Homosexuality and the Bahá'í Faith

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For members of the Bahá'í Faith permissible sexual relations are limited to those between a man and a woman in marriage.[1][2] Adherents are expected to abstain from sex outside of matrimony, thus premarital, extramarital, or homosexual intimacy are excluded from allowable Bahá'í practices. Bahá'í institutions have taken no position on the sexual practices of those who are not adherents.[3]

The scriptural basis for Bahá'í practices comes from the writings of Bahá'u'lláh (1817-1892), the faith's founder, who forbade fornication, adultery, and sodomy. The Bahá'í position towards homosexuality was elaborated on by Shoghi Effendi, Bahá'u'lláh's great grandson and appointed head of the religion from 1921 to 1957. He answered specific questions and described homosexuality as an affliction that should be overcome, while leaving Bahá'í membership open to anyone regardless of sexual orientation. This position leaves Bahá'ís with a same-sex orientation under the same guidance as a heterosexual person, that is, if they find themselves unable to contract a marriage with someone of the opposite sex, they should remain celibate.

The supreme governing institution of the Bahá'í Faith is the Universal House of Justice, first elected in 1963, which has written more extensively on the subject of homosexuality. For example, they have clarified that Bahá'ís should not single out homosexuality over other transgressions of Bahá'í conduct, should not treat those with a homosexual orientation with disdain or prejudice,[4] should not expect that non-Bahá'ís follow Bahá'í standards, and should neither promote nor necessarily oppose efforts to legalize same-sex marriage.[5]

Bahá'í views on sexuality[edit]

Bahá'í teachings stress the importance of absolute chastity for any unmarried person,[6] and focus on personal restraint. The Bahá'í Faith, however, leaves the application of laws of social conduct largely up to the individual, and Bahá'ís do not advocate for or discriminate against homosexual people.[7]

While in authoritative teachings homosexuality is described as a condition that an individual should control and overcome,[8] Bahá'ís are left to apply the teachings at their own discretion, and are discouraged from singling out homosexuality over other transgressions, such as the consumption of alcohol, or heterosexual promiscuity.[9] Membership in the Bahá'í community is therefore open to lesbian and gay adherents.[10][11][4][12]

The Bahá'í Faith has been described as a religion "ambiguous or contested on the issue of LGBT inclusion".[7] The religion has a strong emphasis on traditional values found in Abrahamic religions, which discourage liberal sexuality.

Bahá'í teachings state that Bahá'ís should not treat homosexual people as condemned outcasts, nor expect people who are not Bahá'í to follow Bahá'í laws.[13] The Bahá'í writings teach adherents to treat everyone with respect and dignity, and to eschew an attitude of discrimination and social intolerance toward homosexuals.[14][5]

The opportunity for civil same-sex marriage was mentioned in a 2010 letter by the Universal House of Justice as being a public issue that is not in keeping with the Bahá'í teachings, but one that Bahá'ís "would neither promote nor necessarily oppose."[5]

Homosexual Bahá'ís[edit]

New converts[edit]

Individuals with a same-sex orientation are not prevented from entering the religion and joining in community life; however, someone involved in a same-sex marriage or union will be prevented from registering as a Bahá'í.[15] Like other Abrahamic religions, Bahá'í teachings make a distinction between those who have a same-sex attraction and those who practice homosexual relations.[16]

The faith's guidelines recommend not emphasizing Bahá'í standards of conduct to new believers, but gradually introducing the idea of fully accepting all Bahá'í practices.[17][18] Spiritual Assemblies, the local elected bodies that manage the affairs of the religion, are instructed to act patiently and persuade members to accept principles inwardly and “out of pure conviction and desire.”[19] Although Bahá'ís are forbidden to have sexual relationships outside of marriage, heterosexual or homosexual, new converts who are already engaged in such a relationship will be expected to make a sincere effort to conform to the Bahá'í teachings over a period of time.[12]

Role of Spiritual Assemblies[edit]

As a general rule, the Spiritual Assemblies do not get involved in the private lives of believers, unless their actions are considered flagrantly immoral or to be causing some harm to the community.[20][21]

