Does Baha’i scripture discriminate against LGBTQ people? No.
In fact, Baha’i scripture not only stresses equality for all, it urges us to be “an upholder and defender of the victim of oppression.” – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings, p. 285. (click to view the source online)
And Baha’u’llah, the founder of the Baha’i Faith, speaks of prejudices of the past as being no longer valid:
“Whatsoever hath led the children of men to shun one another, and hath caused dissensions and divisions amongst them, hath, through the revelation of these words, been nullified and abolished.” – Gleanings, p. 95.
“According to Baha’u’llah the purpose of religion is to educate and bring unity: God’s purpose in sending His Prophets unto men is twofold. The first is to liberate the children of men from the darkness of ignorance, and guide them to the light of true understanding. The second is to ensure the peace and tranquility of mankind, and provide all the means by which they can be established.” – Gleanings, pp. 79-80.
And for Baha’is, unity doesn’t mean sameness — far from it. Abdu’l-Baha wrote: Consider the flowers of a garden: though differing in kind, color, form and shape, yet, inasmuch as they are refreshed by the waters of one spring, revived by the breath of one wind, invigorated by the rays of one sun, this diversity increaseth their charm, and addeth unto their beauty. Thus when that unifying force, the penetrating influence of the Word of God, taketh effect, the difference of customs, manners, habits, ideas, opinions and dispositions embellisheth the world of humanity.
This diversity, this difference is like the naturally created dissimilarity and variety of the limbs and organs of the human body, for each one contributeth to the beauty, efficiency and perfection of the whole. When these different limbs and organs come under the influence of man’s sovereign soul, and the soul’s power pervadeth the limbs and members, veins and arteries of the body, then difference reinforceth harmony, diversity strengtheneth love, and multiplicity is the greatest factor for co-ordination.
– Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 291.
However, some Baha’is might think their Faith discriminates against LGBTQ people, because they interpret letters written from the 1920s through the 1950s on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, the Guardian of the Baha’i Faith, as Baha’i scripture. Four of these letters refer to homosexuality as an illness. These letters of guidance incorporate the medical understandings of the times, presumably appropriate guidance for the recipients of the time.
But for Baha’is, only Baha’i scripture is unchangeable and divinely-inspired. Scripture refers to the original writings of The Bab and Baha’u’llah. Abdu’l-Baha and Shoghi Effendi interpreted these writings, which Baha’is also consider authoritative and unchangeable. For other questions, the Universal House of Justice, the democratically-elected head of the Baha’i community, can change and modify Baha’i policies. And because Baha’is believe in the agreement of science and religion, Baha’i policies can and do change as science advances our knowledge and understanding.
Until recently, the Universal House of Justice referred to homosexuality as an aberration or as an illness, but this policy has changed. Since 2010, the policy of the Universal House of Justice asks Baha’i communities to work at removing any discrimination against gays or lesbians, whether they are Baha’is or not.
Every world faith faces this question today, and communities take time to change. So anyone who searches this topic online will still see statements such as this example, in the current Wikipedia entry for “Homosexuality and the Baha’i Faith”: “in authoritative teachings homosexuality is described as a condition that an individual should control and overcome.” (last accessed 20 December, 2013) What the author refers to here is the 1973 policy of the Universal House of Justice. Sooner or later this current, 2010 policy will seep through to more and more people:
…With respect to your question concerning the position Baha’is are to take regarding homosexuality and civil rights, we have been asked to convey the following. The purpose of the Faith of Baha’u’llah is the realization of the organic unity of the entire human race, and Baha’is are enjoined to eliminate from their lives all forms of prejudice and to manifest respect towards all. Therefore, 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 oppressionâ€, 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, 27 october 2010.
In the same 2010 policy of the Universal House of Justice, they also state that marriage for Baha’is can only be between a man and woman. Please see my next article for a discussion of this.