Let's think about this for a moment...
Well, that neatly takes care of decades of unnecessary hostility.
Except of course that the question still remains: "Is homosexuality a simple difference to be accepted or is it somehow objectively morally wrong?"
The reactions on either side of this question will be outrage. Outrage on the one hand at how we could even ask such an "intolerant" question. Outrage on the other hand at how we could even ask such an "obvious" question. On the one hand, the disbelief that in our day and age we could possibly even consider classifying a certain sexual preference as wrong. Disbelief on the other hand at how we could possibly even consider that men were meant to be with men and women with women. Not an easy battlefield to wade through. Especially if you yourself are struggling with the fact that you are attracted to somebody of the same gender.
And we must at least try to address this issue. We must. Because what is at stake here is not simply an ideology or a moral belief. What is at stake is how people are treated. What is at stake is how to help and support those who are gay. What is at stake is everything.
As in many other cases, worldview has a lot to do with where we stand on issues like this, although the lines are not as clearly drawn as they once were. Generally speaking, throughout recent history, those who consider themselves religious or spiritual, especially Christians, have spoken out against homosexuality. Often, those who are gay or stand up for gay rights have turned away from God and spiritual belief for this very reason. The religious have driven them away with their cruel words and hatred. However, it is notable that in recent years, there seems to have been a massive increase in the number of people who publicly call themselves both spiritual and gay. This movement has been characterized by an enormous amount of courage. Courage in admitting an inward battle of being attracted to those of the same sex while being told by church or family or society that such feelings are wrong. Courage in publicly voicing one's struggles while fearing rejection by even close friends and family. I have several friends who grew up feeling an incredible sense of self-hatred and guilt because of their backgrounds and have recently come out as gay. Regardless of where you stand, these acts of courage are to be admired. They deserve respect. And love.
Having said that, our worldviews have definite implications on the answer to the question "Is homosexuality a simple difference of preference or a moral issue?" A belief in God necessitates an objective morality based on who that God is. Atheism does not require an objective morality; in fact, it cannot have an objective morality. Therefore, an atheist by way of their very beliefs, if consistent with them, should not have any issue with homosexuality whatsoever because they have no moral standard by which to judge it. However, they also would not in reality have any moral standard by which to judge anything and I have argued before that most atheists actually live as if they did subscribe to an objective morality and therefore also a deity, despite their intellectual beliefs. For a discussion of this logic, read my older post here.
A belief in God, on the other hand, can appear on the surface to be much more flexible. Many have decreed that God did not create men for men or women for women and therefore homosexuality is wrong. Many others have proclaimed that God made them just the way they are, and therefore they are beautiful in his eyes. However, we have made a very important observation above: that the sexual orientation somebody is born with does not necessarily impact its moral orientation. Many of the same people who believe God made us just the way we are also believe that people are born "sinful." Does this make the idea of "sin" ok too simply because we are all born into it? Most people would say no to that question, but that does not seem to follow from the logic of this line of thinking. Sadly, there are people who think that being born "sinful" makes sinful choices ok. "If God made me this way, then it's not my fault I make mistakes." This seems like a massive shifting of responsibility and blame to me, not to mention a disregard for our own choices in the matter. But this is the same justification used by many of us that we can know being gay is an inherently good thing simply because "I was born this way."
Here we have made another important recognition: If you personally believe that people are born "sinful" or imperfect, then arguing that being gay is an inherently good thing based on the argument that God created you this way is actually made an illogical argument by your own beliefs. It is certainly important to recognize that simply because one believes God created us does not necessarily imply that everything we are born with is desirable by God. This is a highly illogical assumption for somebody who believes that men and women are also born "sinful."
So let's look at the other side of the coin. On what basis do people claim that God did not create men for men and women for women? I think there are three popular reasons in our society. One is that the Bible (or some other holy book) states that homosexuality is not God's original intention and is "sin." Whether the Bible is reliable and is actually the "Word of God" is a whole other topic. However, I will say that I do not think it is possible to make a sound argument that the Bible does not clearly state homosexuality to be opposed to God's original design, for all those who do believe in it. Many have attempted to reconcile the Bible with their view of homosexuality or with their own sexual preference, but a plain reading of the text seems clear, particularly in Romans 1, speaking of homosexual acts as "unnatural" and "degrading." Interestingly, the text seems to indicate that God does allow people to have homosexual desires, but not for positive reasons. These desires are explained as a byproduct of humanity's refusal to follow God. Before the outrage begins, this does not mean that the text is necessarily intolerant. Think for a second before you let your emotions take over your mind. Once again, if you believe that people are born imperfect, this idea is actually entirely consistent with your belief. If you personally believe that the Bible is the "Word of God," you must decide here whether you are willing to fully believe it regardless of whether it agrees with you or not rather than trying to change it. In other words, if you do personally believe that the Bible is the "Word of God," then who is your authority on this subject: you or God? Obviously, this argument means very little to those who do not believe in the authority of the Bible.
On a brief side note, I have heard it said before that Jesus did not say anything about homosexuality that we know of, so therefore we can't really know what he thought of it. Or, if he really thought it was a big deal, he would have made it clear. I think there is some validity to this point in the sense that Jesus' focus was on offering love and forgiveness to all regardless of who they were or what they'd done. Again, however, if you really do believe that the Bible is the "Word of God," then you must accept what it says of itself. The Bible claims that Jesus is "the Word become flesh" (John 1) and the implication is that Jesus is actually everything in the Bible personified. Another interesting note is that it would have sent more shockwaves in that particular religious and cultural period if Jesus, who was Jewish, had come out in support of homosexuality. His silence on the matter is interesting.
