epics and Puranas. One prominent example occurs in the Mahabharata. A transgender person, Sikhandin, plays a pivotal role in that ancient Hindu epic. In book 5, Chapter 191-5, the origin of Sikhandin is related. Sikhandin was born as the daughter of King Drupada of the Panchalas, who had previously been childless. Druapada begged the God Mahadeva, to give him a son. He told him that "Thou shalt have a child who will be a female and male. Desist, O king, it will not be otherwise."

His wife gives birth to a baby girl, Sikhandin. King Drupada conceals the gender of his child and proclaims a male heir has been born, and Sikhandin is raised as a boy. When Sikhandin comes of age, a marriage is arranged with an unnamed daughter of King Hiranyavarman, of the Dasrnakas. Hiranyavarman is described as Drupada's brother. The two women are married, "...and the former soon came to know that that latter was a women like herself." The daughter of King Hiranyavarman sends word back to her father about the deception, and he proclaims war as a result: "Thou hadst, from folly, solicited my daughter for thy daughter!"

At this juncture, Sikhandin flees into the forest, where she encounters a Yaksha, a demon, named Sthunakarna. Sthunakarna says that he will grant one boon to Sikhandin, who asks to become a male, the swap to be temporary until the situation with King Hiranyavarman is cleared up. So the princess exchanges gender with the demon; and, now a prince, returns to the city which the army of King Hiranyavarman is about to besiege. King Drupada tells his brother, now truthfully, that Sikhandin is a man, and that he can prove it. King Hiranyavarman sends "a number of young ladies of great beauty" to Sikhandin, and they report back that he is "a powerful person of the masculine sex." Unfortunately, the demon, now female, is placed under a curse by the lord of the Yakshas, and the sex exchange is permanent. Sikhandin grows into a mighty warrior.

Sikhandin later plays an important role during the cataclysmic battle which is the central part of the Mahabharata. In the climax of Book 8 of the Mahabharata, Bhishma, one of the chief protagonists, is killed because he refuses to attack a charge which is led by Sikhandin, because Sikhandin was born female. This ends up being the turning point in the battle and the war.

In this story we see what might, hypothetically, be an very old tale of a same-sex union woven into the vast epic of the Mahabharata. How old may be indicated by the fact that cousins are being married, which is typical of tribal societies worldwide. In Ancient Egypt women who attained positions of power wore male clothing, including false beards, in order to formally establish their leadership; for such a woman to marry a woman as a political maneuver would not be inconceivable.

Sikhandin, raised as a boy, is ready and willing to exchange gender magically. Once having switched to the male gender, he excels at the role, and becomes a famous and very skilled warrior. Sikhandin is reconciled with his transformed masculine identity, despite the fatal display of chivalry by his opponent Bhishma in battle. This brings into relief the contradictions of ancient Hindu society with regard to gender roles.

The story of Sikhandin is the classic hero narrative with a transgender twist.

The Bible

There are about half a dozen direct references to what we today term homosexuality in the Tanach and NT, and a few others which are relevant but not direct. Two of the most negative passages are found in the book of Leviticus, alongside a mass of ancient Jewish food and incest taboos, purification rituals and medical protocols. In the New Testament, there are several instances in the Epistles where Paul disparages homosexuality. Notably, at no point in the Gospel narrative does Jesus condemn homosexuality.

Another point to note is that there was no word for homosexuality, in the sense that we now use the term, in ancient Hebrew or Greek. So the text of the Tanach and NT uses circumlocutions or eumphemisms in these passages.

As far as lesbianism goes, the Bible is silent. There is no explicit mention (or condemnation) of female homosexuality in the Tanach, and it turns up only once (very tangentially) in the NT.

The King James Version

King James I, who commissioned the King James Version translation, was undoubtedly homosexual. It was whispered that "Elizabeth was King: Now James is Queen."

James I was responsible for reaffirming the Buggery Act of 1533, which criminalized sodomy in the UK. However, James I had several well-documented homosexual relationships. Although he had eight children with his wife, Anne of Denmark, they eventually decided to live apart. In 1607 he met Robert Carr, then age 17, at a joust, and had an on-going relationship with him for nearly a decade, which ended in a messy breakup. In 1614, he started a relationship with George Villiers, a commoner, eventually making him Duke of Buckingham in 1623. In 1624, James wrote Villiers a letter in which he asked "whether you loved me now...better than at the time I shall never forget at Farham, where the bed's head could not be found between the master and his dog."