An individual may be subject to administrative sanctions if a Spiritual Assembly decides that they are openly disregarding the Bahá'í teachings and their actions are damaging to the image of the Bahá'í Faith. This response removes the right to contribute to funds, vote in elections for spiritual assemblies, hold office, or attend the Nineteen Day Feast. It may be applied to extreme cases of alcoholism, sexual promiscuity, and anything that is considered flagrant immorality. However, this consequence is meant only to be applied in cases of "public scandal", "very flagrant cases", or if the conduct of the Bahá'í is "seriously injuring the Faith in the eyes of the public".[18] In cases of Bahá'ís who are flagrantly promiscuous, they are to be approached by a Spiritual Assembly and informed of the teachings on personal conduct. If after a probational period the person continues to present a disregard towards the laws in a public way, then the assembly may remove the person's administrative rights, "administratively expelled from membership in the Bahá'í community",[22] though this action is not the same as ex-communication, as there is no directive to avoid fellowship with the individual.

Overcoming homosexuality[edit]

Early letters written by Shoghi Effendi's secretaries on his behalf described those with a homosexual orientation as having a handicap that can be overcome "through the advice and help of doctors, through a strong and determined effort, and through prayer".[9]

The reference to overcoming or reversing a sexual orientation has garnered considerable criticism from those who regard it as innate and unchangeable. Conversion therapy has been largely condemned by many medical organizations, particularly in the United States and United Kingdom, who see it as unethical to view a heterosexual orientation as preferable to a homosexual orientation.[23][24]

The Universal House of Justice has written its own correspondence to individuals, encouraging them to divert thoughts into spiritual channels and the nature of man, and to "resist wayward impulses each time they arise".[25] The Universal House of Justice has responded to research that claims that homosexuality is innate and not changeable by asserting that homosexuality is one of

"many problems, both physical and psychological. Some are the result of the individual’s own behaviour, some are caused by the circumstances in which he grew up, some are congenital... homosexuality is an abnormality, is a great problem for the individual so afflicted, and... he or she should strive to overcome it."[13]

It also argues that statistics may be distorted due to under-reporting,[14] that other genetic predispositions to undesirable behaviors exist, and that other types of bias may exist in the present-day research.[16]

Basis from texts[edit]

In one passage of the Kitáb-i-Aqdas, Bahá'u'lláh writes "we shrink, for very shame, from treating the subject of boys."[26] In the context of the original Arabic text, this passage implies pederasty, or erotic relations between adult males and adolescent boys.[27] Such practices were not uncommon during the time of Bahá'u'lláh in the Islamic world, and in some cases were socially acceptable (see bacha bazi). Bahá'u'lláh condemned such relations, and Shoghi Effendi, the authorized interpreter of the Bahá'í writings, has more clearly defined a prohibition on all homosexual relations,[28] stating that, "No matter how devoted and fine the love may be between people of the same sex, to let it find expression in sexual acts is wrong. To say that it is ideal is no excuse. Immorality of every sort is really forbidden by Bahá'u'lláh, and homosexual relationships, He looks upon as such, besides being against nature."[9]

Bahá'u'lláh clearly forbade fornication and adultery,[29] referring to any form of premarital or extramarital sexual intercourse. He also forbade sodomy and lechery.[30] The Universal House of Justice, in its notes on the text of the Kitab-i-Aqdas, stated that the Baha'i laws restrict "permissible sexual intercourse to that between a man and the woman to whom he is married".[27]

Letters from the Universal House of Justice[edit]

The head of the Bahá'í Faith, the Universal House of Justice, has addressed the issue in letters in recent years and brief excerpts:

