Same sex marriages – 1
On Catholic Answers Forum,
one of the participants said
In the Baha’i faith, there is a scriptural prohibition of pederasty that has been “authoritatively” re-interpreted to proscribe homosexuality.
My response (28 August, 2009):
I guess you are not aware that this is a very contested claim within the Bahai community. The scriptural prohibition on pederasty is not in doubt, but is there an authoritative interpretation that prescribes homosexuality? The supposed interpretation is in a letter written by one of the Guardian’s secretaries (as is the supposed prohibition on ‘saying grace’ – yet Abdu’l-Baha said grace, and Baha’u’llah’s Tablet of Medicine actually prescribes it, before and after a meal.)
So here’s some of the questions raised:
– is everything that Shoghi Effendi wrote an authoritative interpretation of Bahai scripture. (answer – probably not, he himself says that some things are just personal advice).
– can a letter written by a secretary share in the Guardian’s powers of authoritative interpretation? (answer – probably yes, since sometimes they simply quote what the Guardian has already given as an interpretion.)
– can a letter from the Guardian become Bahai law? (answer – definitely not, he says so himself.)
– if the Guardian did make an interpretation, saying that the pederasty referred to by Baha’u’llah in the Aqdas also covered homosexuality as practiced in the west in the 1950’s, was this an anological reasoning based on the fact that both pederasty and homosexuality involve sex outside of marriage, or because both pederasty and homosexuality involve same-sex sex? In short, had he been asked, “how does the pederasty verse apply to same-sex unions within the framework of a marriage recognised by state and society?” what would the answer have been?
All of these ‘answers’ on the sub-questions are contested. There are some Bahais who treat every word from the Guardian or his secretary as both Interpretation and Law – in defiance of the Guardian’s own wishes in this respect – and who are quite certain that it is the ‘same-sex’ part that’s objectionable, rather than just the ‘outside of marriage’ part.
On the first question, I have an essay called Some Interpretive Principles
that discusses how we can tell what things written by Shoghi Effendi himself are authoritative interpretations that become interwoven with the scripture they interpret, and which are instructions given by him as head of the Faith at the time. By the rules I deduce there, the letters about homosexuality would probably not be considered authoritative interpretation.
I think that there is sufficient doubt about the binding interpretive nature of the letter written by Shoghi Effendi’s secretary, and about its applicability to a same-sex marriage as distinct from homosexual activity outside of marriage, to make the question an open one. There is moreover a letter written by Abdu’l-Baha about the wisdom of referring the specification of Bahai laws to the House of Justice, in which he uses the example of the forbidden degrees of marriage: something not specified in Baha’u’llah’s text. In this letter, Abdu’l- Baha says that the House of Justice will decide about the forbidden degrees of marriage based on scientific evidence, social norms and scripture. That provides a scriptural basis for the House of Justice to decide whether a same-sex marriage represents a forbidden, or a permitted, degree of ‘sameness,’ and to change its decision in the light of scientific evidence and social norms. However I do not expect to actually do so, until same-sex marriage is legally and socially recognised in many countries.
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