In the beginning...

Some esoteric Jewish traditions hold that God is hermaphroditic in nature, and that Adam was originally an hermaphrodite. This is based on a reading of Genesis 1:27: "So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them." This theme is developed with great detail in the Kabbalah; For instance see this passage from the Kabbalah Unveiled. Rabbi Samuel-bar-Nachman is quoted by Carpenter as saying "Adam, when God created him, was a man-woman (androgyne)". Maimonides (ibid.) is quoted likewise: "Adam and Eve were created together, conjoined by their backs." This is similar to the androgyne mentioned in Plato's Symposium.

The Sin of Sodom

Then there is the story of the destruction of the city of Sodom, (Genesis 18:16-19:29). Sodom has given its name to the now somewhat quaint-sounding term 'Sodomy', which originally meant a specific male homosexual sex act. Eventually it was expanded to mean any form of sexual expression which happened to be illegal, including things that married heterosexual couples do every day.

However, a close reading reveals the name to be a bit of a misnomer. To start off, Sodom is described simply as a 'wicked' place. Lot, Abraham's nephew, goes to live there to see if even one righteous person can be found there. The sexual theme starts when two disguised angels visit Lot. A mob, described as consisting of the men of the city, 'both young and old', attacks Lot's house and demands that Lot allow them to 'know' (in the language of the KJV) the two men. To 'know' is, of course, the famous KJV circumlocution for having sexual intercourse.

The next passage bears closer examination. Lot (Gen 19:8) asks the mob to 'do' his two virgin daughters instead, but not the two guests, 'for ... they came under the shadow of my roof.' The rest of the story is well-known: divine wrath ensues, the mob is blinded, the cities of the plain are destroyed by fire and brimstone while Lot and his family flee, Lot's wife is turned to a pillar of salt because she looks back, and only Lot and his daughters escape. In an often ignored coda to this story, Lot's daughters have incest with him by getting him intoxicated, (Gen 19:31), presumably to repopulate the country; a similar motif is found in the story of Noah. As in other Biblical narratives, even the heroes end up committing horrendous sins, driven by circumstances. But many ignore the entire context of the story in the rush to justify their own bigotry.

The sin of the city of Sodom was the originally considered to be the violation of the rights of Lot's guests. Defining the 'sin of Sodom' to be male homosexuality was a later interpretation, which was made by medieval Jewish and Christian writers, as a reaction to Pagan acceptance of homosexuality. Near Eastern hospitality, to this day, implies a responsibility to protect guests under one's roof. The fact that Lot was ready to make a huge sacrifice by offering up his virgin daughters to the mob instead of his guests underlines this.

There is abundant Haggadah, ancient Jewish folklore, which tells of the cruelty of Sodom to strangers, and their mistreatment of the poor and homeless. Among other stories, travelers are given gold but not food; when they starve to death, everything is stolen including the gold and the clothes off their backs, and their bodies are left to rot. One of Lot's unfortunate daughters is burned to death for the crime of giving a starving man food. Another woman who assists a poor man is smeared with honey and left to be stung to death by bees. Some of these stories are suffused with dark comedic twists. A poor man is assaulted and robbed. Eliezar, a servant of Abraham, is hit on the head when he intervenes. A judge rules that he must pay his assailant for medical treatment! (Bleeding was considered a surgical procedure). Eliezar then hits the judge on the head, drawing blood, and tells the judge to pay his fine. See Ginzburg's Legends of the Jews and Polano's The Talmud: Selections, for many more stories along the same lines. After reading these, I guarantee you'll be rooting for the Lord to rain down the brimstone on the cities of the plain...

There are also numerous Biblical passages warning about mistreating strangers, (with the story of Lot being implied), for instance this one in the NT: "Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares." [Heb. 13:2]

Between the original concept of a violation of the law of hospitality and the medieval focus on a particular sexual act, there is an intermediate stage where Sodom was criticized for other reasons entirely. Where Sodom is mentioned in later books of the Tanach and in the New Testament, it is used as an example of a city which was corrupted by luxury, lacking in values such as charity and humility. Nowhere is this made clearer than in Ezekiel 16:48-50, where Ezekiel, speaking for 'the Lord God', enumerates the sins of Sodom: "Saith the Lord GOD...Behold, this was the iniquity of ... Sodom, pride, fulness of bread, and abundance of idleness ... neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy. And they were haughty and committed abomination before me: therefore I took them away as I saw good".

