Buddhism and Gay Marriage

The Huffington Post ran a story on Gay Marriage and Buddhism. More specifically on what the Buddhist “take” on gay marriage is. More on that later…first a comment from the Dalai Lama:

“Dalai Lama rejected same-sex relationships to the surprise of many convert Buddhists, who sometimes too easily assume that Buddhist ethics are consistent with their typically progressive views….”

Yup, he sure did. I never really much liked the Dalai Lama nor Tibetan Buddhism in general but this did sort of cinch the deal for me with that particular Buddhist sect. However, his views to seem to encourage more exploration (compared to most conservative Christian commentaries) on the subject rather than a straight out dismissal of gay marriage. And Buddhist ethics do tend to be rather vague and I think that is done for the specific reason of allowing the person to determine what they believe and not some guru or roshi.

“He did, however, advise gay Buddhist leaders to investigate further, discuss the issue, and suggested that change might come through some sort of theological consensus…”

“the Dalai Lama does not speak for all Buddhists … he speaks for one slice of the world’s Buddhist population. The vast majority of Buddhists do not practice in his tradition — however much they respect and admire him — and the Tibetan texts the Dalai Lama refers to were written centuries after the Buddha had come and gone…”

So the question is still open. What does Buddha say about gay marriage? Nothing.

Thanissaro Bhikkhu, abbot of the Metta Forest Monastery in southern California, the Buddha never forbade gay sex for lay people as far as we know. “When he drew the line between licit and illicit sex, it had nothing to do with sexual tastes or preferences,” he says, citing early texts. “He seemed more concerned with not violating the legitimate claims that other people might have on your sexual partner.”

The Buddhist ethical principle, right action, is probably the closest prohibition to sexual preferences that I can find in the Buddhist canon. The Eightfold Path contains contains this tenet which involves the body as natural means of expression and refers to deeds that involve bodily actions.
Basically bad body actions leads to bad actions of the mind and right body leads to right mind. Right action pretty much plays out like this:
  1. Do no harm to others.
  2. Do not take what is not given.
  3. Abstain from sexual misconduct

In respect to sexual relationships, as long as they are harmless to others (including the individuals in the relationship), go with it. I think the 5 Mindfulness Training of Thich Nath Hanh says it best:

“Aware of the suffering caused by sexual misconduct, I am committed to cultivate responsibility and learn ways to protect the safety and integrity of individuals, couples, families, and society. I am determined not to engage in sexual relations without love and a long-term commitment. To preserve the happiness of myself and others, I am determined to respect my commitments and the commitments of others. I will do everything in my power to protect children from sexual abuse and to prevent couples and families from being broken by sexual misconduct.”

No Illusions,

[I would like to hear more about this…if you have any information of the specifics of Buddhism and the topic of homosexuality, I would greatly appreciate your comments]

[Edit: Check this link for a BBC story on Thai Buddhists monasteries changing some internal codes because gay buddhist monks tend to act too “flamboyant” with a great commentary here via The Freethinker]


5 thoughts on “Buddhism and Gay Marriage

  1. Its unfortunate that homosexuality is still an issue in the 21st century. Who cares if the person I am sleeping with has a vagina or a penis?

  2. I agree. Although sometimes there can be both! Its the same set of cells with just a different developmental pathway.

    So much fuss over such a small thing.

  3. While I entirely disagree with the Dalai Lama's stance against gay marraige, I feel it worthwhile to point out that it is much more nuannced than simple rejection based on tradition (man+woman) cultural standards.

    The Dalai Lama has basically stated that among Tibetan Buddhists sex is considered to be a barrier on the path. (Thus, monastic celebacy.) Not because it is bad per se, but because it tends to be rather distracting. It is a powerful drive which can often lead to poor decision making. I think we can all agree on that. Therefore, they consider an sex from which the ultimate goal is not procreation to be a mistake. Not a sin, mind you, for the concept of sin has very little place in Buddhism. Nor neccessarily "wrong" – just not helpful, or perhaps, unskillful would be a better word. This includes heterosexual sex using birth control, between partners who are not fertile, oral and anal sex even between married couples.

    However, the Dalai Lama states that he is also in favor of full gay rights and does not believe gay people should be discriminated against on the basis of their sexual preferences. All that being said, I think the Dalai Lama takes a view of sex which we, as laypeople living in the west, should consider but at the same time question. After all, the man is a monk.

  4. re Monica: Thank you for your comment and insights. Many times I post with the hopes that those better versed are able to check it out and provide me with info that I may be lacking.

    I agree that in the West we tend to meld the lay-practitioner and the aesthetic monk into one category. However most of the rule set and popularized are for monks and not for us "householders".

    Sex does equal attachment in buddhism but at the same time avoiding (or removing it altogether) sex does not cease that attachment (in fact, I think it makes the attachment stronger). The secret, I think, is to view sex in its correct context. Is it solely for procreation? or enjoyment? or an expression of devotion? Do modes of entry make a difference? I don't really have an answer.

    I would be curious where you found the comments on the Dalai Lama stating he is in favor of gay rights…I would like to be able to quote that from him as well when asked.

    We should always question the views of others. Especially those in a position of religious power or along an aesthetic path.


  5. A few months before my 44 year old gay brother died of AIDS he said, "Sex is over rated."

    Too bad he didn't think of that all the years he was having it.

    He too practiced Buddhism but he never internalized the teachings of not harming oneself and others.

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