Attitudes towards lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgender people, and other sexual minorities (LGBTQ+) in various religious traditions and movements have changed significantly over the course of history. In this article, we will examine in detail how views on LGBTQ+ people have shifted in major world religions during different historical epochs.
Early Christianity (1st-4th centuries) did not unambiguously condemn homosexuality. The first negative statements only started emerging in the 4th century. Over time, the Christian church adopted an increasingly harsh stance, categorizing same-sex sexual relations as grave sins and crimes.
In the Middle Ages and Modern period, homosexuals were actively persecuted, tortured, and executed in Christian countries. Homophobia was rigidly imposed by church institutions.
Starting in the 1960s, Protestant churches in the US and Western Europe initiated a process of revising their extremely negative attitudes towards sexual minorities. Today, in most Protestant denominations, homosexuals can be ordained as clergy, and same-sex marriages are blessed.
Catholicism still predominantly holds conservative views of homosexuality, considering it a sin and anomaly. However, certain shifts towards greater acceptance of LGBTQ+ people can be observed in some Catholic communities.
In Orthodox Judaism, homosexual intercourse between men remains strictly prohibited and sinful. However, homosexual orientation itself is not usually seen as a sin or vice, as long as the person refrains from same-sex relationships.
Starting around the 1960s, Reform and Conservative Judaism showed a tendency toward more tolerant and inclusive attitudes to LGBTQ+ people. Today, many congregations accept gay and lesbian members, and in some cases, even same-sex marriages.
In traditional Islam, same-sex intimacy between men and women is seen as a grave sin deserving of severe punishment. These strict attitudes are based on interpretations of the Quran and Hadiths.
Contemporary Muslim societies continue to overwhelmingly hold highly negative views of homosexuality, perceiving it as absolutely unacceptable from a moral and religious standpoint.
At the same time, some reformers have made isolated attempts to formulate a more liberal interpretation of Islam that would allow LGBTQ+ people to be accepted into Muslim communities. However, these views remain marginal and are not mainstream in Islamic discourse. We covered this in detail in our article on the history of LGBTQ people in Islam.
There is no unambiguous condemnation of homosexuality in the Hindu tradition. Same-sex erotic relationships were widely accepted and practiced in ancient India. Modern Hinduism generally takes a fairly neutral or tolerant attitude toward LGBTQ+ people.
There is an overall tendency toward greater acceptance of sexual minorities in Hindu society. At the same time, Hinduism does have some traditionally-minded conservative groups that are critical of LGBTQ+ people.
Early Buddhism (6th-1st centuries BCE) considered homosexual acts as sexual misconduct violating moral norms. However, homosexuality itself was not typically denounced.
Starting around the 1960s, various Buddhist schools showed a trend toward actively advocating for LGBTQ+ rights and integrating queer people into Buddhist communities. Many Western Buddhist organizations have a maximally positive attitude toward sexual minorities.
In summary, many religious movements have seen a gradual evolution in attitudes over time – from condemnation to cautious acceptance and inclusion of the LGBTQ+ community.
These changes generally reflect broader shifts in public attitudes toward sexual minorities. Liberalization is most noticeable in Protestantism and Judaism, where many denominations have come to fully embrace LGBTQ+ people.
Catholicism and especially Islam still predominantly hold conservative views that see homosexuality as an unacceptable deviation. However, reformist groups in these religions are also attempting to develop a more tolerant approach.
Hinduism and Buddhism have traditionally taken a relatively tolerant view of homosexuality. Today, these religions generally aim to integrate LGBTQ+ people into their communities.
Thus, religious attitudes toward sexual minorities remain ambiguous and contradictory. Further evolution of perspectives can be expected in the future as the religious movements themselves continue to develop.