Note that in this context 'abomination' means human sacrifice and idol worship, not shared tax breaks for long-term same-sex couples, or sexual practices you can see on cable after 10 o'clock. Furthermore, 'abomination' is at the end of the laundry list. The primary sin of Sodom, by this account, was that their society was materialistic, greedy and uncharitable. Social and economic justice is a thread that runs through the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament alike, and it is not difficult to extrapolate this to modern struggles for equality, such as those of LGBT people. When governmental and religious institutions and their leaders perpetuate oppression, it would not be farfetched to say that they are committing the actual sin of Sodom.


The book of Leviticus was probably composed during the Babylonian exile, from 550 to 500 BCE. Leviticus deals with issues of ritual purity and proscribed behavior. Traditionally attributed to Moses (it is part of the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible), Leviticus was probably written by the author modern scholars call 'P'.

Now when one hears the word 'Leviticus,' a red flag (or yellow card) should go up. Wellhausen, in his Prolegomena to the History of Ancient Israel proposed the 'Documentary Hypothesis.' Among other things, he presented evidence that there were four separate authors of the Tanach, the Old Testament. In a nutshell, the Levitical laws were added to the text of the Bible at a very late date, by an author high in the religious hierarchy, a priest (hence the 'P'). These are the legalisms that Jesus is constantly deprecating in the New Testament, and the Talmudic Rabbis delight in picking apart. Given the force of divine law by fiat, they ruled every aspect of daily life. Once the ancient Jewish ritual complex was destroyed, many of these laws simply became impossible to follow. Others were fossilized prohibitions from the time when Jews were striving to preserve their cultural identity in a sea of paganism.

Leviticus 18:22 and Leviticus 20:13 are the two Bible verses which are most often cited as support for scriptural condemnation of homosexuality; the latter verse even demands that such behavior be punished by death. Both verses refer specifically to male homosexuality, but not female.

There is a condemnation of both male and female cross-dressing in Deuteronomy 22:5 as 'an abomination'. However, no particular punishment is specified. By contrast, the same chapter specifies harsh punishments for other transgressions: death by stoning of non-virgin brides [Deu 22:13-21], likewise both participants in an act of adultery [Deu. 22:22], and some instances of premarital intercourse [Deu. 22:23].

The background of the condemnation of homosexuality in Leviticus is a fascinating subject. The Jews were in conflict with Pagans who also resided in ancient Palestine. There was a lot of pressure for Jews to adopt various practices of the Pagans, to become just another religion in the melting pot. And so scriptural injunctions were developed which prohibited certain distinctive Pagan beliefs and practices, such as tree and stone worship and some forms of divination.

Pagan religions of the ancient Near East had male priests who, to honor a Goddess figure, emulated women. For a late classical description of this belief system, refer to The Syrian Goddess. These priests, called Kedeshim in the Tanach, like other shamans world-wide, cross-dressed, took on economic and social roles normally associated with females and in some cases even castrated themselves. They also enaged in sexual acts as part of their ceremonies, similar to the Tantric practices. This included sex with other men.

In every case where 'Sodomite' is mentioned in the KJV outside of the context of the story of the downfall of Sodom in Genesis, this is a translation of the Hebrew word qâdêsh, which refers to the before-mentioned pagan priest. In fact, qâdêsh is derived from a primitive root qâdash, which means, among other things, 'consecrate, holy, dedicate, purify, sanctify.'

For instance, in 1 Kings 14:24, the KJV has 'there were also sodomites in the land, and they did according to all the abominations of the nations which the LORD cast out before the children of Israel.' In addition, abomination in this instance could probably be better translated 'idolatry.' Using these mistranslated verses to condemn homosexuality in general is misleading.

The rules against males cross-dressing and having sex with other men were based on opposition to this priesthood. However, over time it was generalized to similar behavior, regardless of whether it was part of a spiritual practice. The prohibition of homosexuality in Leviticus was used subsequently for hundreds of years as a precedent for the persecution of gays, and has been quoted in legal reasoning up to the present day.