  • 9 May 2014 to an individual[31]
    • "The contemporary discussion surrounding homosexuality, which began in the West and is increasingly promoted in other parts of the world, generally takes the form of a false dichotomy, which compels one to choose between a position that is either affirming or rejecting."
    • "While Bahá’ís hold specific beliefs about human identity, sexuality, personal morality, and individual and social transformation, they also believe that individuals must be free to investigate truth and should not be coerced."
    • "To regard a person who has a homosexual orientation with prejudice or disdain is entirely against the spirit of the Faith. And where occasion demands, it would be appropriate to speak out or act against unjust or oppressive measures directed towards homosexuals."
    • "Just as Bahá’ís do not impose their views on others, they cannot relinquish their principles because of changing trends in popular thought."
  • 23 April 2013 letter to a National Spiritual Assembly[32]
    • "…their ("institutions of the Faith") aim (should) be to raise consciousness and to increase understanding. Theirs is not the duty to pry into personal lives or to impose Bahá’í law on the individual…"
    • "Gossip and backbiting have no place in the Bahá’í community; nor do judgmental attitudes and self-righteousness."
  • 19 April 2013 letter to a group of individuals[32]
    • "The result (of "the expenditure of enormous energy and vast amounts of resources in an attempt to bend truth to conform to personal desire") is a culture that distorts human nature and purpose, trapping human beings in pursuit of idle fancies and vain imaginings and turning them into pliable objects in the hands of the powerful. Yet, the happiness and well-being of humanity-depend upon the opposite: cultivating human character and social order in conformity with reality."
    • "(Bahá'u'lláh's) teachings serve, then, to empower humanity; they are the harbinger of human happiness, whose call, far from compelling obedience to an arbitrary and dictatorial regimen of behaviour, leads to true freedom."
    • "Throughout the world, in diverse cultures, Bahá’ís encounter values and practices that stand in sharp contrast to the teachings of the Faith. Some are embedded in social structures, for instance, racial prejudice and gender discrimination, economic exploitation and political corruption. Others pertain to personal conduct, especially with respect to the use of alcohol and drugs, to sexual behaviour, and to self-indulgence in general."
    • "The institutions of the Faith, for their part, strive to ensure that such an environment ("in which a spirit of unity animates one and all") is fostered. They do not pry into the personal lives of individuals. Nor are they vindictive and judgmental, eager to punish those who fall short of the Bahá’í standard."

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Coward 1996, p. 147.
  2. ^ Lepard 2008, p. 100.
  3. ^ Office of Community Administration 2015.
  4. ^ a b Universal House of Justice 1987.
  5. ^ a b c Universal House of Justice 2010.
  6. ^ Effendi 1975.
  7. ^ a b Gallagher & Ashcroft 2006.
  8. ^ Universal House of Justice 1973a.
  9. ^ a b c On behalf of Shoghi Effendi 1950.
  10. ^ On behalf of Shoghi Effendi 1948.
  11. ^ On behalf of Shoghi Effendi 1954.
  12. ^ a b Universal House of Justice 1988.
  13. ^ a b Universal House of Justice 1992a.
  14. ^ a b Universal House of Justice 1995.
  15. ^ Universal House of Justice 1999.
  16. ^ a b Universal House of Justice 1993.
  17. ^ Shoghi Effendi 1938, p. 52.
  18. ^ a b On behalf of Shoghi Effendi 1955.
  19. ^ On behalf of Shoghi Effendi 1935.
  20. ^ On behalf of Shoghi Effendi 1956.
  21. ^ Universal House of Justice 1980b.
  22. ^ Universal House of Justice 1991.
  23. ^ American Psychiatric Association (2000). "Position Statement on Therapies Focused on Attempts to Change Sexual Orientation" (PDF). Retrieved 2018-07-26.
  24. ^ United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy. "Conversion therapy". Retrieved 2018-07-26.
  25. ^ Universal House of Justice 1980a.
  26. ^ Bahá'u'lláh 1873, gr. 107.
  27. ^ a b Universal House of Justice 1992b, note 134.
  28. ^ On behalf of Shoghi Effendi 1949.
  29. ^ Universal House of Justice 1992b, Note 36.
  30. ^ Homosexuality 1993.
  31. ^ Universal House of Justice 2014.
  32. ^ a b Office of Community Administration 2015, p. 21.

