It is part of our natural makeup to desire sexual gratification. Mankind was created with sexual desires, and it is consistent with God’s plan for us to engage in sexual relations open to procreation within marriage. Jesus said:
Have you not read that he who made them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh”? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder (Matt. 19:4–6).
For most people, the drive to fulfill sexual desire is heterosexually inclined. So long as one confines sexual activity to within one’s marriage, it is not sinful. But some desires are disordered and may lead to immoral activity. Nonetheless, desires themselves are simply temptations—the result of a human nature wounded by original sin. The Catechism of the Catholic Church calls such temptation “concupiscence” (CCC 405), an inclination to sin that is not itself sinful.
Are They Born That Way?
Some people assert that it is morally acceptable to engage in homosexual activity to fulfill sexual desires. After all, people with homosexual desires were created that way, so God must have intended for their desires be fulfilled.
Of course, some people are sexually attracted to children, but reasonable people agree that these temptations cannot be morally acted upon. Similarly, zoophiles should not have sexual relations with animals, kleptomaniacs should not steal, and serial killers should not murder.
We all have disordered desires of some kind, but just because a desire is part of one’s makeup does not mean that it is morally acceptable to act out on it.
What the Church Says
The Catholic Church, in addition to these considerations, recognizes God’s divine revelation on the matter:
Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.” They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved (CCC 2357; cf. Persona Humana 8).
The Church bases this teaching on Scripture, in part because homosexual activity is clearly condemned whenever mentioned. For example, God commanded the Israelites, “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination” (Lev. 18:22) and then instituted the death penalty for disobeying this commandment:
If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall be put to death, their blood is upon them” (Lev. 20:13).
This penalty does not apply today, of course, but it clearly shows God’s disapproval of homosexual activity.
Paul called homosexual activity “unnatural” and pointed out that there are consequences for acting in such a way:
Women exchanged natural relations for unnatural, and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in their own persons the due penalty for their error (Rom. 1:26–27).
Some people attempt to re-interpret this Scripture passage by claiming that Paul knew nothing about “gender identity.” Paul spoke of “unnatural” relations (understood to mean homosexual relations among heterosexuals), but because, according to this argument, homosexual relations among homosexuals are not unnatural, Paul does not condemn them.
But Paul spoke of the men being “consumed with passion for one another.” This clearly indicates desire—in this context, homosexual desire—so the men are clearly being described as homosexuals. This is not to say that homosexual activity among heterosexuals is not also unnatural; indeed it is. But if Paul had been talking aboutheterosexual men in this passage, he would not have characterized them as being “consumed with passion” for one another, as this phrase implies homosexual desire.
Same Standards for All
Paul clarified that the penalty for homosexual activity (as well as some other sins) is the loss of salvation:
Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither the immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor sexual perverts, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor robbers will inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 6:9–10).
Here we see that people with homosexual desires are called to the same standard as people with heterosexual desires: Sexual activity outside marriage is immoral for anyone and everyone. Someone with heterosexual desires may experience lust for someone other than his or her spouse, but while this is a natural desire, fulfilling it would be immoral. Similarly, someone with homosexual desires experiences desire for someone who is not his or her spouse but cannot morally indulge this desire. Paul said:
The law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers, immoral persons, sodomites, kidnapers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine (1 Tim. 1:9–10).
What Was Sodom’s Sin?
The word sodomy derives from the ancient city of Sodom, which was destroyed after two angels disguised as men were welcomed into Lot’s home and the men of Sodom demanded that they be turned over for the satisfaction of their homosexual desires:
Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us, that we may know them (Gen. 19:5).
It is clear that the townsmen’s demand to “know” the men meant to have homosexual relations with them—Lot offered, in lieu of their acting “so wickedly,” that his two daughters (who had not “known” men) be brought out instead. Lot recognized that the townsmen were not just looking to become acquainted with the strangers; they wanted to satisfy sexual desires. And because the townsmen refused Lot’s offer, their desires were apparently homosexually inclined.
Some people claim that Sodom was destroyed for being inhospitable to the two visitors. But Jude explained that the city was destroyed (at least in part) because the inhabitants indulged in immoral sexual activity (Jude 7). Peter described their sins as “licentiousness” (2 Pet. 2:7). Besides this, Lot certainly showed hospitality to the two men, and if all the townsmen were trying to do was to get acquainted with the strangers, then who was being inhospitable?
Additionally, some have claimed that Sodom was destroyed because the townsmen attempted to rape the two visitors. This argument implies that, had the visitors consented, no sin would have been committed: The sin was not the homosexual act but the aggression of the townsmen. But again, note that Jude condemns the sexual.aspect of their activity (which was obviously rampant, as “all” the townsmen were present in the mob), not the “aggression” with which they attempted to commit it.
Natural, Not Mosaic, Law
One final argument that occasionally arises concerns the Mosaic law. Because there are many laws in the Old Testament (including prohibitions against homosexual activity), the argument goes, we must either embrace all of them or reject all of them. One may ask, for example, why homosexual activity is prohibited but eating pork is not. If we’re going to condemn homosexual activity, then we also shouldn’t be eating pork.
The problem with this line of thinking is that it misunderstands why the Church teaches what it does: It is not because Christians are bound by the law of Moses, which was binding only on the Israelites. The prohibition against homosexual activity is part of the natural law; the restriction on eating pork is not.
In All Things, Charity
So what is a homosexually inclined person to do? Because his desires cannot be fulfilled morally, he must resist the temptation to act out on them. Difficult as this may be, it is not an impossible or even unrealistic proposition. Jesus said, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matt. 16:24). The Catechism, while acknowledging that homosexual inclination is “a trial,” instructs:
Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection (CCC 2359).
Finally, the Catechism exhorts all Christians to treat people with homosexual desires appropriately, just as one should treat any person afflicted with a disordered desire, especially when salvation is at risk:
They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition (CCC 2358).
Far from condoning homosexual activity, the Church’s call is to love our homosexual neighbors. To love them is to will what is good for them and hope for their salvation. Thus, we must respectfully, compassionately, and sensitively teach them about the immorality of acting out on their disordered desires, help them to overcome those desires, and assist them in pleasing God in the way they live their lives.