The book of Leviticus contains many harsh commandments and regulations, and much of it can't be reconciled with modern life or contemporary standards of justice and human rights. Some other points of interest in Leviticus include:

  • the punishment for blasphemy is death by stoning [Lev 24:16],
  • likewise, a child who curses their parent will be put to death [Lev 20:9],
  • locusts, beetles and grasshoppers are permissible food [Lev. 11:21] but not shellfish or mollusks [Lev. 11:10].
  • Leviticus 25:44-46 was construed by slavery apologists to be divine authorization for the buying, holding and bequeathing of human beings as property.
  • Most Christian and Jewish groups today hold that many of the rules in Leviticus and elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible should not be considered binding, or at worst, minor sins if transgressed, and that the harsh punishments are obsolete. For instance, there is an extensive debate in the Talmud (Sanhedrin, Chapter VIII). as to whether putting a 'stubbon and rebellious' child to death is an appropriate punishment by reductio ad adsurdum. And Jesus is quoted (see below) as saying that the law should consist of two rules, namely love for God and love for one's neighbor; this is an implicit criticism of the complicated and often extreme regulations of Leviticus.

    David and Jonathan

    There is an extensive and very sympathetic description of a same-sex relationship in the Bible, the story of David and Jonathan, e.g.: 1 Samuel 18:1-5, 1 Samuel 19:1-7, 1 Samuel 20:30-42, 2 Samuel 1:25-6. While their bond is described as non-sexual, it is difficult to characterize it as purely one of friendship.

    Jonathan was the son of Saul, David's nemesis. Their souls are described as 'knit together'. David and Jonathan 'made a covenant, because he loved him as his own soul.' The word convenant is significant, because in the Tanach this word always implies a formal legal agreement. To mark this convenant, Jonathan literally gives David the clothes off of his back, as well as other gifts such as weapons.

    Later in the narrative, Jonathan successfully intercedes with Saul to spare David's life. At their last meeing, 1 Samuel 20:41, they are described as kissing one another and weeping together. David's grief at Jonathan's death is profound and moving. In Davids lament for Jonathan he describes their friendship as '(sur)passing the love of women'. This elegy, 2 Samuel 1:18-27. known as 'the Bow,' is one of the most beloved passages in the Hebrew Bible.

    This narrative far outweighs the two trivial aspersions against same-sex love in Leviticus. The bigots who use the Bible to assault gays are apparently blind to it.

    New Testament

    The Gospels

    In the four Gospels, Jesus is portrayed throughout with a message of love and tolerance. Not once does he condemn homosexuals, demand that they be put to death, etc., as do some of his modern followers. Such a pronouncement would be a profound departure from the rest of the text. For instance, in Matthew 22:37, Jesus is quoted as saying:

    22:37 ...Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.
    22:38 This is the first and great commandment.
    22:39 And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
    22:40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

    And in John 13:34, he is additionally quoted as saying:

    13:34 A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.
    13:35 By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.

    So Jesus turning around and saying 'Hate Gays' would be a bit out of character.


    Not so with the disciple Paul. In Romans 1:26-7 Paul condemns both male and female homosexuality as 'against nature' (hence the term 'unnatural act'). Notably, this is the sole reference to female homosexuality in the entire Bible. In 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 Paul says that the 'effeminate' shall '(not) inherit the Kingdom of God'. In 1 Timothy 1:8-11 Paul brands 'those who defile themselves with mankind' as criminals, along with thieves and murderers. These passages in the Epistles are the only three places where homosexuality is mentioned in the NT. Scholars consider these passages to be a reaction against Near Eastern Pagan, Hellenistic, and Roman society, which largely tolerated LGBT people and spirituality. Later, early Christian writers elaborated on Paul's themes. This led to centuries of persecution of LGBT people in Europe, often with concealed agendas related to political infighting or outright extortion. An early example of this was the Byzantine Emperor Constantine, who put in place discriminatory laws against homosexuals, and then proceeded to use those laws to blackmail and marginalize rivals. Refer to the Secret History of Procopius, e.g. Chapter XVI, p. 163.