Excerpts from letters[edit]

  • On behalf of Shoghi Effendi (4 November 1948), "Letter to the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of Canada", Messages to Canada, Bahá’í Canada Publications
    "...they [homosexuals] should be treated like any other people seeking admittance to the Faith, and be accepted on the same basis. Our teachings, as outlined in the Advent of Divine Justice, on the subject of living a chaste life, should be emphasized to them just as every other applicant, but certainly no ruling whatsoever should be laid down in this matter. The Bahá’ís have certainly not yet reached that stage of moral perfection where they are in a position to too harshly scrutinize the private lives of other souls, and each individual should be accepted on the basis of his faith, and sincere willingness to try to live up to the Divine Standards;"
  • On behalf of Shoghi Effendi (25 October 1949), Letter. cited in Homosexuality 1993
    "Bahá'u'lláh has spoken very strongly against this shameful sexual aberration, as He has against adultery and immoral conduct in general."
  • On behalf of Shoghi Effendi (26 March 1950), Letter to an individual. Cited in Lights of Guidance 1983, #1223
    "No matter how devoted and fine the love may be between people of the same sex, to let it find expression in sexual acts is wrong. To say that it is ideal is no excuse. Immorality of every sort is really forbidden by Bahá'u'lláh, and homosexual relationships he looks upon as such, besides being against nature.
    "To be afflicted this way is a great burden to a conscientious soul. But through the advice and help of doctors, through a strong and determined effort, and through prayer, a soul can overcome this handicap."
  • On behalf of Shoghi Effendi (21 May 1954), Letter to an Individual. Cited in Lights of Guidance 1983, 1221
    "Amongst the many other evils afflicting society in this spiritual low water mark in history is the question of immorality, and over-emphasis of sex. Homosexuality, according to the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, is spiritually condemned. This does not mean that people so afflicted must not be helped and advised and sympathized with."
  • On behalf of Shoghi Effendi (20 August 1955), Letter to a National Spiritual Assembly. Cited in Lights of Guidance 1983, #1230
    "The question of how to deal with homosexuals is a very difficult one. Homosexuality is forbidden in the Bahá'í Faith by Bahá'u'lláh; so, for that matter, is immorality and adultery. If one is going to start imposing heavy sanctions on people who are the victims of this abnormality, however repulsive it may be to others, then it is only fair to impose equally heavy sanctions on any Bahá'ís who step beyond the moral limits defined by Bahá'u'lláh. Obviously at the present time this would create an impossible and ridiculous situation.
    “He feels, therefore, that, through loving advice, through repeated warnings, any friends who are flagrantly immoral should be assisted, and, if possible, restrained. If their activities overstep all bounds and become a matter of public scandal, then the Assembly can consider depriving them of their voting rights. However, he does not advise this course of action and feels that it should only be resorted to in very flagrant cases."
  • On behalf of Shoghi Effendi (6 October 1956), Letter to a National Spiritual Assembly. Cited in Homosexuality 1993
    "Homosexuality is highly condemned and often a great trial and cause of suffering to a person, as a Bahá'í. Any individual so afflicted must, through prayer, and any other means, seek to overcome this handicap. But, unless the actions of such individuals are flagrantly immoral, it cannot be a pretext for depriving them of their voting rights."
  • Universal House of Justice (12 January 1973a), Letter to an Individual. Cited in Lights of Guidance 1983, #1222
    "...it is clear from the teaching of Bahá’u’lláh that homosexuality is not a condition to which a person should be reconciled, but is a distortion of his or her nature which should be controlled or overcome. This may require a hard struggle, but so also can be the struggle of a heterosexual person to control his or her desires."
  • Universal House of Justice (14 March 1973b), Letter to an Individual. Cited in Lights of Guidance 1983, #1225
    "Bahá'í law restricts permissible sexual intercourse to that between a man and the woman to whom he is married. Thus, it should not be so much a matter of whether a practicing homosexual can be a Bahá'í as whether, having become a Bahá'í, the homosexual can overcome his problem through knowledge of the teachings and reliance on Bahá'u'lláh."
  • On behalf of Shoghi Effendi (5 March 1975), Letter to an Individual. Cited in Homosexuality 1993, p. 4
