Anti-Gay Celebration in Uganda; Weddings in England; ‘Francis Effect’ at the Vatican

World Vision Commitment to ‘Biblical Marriage’ Focused on Gays, Not Divorce

Last week we wrote about the decision by World Vision’s American branch to allow the hiring of legally married gay Christians and its quick reversal after a wave of attacks on the decision by conservatives. Nathaniel Frank describes his unsuccessful efforts to get World Vision to explain how its renewed commitment to “Biblical marriage” can be seen as anything other than anti-gay given that the organization does not ban the hiring of divorced-and-remarried people.

Uganda: Religious Organizations Lead National Celebration of Anti-Gay Law

The Inter-Religious Council of Uganda (IRCU) organized a five-hour celebration of the country’s brutal new anti-gay law, which includes sentences of life imprisonment for homosexuality. President Yoweri  Museveni, the guest of honor, depicted the battled against homosexuality as a “war” and denounced oral and anal sex, which he said causes people’s intestines to fall out. Leading a kick-off march was the notoriously anti-gay pastor Martin Ssempa.

According to Buzzfeed’s Lester Feder, speakers were defiant about the possible loss of western aid:

Sheikh Shaban Ramadhan Mubaje, the Mufti of Uganda who delivered remarks on behalf of the IRCU, called for the creation of a trust funded by donations from ordinary Ugandans that would pay for anti-retroviral medications if foreign donors withdrew their support.

The Obama administration sent a multi-agency team to Uganda this week to review aid to the country, Buzzfeed reports, but both Ugandan and American activists have questioned the U.S. commitment to push for change.

Kikonyongo Kivumbi, executive director of the Uganda Health and Science Press Association, suggested that the U.S. has been sending mixed messages, a point echoed by Julie Dorf of the Council for Global Equality.  As Feder notes, “Last week, in fact, Washington launched a stepped up military partnership with Uganda in the hunt for warlord Joseph Kony, which recieved no mention during the warnings of pull out of U.S. aid.”

In the United Kingdom, Foreign Office Minister Hugo Swire rejected a call from a conservative Member of Parliament for the government to impose a travel ban on Rebecca Kadaga, Speaker of Uganda’s Parliament, and other senior politicians. Swire said a travel ban was not called for in guidelines issued last month by the Civil Society Coalition on Human Rights & Constitutional Law, which opposed cuts in international aid to NGOs providing social services.

Scott Lively, the American pastor who has fomented anti-gay extremism is Africa, Russia, and Eastern Europe, was profiled last week by Inigo Gilmore at Britain’s Channel 4. In an interview, Lively repeated his earlier assertions that he has “mixed feelings” about Uganda’s law and angrily denounced as “propaganda” the suggestion that he had inflamed anti-gay hysteria in the country. President Obama, he said, “may well be” homosexual.  American activist and journalist Michelangelo Signorile also interviewed Scott Lively last week. During the interview, Lively denied having called President Obama the anti-Christ, but Signorile confronted him with clear audio evidence to the contrary.

Africa Beyond Uganda

Bilerico’s John Becker reviews reports of anti-gay violence Tanaznia, South Africa, and Uganda. And Gay Star News reported on a group of Nigerians who were stripped naked and whipped in front of a town hall when they wouldn’t meet a blackmailer’s demands.

In Zimbabwe, notoriously anti-gay strongman Robert Mugabe described homosexuality as “inhuman,” according to the Washington Blade:

“The West says we must accept there is change in the world, that gays have human rights,” he said during an event at a hotel in Harare, the country’s capital, that commemorated International Women’s Day as the Herald, a Zimbabwean newspaper, reported. “Gays have no human rights. They have human rights – human rights for doing an inhuman thing.”

In Kenya, Member of Parliament Alois Lentoimaga urged the passage of a Ugandan-style law to “outlaw gayism and lesbianism.” In response, reports James Macharia for Reuters, Aden Duale, majority leader of President Uhuru Kenyatta’s ruling Jubilee coalition, said homosexuality is “as serious as terrorism” but said Kenyan anti-gay laws are already tough enough.

