Speaking to a meeting of Hasidic Jewish leaders on Sunday, New York GOP gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino said, “I don’t want [children] to be brainwashed into thinking that homosexuality is an equally valid or successful option” to heterosexuality.
Religious organizations and people frequently lead opposition to gay rights in the United States.
In the August ruling which overturned California’s Proposition 8 banning same-sex marriage, a witness asserted, “Religion is the chief obstacle for gay and lesbian political progress.”
Why does religion play such a central role in debates about homosexuality?
Religion plays a central role in debates about homosexuality because in order to understand sex, we have to understand something about God. And that’s true not only because he made it, but because sex, by its very nature, leads us beyond ourselves.
Society is not obsessed with sex. It is afraid of it…afraid of the total reality and power of what it represents, where it comes from, and where it leads. Sex properly understood requires that we acknowledge God who made it. More than that, sex can never be separated from its purpose: to insert us into an immense, powerful movement of life and love that started when God said “Let there be light” (Genesis 1:3) and culminates when the Spirit and the Bride say “Come, Lord Jesus!” (Revelation 22:17).
Sex is deeply symbolic. It is a language that speaks of things beyond sight and feeling. Many think of the church’s teaching about sex as “You cannot do it except in a marriage between a man and a woman, and when open to life.” That is true, but the fuller understanding of why this is true comes when we can see that sexual activity means so much that it is wrong to diminish its message or deny its full reality. It belongs in the context of committed love (sealed by marriage) and openness to life precisely because this is the only context great enough to hold its message and reflect the greater reality to which the gift of sexuality directs and commits us. The teaching is not just that it is wrong to have sex in certain circumstances. The teaching is that it is wrong to run away from the full reality of sex. It is wrong to think we have the kind of control that can change that reality to suit ourselves.
Religion is needed both to help us understand the deepest meaning of sex and to sustain us with the strength we need to embrace and live that meaning. Sex is an extremely powerful force, and never a neutral one. Either it serves life, or it serves death. When it results in the conception and birth of new life, its fruit can be the highest joy of earth. On the other hand, sex can lead to sexually transmitted diseases, sometimes fatal, or to the act of destroying new life by abortion.
Because sex ultimately involves issues of life and death, religion will always play a central role in any discussion of it.