Same-sex marriage is not only one of the hottest-button topics in America, but it has also gained significant momentum. Although nothing is a guarantee in life, with the current trend line, same-sex in all fifty states is all but inevitable. Even with increasing tolerance and acceptance of homosexuals and same-sex marriage, not to mention that more and more think the argument against same-sex marriage is simply nonsensical, the Orthodox Jewish community is maintaining its ardent stance against homosexuality.
Although I am not Orthodox, I receive emails from the Orthodox organization Aish HaTorah. In it was a link to an audio shiur by Dr. David Luchins about how to "show non-acceptance of behavior yet give respect to the individual." Although the political commentary dates the shiur back a few years, the shiur is still relevant. Luchins' thesis is that you can separate the sin from the sinner because "halacha only judges actions, not intent or sexuality." Luchins was sporadic and off-topic, but I still have to ask whether in the context of dealing with homosexuals in an Orthodox community, can one love the sinner, but still hate the sin?
Before I begin to answer that question, I have to state that although Orthodox Jews across the spectrum of Orthodoxy view homosexual acts as forbidden, there are a relatively wide range of reactions. I'm not a fan of describing a group of people in general, blanket statements. When discussing issues in Orthodoxy, I tend to say that "the further Right you go, the more it's true." In this case, the further to the Right you go, the more animus there is against homosexuality and homosexuals. How far of a spectrum are we dealing with here? It goes as far to the Left as R. Shmuly Yanklowitz's reaction of "civil same-sex marriage is acceptable, but I'm still not sure about religious same-sex marriage" to the far Right's reaction of "homosexuals don't exist, and anyone who does that is proverbially sticking it to G-d (R. Moshe Feinstein, Iggrot Moshe, Orach Chayim, vol. 4 no. 115)." There are views in between, including "you can change your sexuality," "you can overcome this sinful impulse," and "we don't condone homosexual behavior, but we, as a community, are going to treat you like a human being." It is the latter view that Luchins was going for. He wants a framework in which you can have a major qualm with homosexuality, but still treat homosexuals as human beings. Although certain rabbis have signed on to that approach, which is a step in the right direction, "love the sinner but hate the sin" doesn't work, and I'll tell you why on the whole, it isn't being done in practice.
As Luchins himself said, in Judaism, G-d judges actions, and not one's intent. Judaism has such a strong belief in free will that it is decidedly axiomatic. Even so, I will say that free will does have its limits. With regards to homosexuality, even though we haven't determined the exact cause, we do know that one's sexuality is not a choice. Nevertheless, we do have choices about how we act. On the other hand, sexuality is a primal, base force in human nature, and is very much a part of being human.
[As a side note, this is why I find the call for celibacy a largely futile one, which is why I think it's ironic that a group of people so adverse to change, is willing to ask homosexual, Orthodox Jews to stay celibate, something that is essentially as halachially unprecedented as same-sex marriage. Others recommend a homosexual man marrying a woman in the hopes that "he'll find the right woman." Too bad sham marriages don't work. And under an Orthodox paradigm, same-sex couples are forbidden, so it really puts gay Orthodox Jews who want to remain observant/frum in a bind.]
The problem with Luchins' approach is that with the axiomatic concept of free will, one de facto cannot separate the sin from the sinner in Jewish paradigm, which makes sense since "love the sinner, hate the sin" is a Christian concept. In order for sin to exist, it requires an agent (i.e., a human being) to be actualized. Without an agent, sin is a mere abstraction. What's more is that people have a difficult time separating the two precisely because of that reason. As such, the homosexual is perceived as "anti-Torah."
How bad are homosexual acts viewed in a traditionalist mindset? As Luchins brought up, "Any conversation with homosexuality [in Orthodoxy] starts with the words 'it is assur (forbidden by Jewish law),'" and that is how the vast, vast majority of Orthodox Jews feel. I also think this view is misguided because in Jewish hermeneutics, there are multiple ways to interpret a verse, and confining a verse to a single interpretation, especially one that is tenuous, is contrary to the Jewish tradition of interpretation and reeks of intellectual laziness. Even so, "all homosexual acts are forbidden" is the Orthodox norm, and in all probability, that won't change anytime soon.
There are better ways to interpret the prohibition in Leviticus 18:22, but a few factors will solidify the Orthodox opposition to homosexuality or homosexuals. One is the biblical penalty. Although the death penalty was de facto talked out of existence by the rabbis, it is still the one proscribed (Leviticus 20:13), thereby speaking to its gravity. According to some, homosexuality falls under the prohibition in Noahide Law of sexual immorality (גילוי עריות). As an extension, גילוי עריות is so severe that it's better for one to martyr himself than commit the sin. The other three considerations have nothing to do with Jewish law. One is that one tends to fear that which he does not understand. Judaism teaches us to transcend that feeling, but there is enough anecdotal evidence to show the difficulty behind that. Two, Orthodox Judaism has stark gender roles. You think women donning tefillin is bad enough? What about men having sexual relations with another man? From this paradigm [with which I do not agree], a man "acting like a woman in the bedroom" is unacceptable. Three, Orthodoxy has not done the best job of adapting to change since the Enlightenment Period, and it has only been more pronounced in recent years. The fact that the Haredi fertility rate has increased doesn't help either because they make up a larger percent of the Orthodox Jewish community. This is made worse by the fact that they have gained more power in rabbinic and religious institutions, which means that normative Orthodox practice is dismayingly moving further and further to the Right (aka Haredization of Orthodox Judaism).
It does not matter how axiomatic "love thy neighbor as yourself" is to Judaism, that we should treat people with dignity (כבוד הברייות), or that if we were honest enough about ourselves, we realize that we all make mistakes (Ecclesiastes 7:20) and that we are in no position to judge people until we have walked a mile in their shoes. Orthodoxy generally views halacha in such black and white terms, even in spite of rabbis historically having an appreciation for the nuances and complexities that are engrained within reality, that homosexuality, and by extension, homosexuals, will be viewed as anti-Torah, no matter how much Jewish homosexuals are dedicated to the Torah, performing mitzvahs, or contributing to the Jewish community. Until the Orthodox view on homosexual acts changes, the communal [and in most cases, individual] Orthodox response will remain a visceral, antagonistic one that will only push homosexual Jews away from observance.