RD contributor Jay Michaelson writes in The Daily Beast that some western activist strategies may be causing more harm than good. Reflecting on the anti-gay wave moving across Africa as LGBT people are made scapegoats for colonialism, he writes, “The irony would be funny if it weren’t tragic: cultures with rich traditions of sexual diversity now asserting that sexual diversity is Western, and that Western anti-gay bias is a traditional cultural value.”

At the same time, the notion of gay rights as Western is also reinforced by Western gay rights activists. Who was it who said “fools rush in where angels fear to tread”?  Indeed, the pressure, petitions, and paroxysms of outrage from the West may be having the opposite of their intended effect. By scolding countries like Uganda and Nigeria for getting gay rights wrong—even as the United States itself has only “gotten it right” for about three years—American liberals reinforce the notion that LGBT equality is Western, and, even worse, remind many in Africa of the patriarchal colonialist attitude that we Westerners are advanced, and you Africans are backward. 

Human Rights First published a fact sheet highlighting Africans who have spoken on behalf of human rights and equality, including a number of religious figures:  Bishop Christopher Senyonjo of Uganda;  Cardinal Peter Iodwo Appiah Turkoson of Ghana, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace; and James Tengatenga, former Anglican Bishop for Southern Malawi.

Channel 4 has reported on the challenges facing LGBT Africans seeking asylum in the U.K.

Vatican: Is there a Pro-LGBT ‘Francis Effect’ on the Church?

The Washington Post’s Anthony Failoa reports that gay Catholics in Italy are feeling a “Francis effect” – not so much a change in the message from Italy’s conservative bishops as “a burgeoning spirit of acceptance in pockets of the church’s grass roots.” The Church’s influence has been the main reason Italian gays lag behind their European peers when it comes to legal recognition. We noted last month that Francis suggested he might be open to civil unions, which Catholic bishops helped defeat in Italy in 2007. The new tone from the pope has, the Post reports, “emboldened liberal Italian priests to push boundaries they never would have under Benedict XVI.”

But Lester Feder at Buzzfeed sees little evidence of a “Francis effect” on the Vatican’s resistance to LGBT rights at the United Nations and the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council.  In international bodies, the Holy See regularly teams up with groups like Family Watch International and the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute as well as groups of Islamic and African nations to oppose any effort to apply human rights language or principles to same-sex relationships, or to extend the definition of “family.” The Holy See, Feder concludes, “seems to remain firmly aligned with hardliners in diplomatic negotiations that get little public attention even as Pope Francis makes statements toward reconciliation with LGBT people.”

Closer to home for the Vatican, Archbishop Angelo Bagnasco of Genoa, likened anti-bullying campaigns in schools to totalitarian indoctrination and re-education camps in a speech published by the Italian bishops’ newspaper.

In the United Kingdom last month, a gay Catholic conservative Member of Parliament said that he “feels unable” to receive communion after Bishop Philip Egan said people who vote in favor of same-sex marriage should not take communion.

“I think it is a great pity, indeed a tragedy, that this bishop appears not to have noticed that we have a new gentle shepherd preaching a Christ-like message of inclusivity, love tolerance and forgiveness. I look to the guidance of the Holy Father Pope Francis.”

Pope Francis himself this week declared that traditional marriage reflects the image of God. Excerpts from Josephine McKenna of the Religion News Service:

“When a man and a woman celebrate the sacrament of marriage, God is reflected in them,” the pontiff told an estimated 45,000 pilgrims who gathered in St. Peter’s Square.

 “As ‘one flesh’, they become living icons of God’s love in our world, building up the Church in unity and fidelity,” he said. “The image of God is the married couple — not just the man, not just the woman, but both.”

Peru: Officials Calls for Civil Unions

The Washington Blade reports that last week a Peruvian official recommended that the Congress approve a civil unions bill that has been introduced by Congressmen Carlos Bruce, Martha Chávez and Julio Rosas.

