A Clear Prohibition
The position of the Torah on homosexual relations is very clear. It does not mince words. Amidst all the laws regarding improper sexual activities it states (Lev 18:22):
Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind; it is abomination.The prohibition is upheld throughout all strata of halachic law, up to and including today. Homosexual relations are forbidden by Modern Orthodox (MO) Judaism and every branch to the right.
A Moral Quandary
The prohibition of homosexual relations led to a moral quandary that I wrestled with as I was struggling with Judaism. Growing up, I had very limited associations with gay individuals. It is possible that I did know several, but the repressive nature of the culture at that point in time made it unlikely that I knew who exactly was gay. However, that changed when I enrolled in (a secular) university, and encountered individuals of varied cultures and backgrounds, individuals that have had a profound impact on the way my moral compass developed even though they are likely completely unaware of it! Before we get to that, I should take a second to talk about how homosexuality was treated in my MO high school.
When the topic of homosexuality came up in various religious settings, a common argument was often proffered. This argument is now completely out of vogue, for good reason. It's almost insulting to write it down, but alas it is necessary. Inevitably, the Rabbi discussing the topic would admit that a gay person will have same sex attraction that is completely out of their control. I did not belong to the ultra-right wing, or the conservative Christian camp that viewed homosexuality as a choice. No, they agreed that the gay person did not choose to be gay, it was who they were. Then, they would inevitably compare a homosexual individual with either a pedophile or a rapist, another individual with sexual desires that they didn't choose. They'll note that just as a pedophile is given an unfair struggle to overcome their unusually strong yetzer hara (evil inclination) on this matter, so should a gay person.
Of course in making the analogy they pass over a key difference. Child molestation and rape is asymmetric. You cannot act on pedophilic urges with a child in a way that is consensual. A child cannot legally give consent, nor are they able to understand biologically what is going on. One party, in this case the child, is invariably harmed by the encounter. Rape is obviously in the same boat. However, homosexual relations can be consensual between parties. Neither party is harmed in any way. In fact, it's certainly the case in many relationships that both parties benefit greatly from it.
The argument always stuck in my craw. I accepted it at the time, because I wasn't offered anything else. The Torah clearly forbids it. Chazal (the ancient Rabbis) concur. What other possible explanation can there be. To date, there has never been any acceptable explanation for the prohibition of homosexuality that wasn't ground in religious reasoning. I was grasping at straws for an explanation, and this was the offered straw. It was a shitty straw.
As I alluded to before, when I got to college things changed. It's easy to hold negative views of homosexuals when they are the "other," when they are people you don't know, some mythical creature. However, once I made friends with several it was abundantly clear that the comparison between a gay individual to a rapist is patently absurd. Not only that, I was able to witness the tangible harm that the religious prohibition of homosexual relations was having on real people. People that were forced to deny who they were because otherwise they would be thrown out of their religious community. I'll also note that the documentary "Trembling Before God" came out at this time. The problems of the Jewish community and their treatment of homosexuality were actually being aired.
Homosexuality was not the only moral issue that I struggled with, but the Torah's prohibition of it lent credence to the hypothesis that it was a man-made document, and not a divine one. It was impossible for me to imagine a deity who would make individuals gay and then forbid them on acting on it with no good reason available. Such a deity would be purposefully cruel and not worth worship. It was very possible for me to imagine multiple situations where men would prohibit that activity. It's very easy for you to prohibit someone from engaging in something that you have absolutely no desire to do yourself. I will talk more about some of the other moral issues later in the year. It's probably good to move to today.
The Future Quandary
I read the OU's statement on today's supreme court decision. It can be found here. The following quote struck me:
[W]ill the laws implementing today’s ruling and other expansions of civil rights for LGBT Americans contain appropriate accommodations and exemptions for institutions and individuals who abide by religious teachings that limit their ability to support same-sex relationships?That bold phrase made me stop and remember, and indeed it prompted me to write this post. The way it's phrased makes it sound to me like they recognize that the prohibition against homosexuality is ridiculous, and possibly even morally wrong and harmful to individuals. Yet, they can't do anything about it. The Torah forbids it, their religion forbids it, they can't change it.
Perhaps I'm projecting. I'm reading too much into this statement, because this was exactly how I felt almost 15 years ago when I was struggling with this. All signs pointed to the prohibitions of homosexuality being morally wrong, yet what could I do about it? Nothing. Unless, of course, I wanted to leave Orthodoxy.
I will actually go a step further and make a bold prediction. MO Judaism is doomed. It cannot survive. The idea that religious Jews can participate in society and live Halachic lives will be impossible. Why do I make this prediction? The reason is that up until very recently, MO Judaism aligned well with the majority opinion on every key moral issue. This included the public sentiment towards homosexuality. Now, it conflicts. This is the moral quandary that MO Judaism faces. What can they do? They could isolate themselves from society, that is one option. They could abandon the halacha, that is another option. But if they do neither, then they are forced to come to terms with the fact that the culture they want to be a part of considers their religion immoral. That's a bitter pill to swallow, too bitter in fact.
My prediction might be wrong. At this point in my life, I am watching from the sidelines. I'm interested to what goes on, but as a spectator, not a participant.
In the meantime, I look forward to the fact that all my gay friends, both current and in the past, all those individuals who altered my worldview through their personal examples, will be free to marry in all corners of the country I live in. Now that I am free from following Judaism, I can celebrate with them fully.
Note: Usually I proofread these posts before posting them. I don't have time to proofread this one at the moment. So I'm going to apologize for spelling/grammar errors in advance.