Baha’is and the LGBTQ Community – Part TwoJanuary 1, 2014
Does Baha’i scripture limit marriage to a union between only one man and one woman?
Not as far as I know. I have found nothing in the Baha’i writings that specifically prohibits same-sex marriage. It’s my personal opinion that the question of how Bahaí communities are to respond to the new phenomenon of same-sex marriage is in the hands of the Universal House of Justice, the democratically-elected body that administers the global Baha’i community. The Universal House of Justice has yet to make a policy that deals specifically with the question of individuals in legally and socially recognized same-sex marriages. I think it is very likely to be a policy which gives National Spiritual Assemblies a major role because conditions vary so much in terms of social acceptance and the law.
The Kitab-i-Aqdas, Baha’u’llah’s book of laws, refers to marriage between men and women. That’s why most Baha’is assume that marriage means only a heterosexual union. But in the same book, it is also assumed that men take journeys while women stay at home. In fact all of the laws are presented in the context of the customs of the 19th century middle east which when this was written.
Because no specific scripture stipulates that only men may take journeys, for example, the Universal House of Justice applies the law of “mutatis mutandis” (Latin for changing what needs to be changed) to the gender-specific laws in the Kitab-i-Aqdas. In other words, all of the Baha’i laws apply equally to men or women unless the context makes this impossible.
Is same-sex-marriage impossible for Baha’is today? There’s no text that stipulates marriage is only between one man and one woman and Baha’u’llah provided ways for the Baha’i Faith to adapt and change over time. Baha’is believe that science and religion agree, and that religion should not conflict with science. That’s why the Universal House of Justice can make new policy and change old policy on any issue not defined in Baha’i Scripture.
The Universal House of Justice can also decide to stipulate whether such rulings apply universally or locally. An example of Baha’i policy being applied differently in line with prevailing social conditions in various cultures, is the changing policy on males and females living as roommates in the same house. Even today in some societies such arrangements would be perceived as scandalous, while other cultures view it as completely acceptable. In the same way, some societies view same-sex couples as just as morally upstanding as any heterosexual couple, and civil and marriage laws are rapidly changing to reflect this.
Given that the current policy of the Universal House of Justice — that marriage can only be between a man and woman — what should local Baha’i communities do if a same-sex couple wants to join the community? Or if a gay Baha’i asks for a Baha’i wedding?
According to Shoghi Effendi, the Guardian of the Baha’i Faith, Baha’i administration should be flexible:
“…whatever is deemed necessary to incorporate into it in order to keep it in the forefront of all progressive movements, can, according to the provisions made by Baha’u’llah, be safely embodied therein.” – The World Order of Baha’u’llah, p. 22.
Shoghi Effendi also wrote:
“Let them proclaim that in whatever country they reside, and however advanced their institutions, or profound their desire to enforce the laws, and apply the principles, enunciated by Baha’u’llah, they will, unhesitatingly, subordinate the operation of such laws and the application of such principles to the requirements and legal enactments of their respective governments.” – The World Order of Baha’u’llah, p. 65
In the past, the policy of the Universal House of Justice was that gay couples were not allowed to join the Bahai community:
“… if persons involved in homosexual relationships express an interest in the Faith, they should not be instructed by Bahá’í institutions to separate so that they may enroll in the Bahá’í community, for this action by any institution may conflict with civil law. The Bahá’í position should be patiently explained to such persons, who should also be given to understand that although in their hearts they may accept Bahá’u’lláh, they cannot join the Bahá’í community in the current condition of their relationship.” – Universal House of Justice letter to an individual, 5 March 1999.
That policy from Universal House of Justice has been followed by this 2010 policy:
” … to regard those with a homosexual orientation with prejudice or disdain would be against the spirit of the Faith. Furthermore, a Baha’i is exhorted to be “an upholder and defender of the victim of oppression”, and it would be entirely appropriate for a believer to come to the defense of those whose fundamental rights are being denied or violated.” – Universal House of Justice letter to an individual, 27 Oct 2010.
However some Bahai communities might still refuse married gays admittance to the Bahai community. For example the author of the current Wikipedia entry for “Homosexuality and the Baha’i Faith” states: “someone involved in a same-sex marriage or union will be prevented from registering as a Baha’i and joining the community.” (last accessed, 1 January, 2014) When the 1999 policy was written, same-sex marriage didn’t exist. Today it exists in many countries and the principle that Bahai policy must be subordinate to the laws of the land, would be another consideration by Bahai communities.
As a Baha’i, I hope that the tide of marriage equality now sweeping the world will eventually extend to people of every Faith.