Homosexuality: the Law, Ethics & the Bible
See also Ethics of Same-sex Marriage
See Sidebar for Biblical Injunctions against Homosexuality
To those who accept homosexual acts and same-sex marriage:
If there is no God, then carry on – there are no moral absolutes
If God’s attributes are love and equality, then carry on – God accepts all forms of behaviour
If God’s attributes are love, equality, holiness, righteousness, justice and judgement, then please read on
Homosexuality and the Law
Since the 1960’s Western culture has progressively legalised private homosexual acts between consenting adults. In the UK, the Sexual Offences Act (1967) decriminalised private sexual acts between men 21 years or over in England and Wales. The minimum age of consent at which a person may lawfully consent to buggery and to certain homosexual acts was then reduced to 16 in England and Wales by the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 2000. This came into force in 2001.
In 1973 the Dutch mental health institutions stopped treating homosexuality as an illness and the military lifted its ban on homosexuals. The Netherlands was the first country in the world to legalize gay marriage in 2001. In America the U.S. Supreme Court eliminated all state sodomy laws in 2003, opening the floodgates to the legalization of homosexuality and same-sex marriages state by state.
In Europe, social and employment law surrounding homosexuality has been formalized and prompted by EU legislation. The European Union Article 13 Race & Employment Directives require EU member states to introduce legislation to outlaw unfair discrimination on the grounds of race, sex, religion or belief, disability, age, or sexual orientation. This applies in the fields of employment and training, and in the provision of goods and services.
In response to such directives the UK government introduced the Equality Act 2010, where sexual orientation is a ‘protected characteristic’. In practice this law effectively restricts free speech on homosexuality and free expression of Christian ethics on sexuality in the work place!
In the western world there are persistent moves by vocal minorities to legalise same sex (gay) marriage. And over time the general population accepts this as ‘equality’ law and culturally defined ethics take precedence over traditional biblical morality.
In the UK – after a sham public consultation – same sex marriage was finally legalised in England and Wales in 2013 through the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill, link. Clearly, this must lead to redefining marriage. For instance, Section 12 of the UK Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 says a marriage is voidable if it has not been consummated (in the normal and complete way) due to the incapacity of either party to consummate it. Clearly, the law has to change for same sex marriage and marriage has to be redefined. But doing this will be to the detriment of society, and surely only the originator of marriage, God (Gen 2:24), has the right to define marriage?
Marriage must remain a union between a man and a woman. It is not the role of the state to redefine marriage [Archbishop of York (UK)]
Same-sex marriage would eliminate entirely in law the basic idea of a mother and a father for every child [Cardinal Keith O’Brien (Scotland)]
In the UK the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill 2013 claims to ‘protect those religious organisations and their representatives who don’t wish to conduct marriages of same sex couples from successful legal challenge’. As of 2021, such ‘protection’ is in force for the UK Methodist Church which has voted to accept same-sex marriage. But, for states under EU law, such ‘protection’ could be challenged by EU Equality Directives which aim to remove discrimination. The European Court of Human Rights has stated [Spring 2012]:
If same sex couples are allowed to marry, any church that refuses to offer wedding services to them will be guilty of discrimination
From a legal point of view the church will probably have to accept any change in the law. But it does not have to accept man’s re-definition of marriage.
Homosexuality and Free Speech (UK)
In order to avoid conflict with Human Rights Law on free speech (specifically, the right to publicly manifest religious belief), the UK 2007 Regulations included exemption to cover the activities of religious organisations. The exemption applied for example when it is necessary to comply with the doctrine of the organisation. In principle therefore, it was still possible for a church to publicly state the biblical teaching on the subject of homosexuality, even when it conflicted with homosexual practice. In principle, free speech was protected.
The Main PointAt the end of the day it is not what an individual or organisation says against homosexual acts or gay marriage (so-called homophobia). What matters is a person’s relationship with their creator God, who has decreed that homosexual acts are wrong in His sight.
Then in May 2008 the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act was passed. The Act created the criminal offence of ‘incitement to hatred on the grounds of sexual orientation’ and the Government, at the instigation of ‘gay rights’ lobby groups, initially refused to make exceptions that would allow for free speech by those who wish to express their disagreement with homosexual practice. In order to protect free speech a group of dedicated Peers in the House of Lords tabled an amendment as section 29JA in the Public Order Act 1986. This ‘free speech clause’ read:
In this Part, for the avoidance of doubt, the discussion or criticism of sexual conduct or practices or the urging of persons to refrain from or modify such conduct or practices shall not be taken of itself to be threatening or intended to stir up hatred.