    "Concerning your question whether there are any legitimate forms of expression of the sex instinct outside of marriage; according to the Bahá'í Teachings no sexual act can be considered lawful unless performed between lawfully married persons. Outside of marital life there can be no lawful or healthy use of the sex impulse."
  • Universal House of Justice (9 January 1977), Letter to an individual believer. Cited in Lights of Guidance 1983, 1226
    "While recognizing the divine origin and force of the sex impulse in man, religion teaches that it must be controlled, and Bahá'u'lláh's law confines its expression to the marriage relationship. The unmarried homosexual is therefore in the same position as anyone else who does not marry. The Law of God requires them to practice chastity."
  • Universal House of Justice (16 July 1980a), Letter written to an individual. Cited in Lights of Guidance 1983, #1228
    "The House of Justice comments that while there is little in Bahá'í literature that specifically points to the causes of homosexuality itself, there is much that concerns the nature of man, his inner life and growth, and the way to a true Bahá'í life. If you are sincerely intent on overcoming your problem, you must yourself determine to resist wayward impulses each time they arise and the House of Justice feels that there is no better way than to turn to the Writings to divert our thoughts into spiritual channels..."
  • Universal House of Justice (2 December 1980b), Letter to a National Spiritual Assembly. Cited in Homosexuality 1993
    "Assemblies, of course, must exercise care not to pry into the private lives of the believers to ensure that they are behaving properly…."
  • Universal House of Justice (22 March 1987), Letter written to an individual. Cited in Homosexuality 1993
    "…the Faith does not recognize homosexuality as a "natural" or permanent phenomenon. Rather, it sees this as an aberration subject to treatment, however intractable exclusive homosexuality may now seem to be. To the question of alteration of homosexual bents, much study must be given, and doubtless in the future clear principles of prevention and treatment will emerge. As for those now afflicted, a homosexual does not decide to be a problem human, but he does, as you rightly state, have decision in choosing his way of life, i.e. abstaining from homosexual acts.
    "Your plea for understanding and of justice extended to homosexuals is well taken in many respects, and the House of Justice assures you of its concern for the large number of persons so afflicted. Your work with the homosexual community is praiseworthy, and it permits you personally to exercise the support which is necessary for these often harassed persons, support which you call for in your essay. Moreover, your interest cannot but be therapeutic, at least for the more superficial elements of the problem; however, definitive therapy of the underlying predisposition, which you consider to be innate but the Teachings do not, may have to await additional investigations. As for the responsibility of Assemblies and of individual Bahá’ís, certainly all are called upon to be understanding, supportive and helpful to any individual who carries the burden of homosexuality."
  • Universal House of Justice (30 June 1988), Letter. Cited in Homosexuality 1993
    "As you know, Bahá'u'lláh has clearly forbidden the expression of sexual love between individuals of the same sex. However, the doors are open for all of humanity to enter the Cause of God, irrespective of their present circumstance; this invitation applies to homosexuals as well as to any others who are engaged in practices contrary to the Bahá'í teachings. Associated with this invitation is the expectation that all believers will make a sincere and persistent effort to eradicate those aspects of their conduct which are not in conformity with Divine Law."
  • Universal House of Justice (9 December 1991). "Application of Law".
    "A survey of the letters written on behalf of the Guardian shows that he advised the National Spiritual Assemblies that they should resort to the severe sanction of deprivation of a believer's administrative rights only for such matters as 'disgraceful conduct, flagrantly contrary to our Teachings', 'seriously injuring the Faith in the eyes of the public through his conduct or flagrantly breaking the laws of God', 'gross immorality and open opposition to the administrative functions of the Faith, and disregard for the laws of personal status', 'conduct which is disgracing the Cause', and 'breaking of laws, such as the consent of parents to marriage', or 'acts of such an immoral character as to damage the good name of the Faith'.