    Gay Marriage in the Bible

    The Tanach

    Actually this is kind of a trick topic. There is no mention of gay marriage in the Bible (except, possibly, the account of the 'covenant' of David and Jonathan). But neither is there any mention of representative democracy, electricity, the Internet, or polyester clothing. For the vast majority of Christians and Jews (even those that believe in Biblical inerrancy), just because something isn't mentioned in the Bible doesn't necessarily mean that it is sinful or forbidden. Unless you are Amish, of course, in which case you probably shouldn't be reading this in the first place...

    The Bible is a smorgasbord for those who need just one out-of-context quote to justify their personal views on marriage. Depending on which pinhole you look through, the Bible can be cited as both approving or forbidding polygamy, monogamy, divorce, and lifelong celibacy. So it is no wonder that there are quotes that can be manipulated in the same way to condemn gay marriage. For instance, the often quoted Genesis 2:23-4:

    2:23 And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.

    2:24 Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.

    Now before you say, "Aha! so the Bible does forbid gay marriage!", take another look, This passage does not say "'Thou shalt not let two men or two women get married, and get the same tax breaks and hospital visitation rights as heterosexuals." When a commandment or injunction occurs in the Bible it is stated explicitly, as throughout Leviticus.

    This passage also has mystical overtones which literalists are apt to completely miss or ignore. It implies that Adam was at one time united with Eve in the same body, and the reason that people seek companionship is because they are searching for their missing half. (This is similar to Plato's theory of the androgyne). Also, both in the Tanach and the NT, marriage is used as a metaphor for the union of the soul with God, which is obviously binary.

    In the Tanach, marriage practises such as bigamy, polygamy, concubinage, arranged and levitrate marriages are described as normal, as in fact they were at the time. All of these types of marriage are today either illegal in most western countries or considered highly unusual, much more so than monogamous same sex unions.

  • In Genesis 16 Sarah, Abraham's wife, encourages Abraham to impregnate her handmaid, Hagar, because she is barren (although Sarah miraculously later gives birth to Isaac). Later (Genesis 25) Abraham takes yet another wife, Keturah, who is also described as a concubine. Jacob, Rachel and Leah: family tree
  • In Genesis 29 Jacob marries the sisters Rachel and Leah, who are the daughters of Laban, his maternal uncle. In the next chapter, Jacob has two sons by Bilhah, Rachel's handmaid, two sons by Zilpah, Leah's handmaid, then two sons by Leah, and finally Rachel bears Joseph.
  • Six wives of David are named in 2 Sam. 3:2.
  • Solomon is described as having seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines. However, the Talmud (Tractate Sanhedrin) states that a king may have no more than eighteen wives.
  • Note that out of all of these arrangements, only marrying two sisters is explicitly forbidden in Leviticus 18; however it is permitted to marry a deceased wife's sister.

    So it is absolutely disingenuous to speak of 'traditional marriage' (as a codeword for heterosexual monogamy) as biblical. It is even more absurd when this concept is uttered by members of the clergy, who really should know better.

    The New Testament

    However, in at least one passage in the NT, marriage is defined as monogamous. In Mark 10:2-12), Jesus is quoted as saying:

    10:2 And the Pharisees came to him, and asked him, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife? tempting him.

    10:3 And he answered and said unto them, What did Moses command you?

    10:4 And they said, Moses suffered to write a bill of divorcement, and to put her away.

    10:5 And Jesus answered and said unto them, For the hardness of your heart he wrote you this precept.

    10:6 But from the beginning of the creation God made them male and female.

    10:7 For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and cleave to his wife;

    10:8 And they twain shall be one flesh: so then they are no more twain, but one flesh.

    10:9 What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.

    10:10 And in the house his disciples asked him again of the same matter.

    10:11 And he saith unto them, Whosoever shall put away his wife, and marry another, committeth adultery against her.

    10:12 And if a woman shall put away her husband, and be married to another, she committeth adultery.

    One reader commented that this passage proves that Jesus "hated [gays]". but I'm not sure how he came away with that conclusion. If you take this at face value, it says that remarriage after divorce is equivalent to adultery. The passage 10:6-9 is just a restatement of the passage from Genesis, leading up to the conclusion 'let no man put asunder'. In 10:10-12, Jesus explains the concept again, just in case we missed the point the first time around. As usual, the language attributed to Jesus is very specific and transparent.