Homosexual lobby groups tried but failed to persuade the UK government to include a clause in the Coroners & Justice Bill 2009 (Clause 58) that would repeal the free speech clause. Such law, if brought into force, could have overruled Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (or Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights) in the Courts.
In all this it is important to recognise that, if absolute morality exists, the fact that the law sanctions homosexual acts and tries to muzzle free speech on such acts does not make homosexual acts moral (see later).
Origins of Homosexuality
Some scientists maintain that homosexuality is due to a complex combination of social (relational), psychological, and biological factors [National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality, NARTH]. But some claim that NARTH’s ‘biological factor’ is not a fundamental genetic one.
Royal College of Psychiatrists Report
The Royal College of Psychiatrists ‘LGB Special Interest Group’ submitted a report to the Church of England’s Listening Exercise on Human Sexuality (2007). The report concluded:
“It would appear that sexual orientation is biological in nature, determined by a complex interplay of genetic factors and the early uterine environment (i.e. genes and hormones)”
But this is based upon just three studies – none of which actually support the biological theory!
Gay rights activists refer to three different studies and claim that these have shown that there is a biological basis for homosexuality. The three studies are: Hamer’s X-chromosome research, LeVay’s study of the hypothalamus, and Bailey and Pillard’s study of identical twins who were homosexuals. But others claim that in all three studies, the researchers had a vested interest in obtaining a certain outcome because they were homosexuals themselves, and that their studies did not stand up to scientific scrutiny [Baptist Union of Western Australia (BUWA) Task Force on Human Sexuality]. The BUWA concluded:
There is no reliable evidence to date that homosexual behaviour is determined by a person’s genesBaptist Union of Western Australia
This conclusion is supported by other researchers:
There is no conclusive scientific evidence for any genetic trait causing homosexuality, bisexuality, or transgendered desires [Christian Research Journal, 1992]
No researcher has found provable biological or genetic differences between heterosexuals and homosexuals that were not caused by their behaviour … no one has found a single heredible genetic, hormonal or physical difference between heterosexuals and homosexuals. Homosexuality is Learned. [Family Research Institute, Colorado Springs]
For example, studies of 1700 homosexuals in the 1940’s and nearly 1000 homosexuals in 1970 reported that homosexuals overwhelmingly believed that their feelings and behaviour were the result of social or environmental influences i.e. relationships. According to NARTH, the relational problem leading to male homosexuality can be a complex combination of gender nonconformity e.g. avoiding competition and lack of male bonding, temperament e.g. a tendency to personalize criticism, poor (distant) father-son relationship, and over intimate mother-son relationship.
Conclusion on Origin of Homosexuality
Scientific studies point to homosexuality being what a person does in contrast to gender, race and impairment – which relate to what a person is. Homosexuality is learned; the root cause is psychological rather than biological; and the problem is relational rather than genetic. [ Family Research Institute, Colorado Springs ]
Is it ‘Normal’?
When someone claims that homosexuality (implying homosexual acts) is ‘normal’, ask:
Then why don’t we find about 50% of the population heterosexual and about 50% of the population homosexual?
In reality, just 2.2% of the UK population identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual [UK Office for National Statistics, 2018]. In the USA it is about 4.5% and about 5.9% in Germany.
Western ethics tend to be those of Postmodernism. They maintain that:
- What is, is OK
- All homosexual activity is a viable choice, and there is no guilt
- Homosexual feelings are normal; youth are advised “there is nothing wrong with you”
Given that relational issues appear to be the prime cause of homosexuality, we can now challenge the Postmodern idea that homosexuality is ‘normal’. Are homosexual feelings really normal? A perceptive definition of ‘normality’ has been given as:
That which functions according to its design
On this definition, the relationship problems outlined above are clearly not normal in that they don’t follow the perceived design pattern. For example, the natural and preferred father-son relationship is for a father to lead and help his son in a close and friendly manner. And of course the sexual acts of homosexuality are perceived by the majority as conflicting with the design pattern. How can anal intercourse be perceived as part of natural design?
On this basis, homosexuality is clearly not normal – it is not a normal sexual variation.
Statistics also bear this out; In America typically only a few percent of the population identify themselves as gay or lesbian. To counter this, some point out that there are many examples of homosexuality in nature itself, and so it must be normal. For example, it is claimed that lizards can be lesbian and gay male swans can make good parents [‘Evolution’s Rainbow’, Roughgarden, Stanford]. But male swans cannot create a family via procreation – they are not designed that way!
