As the coalition government pushes through its agenda to legalize gay marriage, Taiwan is about to hold its first Buddhist marriage between two women, led by the influential and liberal Master Shih Chao-hui. Scotland  is, also, about to be the first realm to enshrine gay marriage in law. US President, Barack Obama, famously endorsed gay marriage some time ago, the first American leader to do so. It seems that across many parts of the globe, the hotspot of gay rights and gay marriage is reshaping the ethical zeitgeist of our world.

Homosexuality is a topic that may raise eyebrows and make some uncomfortable, but the simple truth is that no one, including Buddhists, can remain stuck in the past where such issues were simply swept under the carpet by pretending they did not exist. If Buddhist communities are to remain relevant as a moral and religious force in the world, schools and traditions all across the world should not be afraid to discuss these issues as something that pertains very much to the question of human suffering: if the choice of choosing someone to love and be loved by is denied, great personal suffering naturally follows.

…no ancient… scriptures mention gays…

There was a wonderful headline in The Daily Mash recently, “Church agrees to continue marrying obviously gay men to women”. The gist was clear: this attitude makes gay men miserable, it inflicts suffering on heterosexual women when they find out later their husband could never really love them despite decades of marriage and had affairs with other similarly unhappy men – what is the point to all this? Surely a lot of cases of sexual misconduct such as gay extramarital affair could have been avoided if gay people could just marry who they wanted?

The diversity of Buddhist views in liberal Taiwan should testify to the fact that healthy debate and diversity about contemporary ethics, like in the UK, is always productive. For example, Fo Guang Shan’s Master Huei Kai is unsure whether traditional Buddhism would sanction gay marriage: “True, no ancient… scriptures mention gays, but that does not necessarily mean that Buddhism agrees to them.”

It can move mountains, and surely it is not limited by gender…

But by the Master’s own admission, the ancient tradition does not provide any answer we can refer to. And if that is the case, modern Buddhists are actually freed from the expectations of the traditional scriptures (because there are no expectations) and can make an informed choice on their own. The Buddha never talked about the ethics of nuclear weapons, but that does not stop modern Buddhists from debating Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I doubt Shariputra knew that India today still suffers from a staggeringly high poverty rate, but Buddhists talk about development issues all the time.

The conversation should be continued. Love is a powerful force, almost as powerful as Buddha Nature. It can move mountains, and surely it is not limited by gender, something that Buddhism itself teaches is far from as certain a thing as we assume?

 

About The Author

A journalist of religion, Raymond is the editor of Buddhistdoor International. He divides his time between London and Hong Kong and can be reached at raymond@buddhistdoor.com.

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