At Issue: The recent furor over gay couples getting married in San Francisco has been boiling down to an issue of law in recent news articles. Putting law books aside, how do you view same-sex marriages from a religious perspective?
Response: Each person is called to realize and express his or her Buddha nature -– True Self — whether gay or straight. There is nothing in the Zen tradition to prohibit or disparage same-sex orientation, sexual activities, relationships or marriages. In marriage, both partners vow to practice with the joys and challenges of relationship as a means of growing in compassion and wisdom, regardless of whether they are of the same or different sex. As one highly regarded American Zen teacher, Robert Aitken, puts it, “The practice of marriage is the lifetime cultivation of intimacy.” I recall the excellent example provided many years ago by my own teacher, then in her 70’s, as she matter-of-factly officiated at a lesbian wedding, following the same rites she routinely used in heterosexual wedding ceremonies.
The precept of “not misusing sex” applies to all, freeing us from attachment to self-centered encounters for personal power, and from harming others. Each person’s practice of meditation and steadily growing awareness guides her or his behavior in relationships. In sharp contrast, the Dalai Lama, leader of one lineage of Tibetan Buddhism, states in his “Core Teachings of Tibetan Buddhism” that “sexual misconduct” for a man includes a sexual act performed with another man. He also states that both the mouth and anus are “unsuitable” body parts for sexual activity, whether male or female. I find it disappointing that his global promotion of peace and human rights has not included equal rights and dignity for women and for gay people.
- Rev. Dr. Deborah Barrett
Published: February 27, 2004