The World Ethic
If homosexual feelings are not ‘normal’, what about homosexual acts? Is there a ‘correct’ worldview on homosexual acts? Is there a guiding standard or ethic on the matter stating that such acts are ‘right’, or ‘wrong’? Western society tends to go by a majority or cultural ethic, whereby whatever a cultural group approves of is deemed ‘right’, and whatever the group disapproves of is ‘wrong’.
A quick way of determining the current majority or cultural ethic on some matter is to carry out an opinion poll. A Canadian poll (Environics Research Group, May 2001) asked Canadians “Do you personally strongly approve, somewhat approve, somewhat disapprove or strongly disapprove of homosexuality?” In 1996 22% approved and in 2001 44% approved, showing a rapid change in social ethic. According to this poll, homosexuality (and by implication, homosexual sex) is rapidly becoming ‘right’.
Similarly, a 2001 Gallup poll showed a continuation of a slow, but steady, liberalization of American public opinion toward homosexuality (Newport, 2001). A poll in the same year by the Barna Research Group found that nearly half of all adults (48%) believe that sexual relations between consenting adults of the same gender should be legal. Two years later, Gallup found that six out of ten Americans feel that homosexual relations between consenting adults should be legal.
Clearly, a majority or culturally defined ethic is variable and unreliable. This is cultural relativism and the social consequences can be disastrous e.g. liberal sexual ethics has led to a dramatic increase in HIV cases and sexually transmitted infections (see Ethics & Morality). Moreover, opinion polls only tell us what a society is currently thinking, not what it should be thinking (assuming an absolute ethic exists).
Consider again the core question: “Is there an absolute ethic on homosexual acts?” Can we say homosexual acts are definitely ‘right’ or definitely ‘wrong’? Some sensibly maintain that any absolute ethic (moral standard) cannot come from man, a finite and fallible being. It must come from a transcendent source, from beyond mankind, if such a source exists. As the British philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein remarked:
The sense of the world must lie outside the world … ethics is transcendental
The Biblical Ethic
Christianity maintains that absolute ethics exist and are based upon the nature of God, and in particular on the absolute moral standard of a Creator God. This ethical view escapes the unreliability of cultural relativism. It presupposes that God exists and has revealed absolute standards. It maintains that these standards are compatible with His creation and are true and correct. Such ethic is timeless and is for man’s well-being. It comes from an authority higher than man, and is revealed in Jesus and the inspired scriptures of the Bible.
According to the Bible, God created ‘kinds’ (including man), and instructed them to ‘multiply’ (Gen 1). In order to multiply, the ‘kinds’ had male and female gender. Moreover, everything that was created ‘was good’. So the natural state of things before the so-called ‘Fall of Man’ was for a male and female of a kind to procreate. The concept of two male swans ‘parenting’ simply cannot have been on God’s agenda, since together they cannot procreate. This is not saying that same-sex relationships are wrong – far from it. Male bonding can have great social benefit and in the Bible we are told that Jonathan loved David and became his close friend (1 Sam 18.1). It is simply saying:
same-sex sexual relationships were not on God’s creation agenda! In God’s perfectly created world, they were simply not natural and intended and so must have been completely absent.
The biblical concept of the Fall of Man brought a different scenario. For man, one consequence was sexual sin in the sight of God, and that includes homosexual acts. The biblical case against the act of homosexuality is found in the following texts:
Lev 18:22, 20:13; Deut 23:18, Mat 5:17-19; Rom 1:18-27; 1 Cor 6:9-11 and Rev 21:27.
Note that God underscored His word by destroying the sodomy of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen 19:5,24).
Natural Sexual Variation
Since the Fall of man appears to have introduced genetic variations leading to physical changes in all of creation (see Genesis 3), it is probable that it introduced sexual variations in man. The interaction of fallen angels with women (Gen 6:2) may also have caused genetic change. And genetic change might be the cause of the decreasing age of the patriarchs after the Flood (Genesis 5). Clearly, from observation of today’s world, there is great natural variation (the statistical ‘Normal’ curve) in the masculinity of men and the femininity of women.
What does biology say? Human cells contain pairs of chromosomes – which are long, stringy aggregates of genes. The gender determining or ‘sex’ chromosomes are the X and Y chromosomes; normally males have one X and one Y chromosome (the XY male) and females have two X chromosomes (the XX female). It is generally accepted that gender determination is due to the presence or absence of the Y chromosome i.e. this is the determining factor of a person’s “true” biological sex. The Y chromosome contains a gene, SRY, which triggers embryonic development as a male.
