An Indian gender rights activist of the LGBTQ community takes part in a pride parade in New Delhi on Jan. 8. (Photo: AFP)
One of the side effects of democracy is that everyone wants to have his — or her — say. And this is not just in the political life with the right to vote, but in other areas too.
In earlier times, a hegemonistic majority might effectively tell its minorities to stay quiet and shut up. But it isn’t possible anymore.
Take the whole area of sexuality, for instance. Arguably, no such thing as ‘sex’ existed in traditional societies. When you grew into adulthood, you got married.
This means you were ‘fixed’ with someone of the other sex. You didn’t choose; you were chosen — by elders who weighed the consequences of family, property, health, and bloodline before coming to a reasoned decision about the bride and groom. The purpose of sex was offspring, the more the better. Anything else was taboo.
If you were poor or sickly or imperfectly sexed, you were shunted to the margins. And that’s where homosexuals lived — unacknowledged, furtively.
But no longer.
Today gays and lesbians cry for freedom and march with pride — for equality, and for publicity.
"Those who feel most uncomfortable with the public appearance of homosexuality are religiously inclined"
Their “rainbow” alliance (LGBTQ) embraces not just straight heterosexuals, but lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgender, or those whom we call ‘hijras’ — eunuchs, hermaphrodites, and transvestites.
Sexual identity is not just a fact. It has become a whole spectrum.
Those who feel most uncomfortable with the public appearance of homosexuality are religiously inclined.
The Judeo-Christian tradition (and the Islamic which derives from it) views homosexuality as an aberration, as something evil and sinful or “against nature.” It is this tradition that has persecuted homosexuals the most with divine permission.
This mindset is found, for example, in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (#2357) where "homosexual acts" continue to be characterized as "intrinsically disordered ... contrary to natural law ... [and] shut the sexual act to the gift of life."
In other words, gays and lesbians have no rights, are hated, despised and victimized.
Even the Indic tradition which is more liberal than the Judeo-Christian — recall the shloka (verse) from Rigveda, Vikrutievamprakruti (“what seems unnatural is natural”) — is more critical of gay relationships today. This may be so because the present government has a harsh, inhumane attitude to all minorities, be these religious, demographic or gender-based.
So we must be grateful to Pope Francis whose famous comment to the press in 2013 opened a whole new conversation.
"The criminalization of homosexual acts in several countries in Africa and Asia is wrong"
In reply to a question about gay priests in Rome, the pope responded, "If they [gay priests] accept the Lord and have goodwill, who am I to judge them? They shouldn't be marginalized. The tendency [same-sex attraction] is not the problem... they're our brothers."
And more recently, in the documentary Francesco, released in October 2020, Pope Francis expressed support for same-sex civil unions. "Homosexuals have a right to be a part of the family. [...] They're children of God. Nobody should be thrown out, or be made miserable because of it."
He voiced support for same-sex civil union laws again in September 2021, saying "if they want to spend their lives together, a homosexual couple, nations have the possibility civilly to support them, to give them safety with regards to inheritance and health."
In February 2023, Pope Francis said that the criminalization of homosexual acts in several countries in Africa and Asia is wrong, a sin and an injustice.
In his own way, Pope Francis has changed the conversation.
However today an aggressive secularist mindset refuses to see marriage as a religious bond at all, and considers gender identity as irrelevant to marriage.
Rather than religion, it looks to the legal system to give same sex relationships their space in society. It agitates for equality before the law, and wants the same rights as heterosexuals.
However, as religion is still a dominant influence in society, homophobia is still active and prevalent.
"The discipline of mandatory celibacy has not been revoked or even modified by the Roman Church"
More rational and scientific mindsets would go a long way in assisting social change, but sadly, prejudices and ignorance have a stronger grip on the human mind.
And this is true of the Church as well.
Finally, a small comment on the place of mandatory celibacy in the Catholic Church and its relation to the homosexual experience.
In spite of numerous representations, the discipline of mandatory celibacy has not been revoked or even modified by the Roman Church. In effect, the Church authorities do not wish to consider senior heterosexual married men as eligible for the priesthood.
How natural therefore that many latent homosexuals should find a safe haven in Catholic seminaries and convents, where heterosexual sex is forbidden, but homosexual relationships are tolerated with increasing frequency.
Many of the crimes of pedophile priests had to do with homosexual relationships. Is this the inevitable fallout of a celibacy gone askew?
But if and when the Catholic clergy take on a ‘gay tint,’ what kind of message is sent to the Church at large?
*The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.