    Also of interest is 1 Timothy 4:1:

    4:1 Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils;

    4:2 Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron;

    4:3 Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth

    4:4 For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving:

    4:5 For it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer.

    Here Paul disapproves of the prohibition of marriage, as well as the practise of vegetarianism. This is probably a reference to a Gnostic group, some of whom were vegetarians. A few Gnostics and early Christians were opposed to marriage in any form (including monogamous, heterosexual marriage). Marriage was considered a grave sin by some of the early Church fathers, and the only way into the kingdom of heaven to be the lifelong mortification of the flesh. This passage by Paul from the Epistles weighs in against this particular concept. On the other hand, some Gnostics and early Christians practiced group marriage, taking 'holding all things in common' to the extreme.

    One wonders about Paul's condemnation of vegetarians. Will some future US President float a constitutional ammendment mandating that vegetarians eat meat? Will conservative Christians organize abusive demonstrations at health food stores? Does God hate tofu?

    The sanctioned form of marriage in Judaism and Christianity has continued to evolve over the centuries. Policies on divorce have varied widely. There was a liturgy for same sex unions in one branch of the Eastern Orthodox church. During the Middle Ages and well into the renaissance, the vast majority of European marriages were 'common-law,' and had no religious sanction: church weddings were far too expensive for most people. Mormons originally practised polygamy, although they ceased that as a condition for Utah statehood. Today, same sex unions are consecrated in some liberal Jewish and Christian denominations.

    In general, society has changed the definition of marriage widely, and religion has followed by sanctioning it.

    Some interpret the passages above to imply condemnation of gay marriage, or to justify their prejudices against LGBT people. The reader is encouraged to look at the entire context and make up their own mind.

    The Qur'an

    Male homosexuality is only implied in the Qur'an, and there is no mention of lesbians or transexuals.

    The story of Lot is repeated numerous times (e.g., 26:165-6, 27:55, and 29:28-9).

    The Yusuf Ali translation of 26:165 runs: "Of all creatures in the world will ye approach males, and leave those whom God has created to be your mates, Nay ye are a people transgressing all limits"

    The Palmer translation of 27:55 is: "And Lot ... said to his people: 'Do ye approach an abominable sin while ye can see? do ye indeed approach men lustfully rather than women? nay! ye are a people who are ignorant.'"

    These passages reflect the post-classical Jewish and Christian interpretation of the Sodom narrative, as well as Aristotle's widely accepted (but incorrect) view that animals do not engage in homosexual acts.

    In context, the Qur'an mentions other cities which were destroyed, not just Sodom; including the legendary cities of 'Ad and Thamud. These have much different narratives. For instance, in Thamud "there were in the city nine persons who despoiled the land and did not right." (27:49). In Surah 11 a parallel is drawn between the story of Lot and the Biblical flood narrative of Noah. This is a constant theme that runs throughout the Qur'an. It draws freely from Biblical, Talmundic and traditional Arabic lore of civilizations overwhelmed by catastrophes brought on by hubris.

    The common motif of these stories is that the people of these cities defy God, and ignore his prophets; not that they engage in particular sexual practices. God is warning, through the Qur'an, that He is the creator and destroyer of all things. This is a much larger concern, on a cosmic scale, than what people do in their bedrooms.

    There is a possible mention of male homosexuality in Surah 4:16. Yusuf Ali translates this as:. "If two men among you are guilty of lewdness, punish them both. If they repent and amend, Leave them alone; for God is oft-returning, Most Merciful" (emphasis inserted). Palmer's translation of the same passage is: "And if two of you commit [adultery], then hurt them both; but if they turn again and amend, leave them alone, verily God is easily turned, compassionate". (Adultery is implied from the previous paragraph). Palmer notes: "the commentators are not agreed as to the nature of the offence here referred to. The punishment to be inflicted is also the subject of dispute." This stands out here, because this Surah (The Women) codifies a number of laws and regulations about sexual behavior, and in each case except for this, the text lays out specific punishments.

    There is also a cryptic passage in Surah 76: one of the rewards in Paradise is described as "eternal boys...[like] scattered pearls...and when thou seest them thou shalt see pleasure and a great estate." (Palmer). Whether these are supposed to simply be attendants or companions is left to the imagination.