Sexual variation arises when someone is born with only one sex chromosome or with three sex chromosomes. Also, damage of the SRY gene can lead to an XX male or to an XY female, link. For the XX male, it has been suggested that one of the X chromosomes has obtained a small piece of Y chromosome which is sufficient to produce ‘maleness’. But in extreme cases sexuality is not easily determined. In general, sex chromosome abnormalities can affect a person’s sexuality e.g. their sterility.
The Bible acknowledges this sexual variation. For example, it refers to the ‘sensitive (tender) and very refined man’ (Deut 28:54) and to the ‘tender (sensitive) and delicate (refined) woman’ (Deut 28:56) – implying that some men are ‘less masculine’ than others and some women are ‘more feminine’ than others.
So, biblically, we are to expect some natural variation in sexual awareness and drive (commonly called ‘libido’). But, as discussed, it is probably wrong to link this natural sexual variation with homosexuality. Research shows that homosexuality is linked more to what a person does than to what they are (their genetics).
This is where the Bible draws a line in the sand; God is concerned with a person’s will and heart, not their genetics. It seems likely that many ‘chromosome normal’ people (XY males and XX females) are drawn into homosexual activity through relationships and by choice. It seems many make a deliberate choice to violate the sexual norm through deliberate homosexual acts, and in cross-dressing. To such activity, God says ‘No’!
A woman shall not wear anything that pertains to a man, nor shall a man put on a woman’s garment, for all who do so are an abomination to the Lord your GodDeuteronomy 22:5
Is the Old Testament Outdated?
Has the world ‘moved on’, as they say? Some argue that the OT law on homosexuality (as in Deut 22:5 above) is outdated, just as we no longer stone people to death, have slaves, or offer a ram for guilt offering. But they fail to distinguish between civil, ceremonial, and moral law. Whilst civil law changes with time, and the law requiring ceremonial sacrifice was abolished by the sacrificial death of Jesus, God’s ‘moral’ law is timeless.
For instance, written several thousand years later, the New Testament still labels the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah as sexually corrupt in God’s sight (2 Pet 2:4-10). Moreover, we cannot simply pick and choose which parts of the Bible we dislike. If we don’t like Lev 18:22 (“You shall not lie with a male as with a woman”) do we also reject the next verse, Leviticus 18:23 (“You shall not mate with an animal”)? After all, if homosexual acts are OK, then why not human-animal sexual acts too?
Sadly, European Sexual Orientation Regulations (SORs) now force individual Christians and Christian organizations who offer ‘goods and services’ to compromise their Christian ethos in favour of activities violating God’s timeless moral law! In contrast to the EU, Jesus upheld the OT moral law and did not abolish it (Mat 5:17), and the Bible holds this view of homosexuality right up to the book of Revelation.
The fact that homosexuality is found in nature is no excuse for man. Man, as distinct from an animal, is a moral being and has been given God’s injunction on the matter. Animal homosexuality is simply demonstrating one effect of The Fall and God does not appear to have created them this way.
As to the future, those who deliberately live immoral, unclean lives in the sight of God are excluded from the heavenly city (Rev 21:27, 22:15), the New Jerusalem. Revelation 22:15 uses a term similar to that in Deut 23:18, which implies ‘male prostitute’ or ‘somodite’. Based on such scriptures, Christian Theism maintains that:
- Human nature has been warped by the Fall
- Homosexual feelings are abnormal
- All homosexual activity (deliberate sexual acts) is sin in God’s sight
- There are eternal consequences for deliberately violating unseen spiritual law
The Christian Response to Homosexuality
The legal position and the sympathetic Postmodern world ethic on homosexuality pose a challenge for the Church. How is the Church to respond? Since Christians are commanded to be salt and light in society (Matthew 5:13-16), it is their duty to state God’s moral law on homosexual acts, and other ethical and moral issues. But this must be done in the context of a loving, caring, non-judgemental way – Jesus always gave the truth in love. The Christian should have Christ’s love, humility and compassion for those caught up in homosexuality, without compromising the God-given principles in scripture.
Homosexuals, like any other sector of society, are to be welcomed into God’s church. Here we all strive to understand God’s way for man and try to adhere to His word in the Bible. Here we all acknowledge the need for repentance, the saving grace of Jesus and the new life He offers through His death and resurrection. But someone openly flouting God’s word within His church (on homosexuality or any other issue) should not hold a position of authority or ministry within the church (1 Timothy 3:1-13).