THE BLOG

Homosexuality and Religion: Can a Mutual Respect Ever be Established?

13/11/2014 10:56 GMT | Updated 12/01/2015 10:59 GMT

A large proportion of the homophobia that exists in society continues to stem from religious belief. Within this, the active condemnation of homosexuality is often justified as an expression of faith; a religious right where an individual is free to preach - what they perceive to be - the word of God.

What is problematic within this clash of human rights is that one group will always triumph over another. As it stands, the legalisation of same-sex marriage this year was a victory for LGB people. Amidst a backlash of opposition from people of various religious faiths, the rights of gay people progressed one step further in the fight for equality.

However, in light of this progress, the Church of England and Church of Wales are legally banned from conducting same-sex marriage ceremonies. Jeremy Pemberton, the first gay British clergyman to marry, had his permission to work as a priest in Nottinghamshire revoked, making clear where the church continues to stand on same-sex marriage. Further to this, the Equality Act 2010 ensures that no discrimination claim can be brought against religious organisations for refusing to marry a same-sex couple. It therefore seems that the 'right' of gay people to get married comes with some very strong terms and conditions.

Even religions that don't have any mention of homosexuality in their religious doctrine continue to exclude gay people. Although Sikhism and Hinduism do not explicitly discuss homosexuality as sinful behaviour, both religions continue to place a great emphasis on marriage as between a man and a woman and fail to acknowledge romantic love as anything other than opposite-sex attraction.

It is of course important that religious institutions should have the same freedoms as any other group in society. However, the pick and choose stance that many religious groups seem to take continues to encroach on the rights of LGBT people.

Gay people can't get married in a church because it goes against the teachings of the Bible (although this is very much subject to interpretation). However, non-virgins, divorcees, those who have had abortions and those who can't conceive naturally are all welcomed as worthy patrons of marriage. Why, then, are gay people the exception?

Marriage is about affirming a life-long commitment and celebrating a union of love. It seems absurd that millions of gay people of faith continue to be excluded from marrying in a church or a mosque, whilst other perceived 'sinners' are welcomed.

I often find myself in heated debates on this topic with friends and colleagues of faith. A line I am often met with is: "you don't have to agree with me, but you should still respect my religion".

Respect is an interesting word to use in this context. When discussing gay sexual intercourse, the Quran states: "Kill the one that is doing it and also kill the one that it is being done to". In similar style, Leviticus 20:13 of the Old Testament states: "If a man has sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They are to be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads".

It's a strange position to find oneself in - to be told to show respect to religions that place death sentences upon you. How can we ever expect LGBT people to admire the brutality of these religious texts and respect the ways in which they continue to be used to persecute LGBT people all around the world?

From my experience, respect, rights and freedoms are words too often used to justify the expression of hate and they only serve to conceal the immense inequality that lies beneath them. Gay people are expected to live alongside their Christian and Muslim brothers and sisters who may openly disapprove of their sexuality, but they are nonetheless expected to respect the harsh confines of this rejection.

It's time that we stopped promoting religious belief as fragile and allowed for more open and honest discussions to occur within religious institutions on LGBT inclusion. Religious values exist to be tested, yet this construction of respect scares off any questioning of them.

It is clear, then, that respect for both religious rights and LGBT rights are yet to be mutually established. However, there are many people attempting to change this; notably gay Christians and Muslims who want their faith and sexuality to be accepted by people from both sides of the camp.

The visibility of well-known religious figures coming out - such as Sally Hitchiner, Vicky Beeching and Jeremy Pemberton - serves to give hope to the millions of gay people of faith who are too scared to come out due to the rejection they fear they will face.

Any religion should be open for individuals to explore and reason with, irrelevant of their sexuality, gender, race, culture or background. History has shown and continues to show that love doesn't see gender as a boundary; time and time again, it's people who do. So, in the words of Romans 12:2, perhaps it's time that those who hide behind the façade of a supposedly loving God in order to preach homophobia are "transformed by the renewing of their minds".