    There is, however, explicit condemnation of homosexuality in the Hadith, which are traditional sayings from early Islam which have acquired legal status. For instance, Williams in his anthology Islam, quotes the following Hadith (p. 83): Bukhārī . . . from Ibn ‘Abbās: "The Prophet cursed men who act like women and women who act like men, and said, 'Drive them from your houses.' He expelled such people, and ‘Umar did it as well."

    Islamic societies through history have both tolerated and persecuted LGBT people, sometimes at the same time. However, there is very little in the core text of Islam, the Qur'an, which support the harsh punishments and ostracism which gays are subjected to in contemporary Islamic society, and the relevant passages are either vague or tangential.

    Other Religions

    OCRT: The Baha'i Faith and Homosexuality
    OCRT: The Zorosastrian Faith and Homosexuality [External Site] A review of (mostly negative) Baha'i and Zoroastrian views on homosexuality, including quotes from their sacred texts and other scriptures.

    Other Texts

    The Talmud: Baba Bathra Chapter IX
    This part of the Talmud has a remarkably equitable discussion of the legal status of transgender people with regards to inheritance and parental support.

    Kama Sutra of Vatsayayana
    translated by Sir Richard Burton [1883]
    This work describes gay and lesbian sexual behavior non-judgementally in first millenium India, as part of a spectrum of sexual practices.

    The Sufi Poets
    Rumi, Hafiz and Sa'di, the Sufi poets, had a mystical view of love in which the relationship between the lover and the beloved mirrored humanity's relationship with God. This was not limited to heterosexual love, but was a more universal concept, transcending gender.

    Modern Texts

    A Problem in Modern Ethics By John Addington Symonds [1896]
    One of the first sympathetic essays on gay rights written in the modern epoch. Symonds later wrote A Problem in Greek Ethics (below).

    A Problem in Greek Ethics By John Addington Symonds [1901]
    A study of Greek homosexuality. from the romantic and the erotic point of view, centering on the institutionalized (and idealized) love of adolescent males by older men.

    Love's Coming of Age By Edward Carpenter [1906]
    A essay arguing a comprehensive vision of sexual liberation based on expansion of gender roles and women's liberation.

    Intermediate Types Among Primitive Folk by Edward Carpenter [1914]
    Carpenter reviews the extensive literature of homosexuality in the ancient world, relating it to anthopological reports about shamans and berdaches (transgender people) in tribal societies, and to institutionalized male same-sex relationships in feudal Japan.

    Ioläus by Edward Carpenter [1918]
    An anthology of literary quotes about (primarily) male friendship, from David and Jonathan to Walt Whitman, particularly those verging on romantic love. Whether any of these relationships were actually erotic in nature is left up to the reader's imagination.

    For Further Reading

    Following is a short list of recommended recent books on this topic. (Links are to

    Christianity, Social Tolerance and Homosexuality by John Boswell
    A ground-breaking academic study of the history of attitudes towards homosexuality by Christianity.
    Same Sex Unions in Premodern Europe, by John Boswell
    Did the medieval Catholic and Eastern Orthodox church sanction same-sex unions? A respected scholar produces the evidence.
    Myths and Mysteries of Same-Sex Love, by Christene Downing
    Includes an extended study of same-sex love in the ancient world.
    The Invention of Sodomy in Christian Theology, by Mark D. Jordan
    An academic study of the emergence of the term 'Sodomy' during the middle ages; the author found no instance of this usage before the 11th century.
    Islamic Homosexualities, by Stephen O. Murray and Will Roscoe
    A sociologist and a historian look at homosexuality in practice in the Islamic world.
    Homosexuality & Civilization by Louis Compton
    A comprehensive study of gay history. Includes Japan and China.

    About the collage: Some of the greatest artists of all time were gay people, including: (top) Michelangelo, whose depiction of the creation of man in God's image is the keystone of the Sistene Chapel murals in the Vatican; (bottom right) Leonardo da Vinci [drawing of a human body in balance]; and (bottom left) Sappho, renowned Greek poet.

    The special contents of this page are © copyright 2004, J.B. Hare, all rights reserved. This page may not be reproduced without permission of the copyright holder.

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