The following contains mature content of a sexual nature so if you are squeamish, a prude or a minor, please move along. Maybe check out some kittehs or bunnies.
The subject of homosexuality continues to be a difficult topic within Baha’i theology. For many it presents an insurmountable challenge to accept the Baha’i Faith and for believers it is a topic of seemingly endless polemics.
There are many approaches we can take to attempt a better understanding of this issue. One of the most basic is to go back to the source and try to understand exactly what the Baha’i writings say.
If we search Baha’u’llah’s writings, we find something quite remarkable. Nowhere in Baha’u’llah’s writings is there an explicit mention of homosexuality (and neither by Abdu’l-Baha). Arguably, the only reference we have is an extremely brief mention in the Aqdas (more on that a bit later).
To understand why there is no wider mention of homosexuality and what exactly Baha’u’llah was referring and what Shoghi Effendi translated to the seemingly cryptic words, “the subject of boys”, we have to take a few steps back.
Sexual dynamics and mores differ greatly between cultures and time periods. What may be accepted sexual behavior at one point in time or within a specific society may be completely unknown or unacceptable in another time or place.
For example, the Sambia of Papua New Guinea believe that ingestion of semen is necessary for a boy to reach full maturity. To that end, starting at age 7, Sambia boys orally stimulate their adolescent peers (14-18) and ingest their semen. Upon reaching puberty, they then provide their semen so that the younger boys can reach full sexual maturity and become men.
To the Sambia, semen is a precious substance which is being gifted from the older generation to the younger to assure their development. The act is done not to derive pleasure but to give a nourishing substance that the Sambia believe is as necessary as mother’s milk. While to us this may seem to have homosexual overtones, to the Sambia this is a natural and necessary part of a boy’s development and has absolutely nothing to do with homosexuality. In fact, the Sambia view homosexual acts to be as taboo and socially undesirable as incest.
Of course, because we all fall prey to the recency effect, what we see in our present culture is what we consider to be ‘normal’. But actually, ‘normal’ is rather subjective.
The way that we understand and define homosexual relationships today simply did not exist during Baha’u’llah’s time in the Middle East. That is, there was no recognition or allowance for a mutually consensual, exclusive relationship between two adult women (or men) living together and raising children together as a family. Therefore, since this model of family life did not exist, it is not reasonable to expect that the topic be given explicit treatment. Just as we don’t expect Baha’u’llah to have explicitly written about cloning or stem cell research.
That does not mean however that homosexuality did not exist at all in one guise or another during Baha’u’llah’s time. Homosexuality, after all, has been observed in nature among hundreds of species as well as throughout human history. So while the current definition of homosexual relationships may not have existed, there certainly have always been some forms of homosexuality in human society, just as there have been many other acceptable sexual expressions, beyond the institution of marriage between a man and a woman.
So to understand the extremely limited or non-existent Baha’i treatment of homosexuality, we have to first understand the sexual traditions prevalent in the Middle East during the 1800’s. These would be the norms that Baha’u’llah would be familiar with.