Same sex marriages – 2
On Planet Bahai, one of the participants wrote:
… if at some point in the future the House of Justice proclaimed that homosexual relations are not a violation of Baha’i law I would take that as pretty strong evidence that the Faith is false, that the House was pandering to the public instead of standing up for its principles.
My response (23 August 2009)
I think you seriously underestimate the flexibility that is built into the application of Bahai principles to the needs of the society and of the day, through the mechanism of the Houses of Justice. Change is a law of nature, and it affects all religious communities. However where the religious institutions depend for their aura of legitimacy on venerability, on a claim to represent “the original” faith, they often obfuscate about change. They still change, but they pretend to be returning to an ‘original’ newly rediscovered. They walk into the future, facing backwards. Baha’u’llah however built flexibility into his religion, first by giving its institutions scriptural charters, so they don’t have to appear to be the ancient unchanging church, and second by not ruling on all sorts of matters and allowing the Houses of Justice to make and change laws, as they apply the principles to changing social conditions.
There’s a tablet of Abdu’l-baha here http://reference.bahai.org/fa/t/c/AK4/ak4-302.html (Amr wa Khalq 4:298) http://www.h-net.org/~bahai/areprint/ab/G-L/I/inba59/59IBA 275.gif (INBA 59)
which talks about the powers of the UHJ and says, in part:
“As for the matter of marriage, this falls entirely within the social laws. Nevertheless, its preconditions are found in the Law of God, and its fundamentals are evident. The union of relatives, however, is not explicitly treated, and is referred to the House of Justice, which will give a ruling in accordance with social customs and medical requirements, wisdom, and suitability for human nature. … In short, whatever ruling the House of Justice makes on this question, that is in truth the decisive decree, it is God’s sharp sword. No one may deviate from it. If you consider, it will be apparent how much this rule is consistent with wisdom. For whenever a difficulty may arise and a local decision is required, at that point, since the House of Justice delivered the previous ruling, the secondary House of Justice, can issue a new national ruling on a national case and topic, in the light of local imperatives. To entirely avoid any risks, the rulings that the House of Justice has made, it can also abrogate. … In short, in this most great cycle the foundation has been laid in such a way that its laws can remain relevant and appropriate to all ages and eras, unlike the bygone religious laws, the implementation of whose provisions is unattainable and impossible today.” (my trans.)
The question of Bahai recognition of same-sex marriages that are recognised by the state has not been addressed by Baha’u’allah, or indeed by Abdu’l-Baha or Shoghi Effendi. It is a new issue that did not arise in their day. So it lies in the sphere of the UHJ first, and then National Assemblies, to make whatever rulings they like “with social customs and medical requirements, wisdom, and suitability for human nature” — and to change them as the times dictate. The UHJ has not made the rulings that would be required (eg, what to do about the dowry), so presumably same-sex marriages by existng Bahais cannot be recognised. I don’t think it has ruled on what to do about a same-sex married couple if one or both partners became Bahais. Demanding a divorce would seem to be against more basic Bahai teachings, so I can’t image them decreeing that. But if they do, they have to be obeyed.
For reasons I’ve given before, I don’t expect any change soon, so the question of recognising homosexual marriages may seem academic. But the attempt by some to lay down a priori limits to what the UHJ may choose to do in the future is not a trivial thing to be ignored. It is wrong in itself, and it is an “oppression” for those you describe: ‘my friends and relatives who have no interest whatsoever in the Faith for this very reason.’ It creates an unnecessary barrier hindering people from investigating the teachings of Baha’u’llah himself.
“What “oppression” is more grievous than that a soul seeking the truth, and wishing to attain unto the knowledge of God, should know not where to go for it and from whom to seek it? (Baha’u’llah, The Kitab-i-Iqan, p. 31)
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