    "It is clear that the removal of voting rights is a serious action which an Assembly should take reluctantly when the circumstances require that the Bahá'í community or its reputation in the eyes of the public must be protected from the effects of an individual's behaviour, and where the authority of the laws of the Faith must be upheld. It should be the hope and prayer of the Assembly that the believer who has been administratively expelled from membership in the Bahá'í community will come to see that his behaviour is in violation of the teachings, will endeavour to rectify his conduct, and will thus open the way to being welcomed back into the community so that he can lend his support to the vital and glorious task of establishing the World Order of Bahá'u'lláh."

  • Universal House of Justice (16 March 1992a), Letter. Cited in Homosexuality 1993
    "Human beings suffer from many problems, both physical and psychological. Some are the result of the individual's own behaviour, some are caused by the circumstances in which he grew up, some are congenital. Some human beings are born blind, some suffer from incapacitating accidents or diseases. Such conditions present the individual affected, and those around him, with serious problems, and it is one of the challenges of the human condition that all those concerned should strive to overcome such problems and have understanding and sympathy for the individual so afflicted.
    "There is a wide range of sexual abnormalities. Some people nowadays maintain that homosexuality is not an abnormality and that homosexuals should be encouraged to establish sexual relations with one or more partners of the same sex. The Faith, on the contrary, makes it abundantly clear that homosexuality is an abnormality, is a great problem for the individual so afflicted, and that he or she should strive to overcome it. The social implications of such an attitude are very important.
    "...If a homosexual cannot so overcome his or her condition to the extent of being able to have a heterosexual marriage, he or she must remain single, and abstain from sexual relations. These are the same requirements as for a heterosexual person who does not marry.
    "This law is no reason for Bahá'ís to consider homosexuals as outcasts. If they are not Bahá'ís there is also no reason to expect them to obey the Bahá'í law in this respect any more than we would expect a non-Baha i to abstain from drinking alcohol."
  • Universal House of Justice (17 September 1993), Letter to an individual, Archived from the original on 28 October 2009CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link)
    "The statistics which indicate that homosexuality is incurable are undoubtedly distorted by the fact that many of those who overcome the problem never speak about it in public, and others solve their problems without even consulting professional counsellors.
    "Bahá'í Assemblies can testify to the number of Bahá'ís who, although having had homosexual orientations, have been able to lead normally happy married lives and raise families.
    "Nevertheless there are undoubtedly cases in which the individual finds himself (or herself) unable to eliminate a physical attraction to members of the same sex, even though he succeeds in controlling his behaviour. This is but one of the many trials and temptations to which human beings are subject in this life. For Bahá'ís it cannot alter the basic concept taught by Bahá'u'lláh, that the kind of sexuality purposed by God is the love between a man and a woman, and that its primary (but not its only) purpose is the bringing of children into this world and providing them with a loving and protective environment in which they can be reared to know and love God.
    "The condition of being sexually attracted to some object other than to a mature member of the opposite sex, a condition of which homosexuality is but one manifestation, is regarded by the Faith as a distortion of true human nature, as a problem to be overcome, no matter what specific physical or psychological condition may be the immediate cause. Any Bahá'í who suffers from such a disability should be treated with understanding, and should be helped to control and overcome it. All of us suffer from imperfections which we must struggle to overcome and we all need one another’s understanding and patience.
    "To regard homosexuals with prejudice and disdain would be entirely against the spirit of Bahá'í teachings. A Bahá'í who has a homosexual orientation is not automatically barred from Bahá'í community life or acceptance or excluded from worship. It is only as a result of behaviour which flagrantly violates the laws and principles of the Faith that a Bahá'í would be advised and cautioned and, if he did not rectify his behaviour, would be deprived of his or her administrative rights."
  • Universal House of Justice (5 March 1999), Letter to an individual, Archived from the original on 28 October 2009CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link)
    "...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. They will then be free to draw their own conclusions and act accordingly. Within this context, the question you pose about the possibility of the removal of administrative rights should, therefore, not arise."


Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

  • www.bnasaa.org, the website of the Bahá’í Network on AIDS, Sexuality, Addictions, and Abuse, which includes several pages on homosexuality.
  • Sexuality, Self and the Shape of Society by Holly Hanson, an attempt to raise the level of discourse above the gay/straight dichotomy.