Tuesday, June 30, 2015

On the Legalization of Homosexual Marriage in the United States


Maryam Sakeenah

An interesting clash ensued in the wake of the US Supreme Court’s ruling legalizing homosexual marriage. While the supporters of the cause celebrated having finally broken free from the bondage to regressive conservatism, there was on the other end of the spectrum, anger and bitterness over the mainstreaming of what is seen as a violation of God’s law and the ‘natural’ order of things.

Pakistan’s vibrant social media also reflected these divergent trends with a furious melee between those sporting rainbow coloured profiles and those invoking the wrath of God over the supporters of the new law.

The anger on both sides is quite misplaced and irrational. The clash between secular liberalism and conservative religion is inevitable and there to stay. The verdict coming from secular USA which prides itself in its liberal values is not surprising or outrageous. It is also understandable that those who subscribe to traditional religious faith would have a different opinion. It is all a matter of what one believes and how one looks at society and the wider world.

The problem, however, is with the attitude of moral superiority by the secular liberals. The twitter hashtag ‘#Lovewins’ for the sexual equality movement reeks of it, among other things. As if those who hold a different opinion do so out of hate; as if believing in traditional values and holding on to religious convictions is anti-love and against all that is humane and compassionate and egalitarian.

This presumption of moral superiority by the secular liberals at home and abroad is based on the idea that the conservative dissenters merely hold on with blind and ignorant stubbornness to outmoded and archaic religious convictions that pull humanity back from its path to progress laid out by the liberal reformist programme. This presumption is based on the widespread inability (even among Muslims) to understand the rationality of religious sexual ethics.

Parallels with the animal kingdom in which sporadic homosexual behaviour can be observed is often invoked to prove that homosexuality occurs in nature hence the religious idea that it is a violation of God’s order is incorrect. This comparison with the animal kingdom fails to understand the fundamental premise of religion: that human existence has a Divinely ordained purpose and goal, and that human civilization is to be ordered on values and principles to facilitate the individual and collective pursuit of the purpose of human life. A number of patterns exist in the animal kingdom which, if mainstreamed in human society on the pretext that they are ‘natural’ in the jungle, can lead to chaos and perhaps extermination of human civilization.

According to the religious understanding, man has been endowed with the sexual instinct for several purposes- the most obvious is of course procreation and the continuation of the human race. However, it is also the sexual instinct that forms the most basic of human relationships which is the foundation of the human family. The family unit is the fundamental building block of human society, the oldest and most universal pattern of the human community; it is a means to engender and socialize individuals, a support system and a natural means to provide a number of vital social functions. Daniel Haqiqatjou writes, “Before modernity, family organization was the primary communal structure upon which people relied. Everything went through the extended family, e.g., business and one’s livelihood, education, health care, dispute mediation, and much more. Today, all these areas of life fall under the purview of the nation state and its corporate extensions, so we lose this sense of the importance of family cohesion and, correspondingly, how dangerous and disruptive a violation of it really is and was for past societies.” 

The human family is sustained on the concept of masculine and feminine complementarity. This means that the individual characteristics, roles and responsibilities of the male and the female gel together the marital bond and become the basis for the family to flourish. As parents, both men and women have clearly defined roles and responsibilities and the children they give birth to, benefit from both in specific ways.

Homosexuality and adulterous heterosexuality do not fulfil any of these purposes why Allah has created the sexual impulse in human beings. This leaves only a single purpose behind such sexual behaviours: sexual expression, indulgence and adventurism. Islam does not recognize this as an unconditional human right to be freely carried out in society, because human beings are capable of functioning on a level higher than a mere pursuit of the carnal drives. Even heterosexuals cannot express their sexual instinct except in a relationship of marriage with all the responsibilities it entails. Islam envisions an ordered society in which moral behaviour is regulated for the well being of all. Homosexuality and all other sexual behaviour which does not fulfill the purpose why Allah has put the sexual instinct in us is therefore discouraged.

The problem with legalizing homosexual relationships is that such recognition and acceptance of this sexual practice facilitates and encourages it. The soaring rates of homosexuality in some societies are largely because social acceptance of this incites many to experiment with it and indulge in it.

If a human being is put in a trial by Allah through an abnormal sexual orientation or through absence of opportunity to establish a legitimate sexual relationship, they are required to be patient through finding strength in faith. Self restraint and self control of our animal drives is something Islam requires from all Muslims. Some people are tested harder with this, and homosexuals fall in that category. A believer who is faced with this must direct his focus to other aspects of human life and develop himself spiritually and otherwise to live a fulfilling, productive life. In order to make this easy for them, psychological counselling, rehabilitation and support should be provided in Islamic societies. However, those who refuse to restrain themselves and pursue their carnal instincts (hetero or homo sexual) go against the spirit and teachings of Islam. If such behaviour is indulged in openly and shamelessly without restraint, then it is punishable by Islamic law as well.

The ethics of sexuality in Islam prescribe limits even for heterosexual relationships within marriage. Not only do these conform to Islamic standards of hygiene, health, safety and physical well being, but also uphold human dignity and a minimal standard of modesty. As homosexuality is not the typical sexual behaviour for which the human body is designed, it often involves methods and means which fall short of Islamic sexual ethics and regulations. It is scientifically proven that homosexuality (just as promiscuity) is a primary cause of the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.

Homosexuality being a natural urge to someone is no justification in Islam for permitting it. Sadism can be natural to some people; so can serial killing or kleptomania, and these urges can only be recognized as a basic human right to the detriment of human society.

True freedom entails mutual respect of divergent views, which is quite ironically, absent in the sneering condescension with which secular liberals view the religious position on homosexuality. Believers in religion in this day and age are challenged with holding on to their convictions in a secular milieu which betrays its own ideals of liberty and tolerance of difference. The challenge is to refuse to be part of the melee, accept that the difference exists and is there to stay and yet being firmly poised in a profound conviction in the ‘hikmah’ of the Divine scheme of things.