The second reason that many people disagree with homosexuality is that it seems unnatural and repulsive to many people's consciences. However, this seems to be becoming decreasingly so in our current generation because of more intentional and highly controversial education of children and because of a great push for tolerance. It is worth noting that many people throughout history, as well as today, at least claim to be instinctively repulsed by the idea of two men or two women together. Today, it is often referred to as intolerance, prejudice or homophobia, but that is not necessarily so. One's instinctive response to something does not necessarily mean that they are intolerant or afraid of it. The way they choose to react to their instincts and treat gay people may indeed make them intolerant, but simply being repulsed by something or even disagreeing with it is not in itself what makes one intolerant. I am personally repulsed by pornography, but that most certainly does not mean that I hate or am intolerant of those participating in it.
Thirdly, it is argued that homosexuality appears biologically unnatural. It is interesting that in all three of these objections, we find the claim that homosexuality is "unnatural." It seems more like one objection in the end with three manifestations of it. This particular prong of the argument becomes very interesting for naturalists and those who believe in evolution as the only guiding process to life on earth. If natural selection guides human life, though I would say there are significant problems with such a belief, then it would seem abundantly clear that homosexuality is unnatural to the process of keeping the human race alive. What is interesting about this is that from a strictly evolutionary standpoint, it doesn't seem to make much sense for men to be with men or women with women. This could possibly be the only grounds for an atheist to believe homosexuality is unnatural, though it is still unlikely that most would care.
Similarly, for someone who believes that God or some kind of higher power is the chief guide to life on earth, it is easy to see how homosexuality on the surface could appear to an unlikely intention. After all, why would a creator design humans to biologically reproduce in such a purposeful way, but also intend for some of his creatures to in a sense go against his own design with no similarly natural way of reproducing? It is not literally impossible, but it also does not seem to stand to reason when looked at objectively. Of course, it is natural to want to believe that God would not be opposed to an aspect of someone's being that feels so central to who they are, especially if you are that person. However, it is important that we remember that wanting something to be true does not by any stretch of the imagination automatically make it so. That is by very definition the opposite of objective. Regardless of how it makes us feel, and regardless of what you believe, from a strictly biological perspective, homosexuality at least appears on the surface to be "unnatural."
So back to the original questions. First, is homosexuality a simple difference to be accepted or is it somehow objectively morally wrong? I think our discussion indicates that this in part depends on whether or not there is a God. If there isn't, then even if homosexuality looks strange to natural selection, it doesn't really matter because morality does not exist objectively. However, this would also imply that murder is not objectively wrong, nor is anything else. I do not believe this to be the case. If there is a God, then it actually is likely to be a moral issue, as difficult as this might be to believe or accept. If God did design us the way that we are, then it does raise questions about his design of the human body. A possible explanation of this would be what the Romans 1 passage in the Bible talks about: that homosexual desires have come about as another byproduct of humanity's refusal to follow God. This does not mean that people with these desires are somehow less valued or loved or even that they are wrong for being gay. It simply means the world is not the way it was meant to be and people have been affected by it. What it would not mean is that having homosexual desires is an inherently good thing just because one is born this way. In this case, you may still disagree - but it must be on some other grounds.
Secondly, though, and in some ways more importantly, how should gay people be treated (and how should they treat themselves)? I do not agree at all with how gay people have historically and even today been treated. That is why I wrote an "open letter" to Westboro Baptist Church last year, publicly asserting that I believe their actions towards gay people are wrong. However, I also offered them compassion and love in spite of their hatred because this is the same compassion and love which I believe all people should be offered. I do personally believe that morality is involved here. But I also believe that the way people with homosexual desires should treat themselves is not with self-loathing or hatred, even if one were to accept the notion that their desires are not what they were originally meant to be. Instead, we should seek the truth and respond to it. The mistake that I think many people make is that they come to a point where they have held it in for so long, fearing rejection and judgment by others, that they eventually hit their breaking point and decide to compromise what they actually believe because they don't want to struggle with themselves anymore. I really do get that. It would be easier just to believe that there are no problems and let things be. But it is still important to recognize that easier, or even more desirable, does not necessarily mean true.
I imagine that many, especially those close to this controversy, will feel like I am a bit cold in presenting my thoughts on more of an intellectual level than on a heart level, as if I don't really care or understand what you are going through. But I want to assure you that that is not the case. As I mentioned before, I firmly believe that everyone who wrestles with an attraction to the same sex and has to deal with the fear of "coming out" is incredibly courageous, and I admire and respect my friends who have taken this step, fearing rejection, judgment and other consequences. If this is you, I absolutely sympathize with your struggle and my heart goes out to every person in this situation right now, feeling confused and unsure of what to do or who to turn to. I encourage you to talk about how you are feeling with someone you can trust and not to keep it inside. I also encourage you to really think about the points made in the discussion above. And just to be clear (because this was brought up in the original post), I am not saying that there is no hope for those who identify themselves as homosexual. I believe in the compassion and forgiveness offered by Jesus to all of us who seek it. However, I do think it matters whether we come to a place where we can admit that he knows better than we do and can submit our understanding of things to his.
Being "born this way" is irrelevant to truth.
So what is the basis of what you believe about homosexuality?