Public Defender Eduardo Vega Luna told Congressman Juan Carlos Eguren Neuenschwander, president of the Commission of Justice and Human Rights in the Peruvian Congress, in a March 26 letter that legislators should approve the measure. Vega also told Eguren that lawmakers should also support other efforts that would extend rights to LGBT Peruvians.

The Blade quotes Antonio Capurro, director of Plural Perú, praising Vega:

 “We salute the immediate response of the public defender, that has been together with the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights, one of the premier public institutions in defense of equal rights for same-sex couples,” Capurro told the Washington Blade. “Setting aside religious beliefs to offer citizenship and rights to the entire population, which also incudes us. It is what can be done within a secular state because policies are not dictated by the beliefs of who governs, but rather by what the law says.”

The Blade notes, “Lima Archbishop Juan Luís Cipriani and other leading Peruvian religious figures are among those who oppose Bruce’s measure.”

RD has previously reported on trips to Peru by American religious right figures Mat Staver and Michael Brown, who urged legislators during their visits to resist U.S. efforts to promote LGBT equality.

England & Wales: Same-Sex Couples Marry; Bishop Tells Gay Clergy to Come Out

The first same-sex marriages took place in England and Wales. Prime Minister David Cameron, a strong supporter of marriage equality in the face of some opposition within his conservative party, celebrated the milestone by talking about his own marriage and saying “when people’s love is divided by law, it is that law that needs to change” More excerpts:

“The introduction of same-sex civil marriage says something about the sort of country we are.

“It says we are a country that will continue to honour its proud traditions of respect, tolerance and equal worth. It also sends a powerful message to young people growing up who are uncertain about their sexuality.

“It clearly says ‘you are equal’ whether straight or gay. That is so important in trying to create an environment where people are no longer bullied because of their sexuality – and where they can realise their potential, whether as a great mathematician like Alan Turing, a star of stage and screen like Sir Ian McKellen or a wonderful journalist and presenter like Clare Balding.”

CNN Reports on reaction to the law by the Church of England:

Prime Minister David Cameron faced vocal opposition from some members of his Conservative Party. The Church of England also objected, and was given an exemption from conducting same-sex ceremonies.

But in a shift in tone ahead of the weddings, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, leader of the world’s 80 million Anglicans, signaled the Church of England would mount no more resistance to gay marriage among churchgoers as Parliament had spoken.

“I think the church has reacted by fully accepting that it’s the law, and should react on Saturday by continuing to demonstrate in word and action, the love of Christ for every human being,” he told the Guardian newspaper.

Church of England Bishop Alan Wilson, who has been strongly critical of the church’s ban on clergy performing same-sex weddings, told the Religion News Service that gay clergy should come out. He said he could “confidently name” 13 gay bishops in the church. Not coming out, he says, amounts to “moral cowardice.”

Ethiopia: Religious Activists Push for Harsher Anti-Gay Laws

Addis Ababa municipal officials approved an anti-gay rally – billed as a protest “against foreign culture and homosexuality” – that will be held on April 26.  The goal of the event’s organizers seems to be to generate support for strengthening the country’s anti-gay laws – which already have penalties of up to 15 years in prison – by spreading Scott Lively-like warnings about “the dangers posed to children by homosexuality.” Dr. Antonious Seyoum, an anti-gay evangelical preacher, is frequently quoted in the media.

Southeast Asia: ‘Modest Signs of Change’ in ASEAN Countries

Writing for The Diplomat, Kirsten Han looks at “modest signs of change” in the direction of LGBT acceptance in Southeast Asia and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN):

With 10 Southeast Asian countries represented, the ASEAN SOGIE Caucus is a network of human rights activists doing work related to issues of sexual orientation, gender identity and expression (SOGIE). They want SOGIE to be included in the ASEAN Human Rights Mechanism, thus affording legal protection to the LGBTIQ community.

It’s not going to be easy, and they know it. “Because of the ASEAN principles of non-interference and consensus decision-making, combined with the problematic emphasis on regional particularities, it is really an uphill climb for LGBTIQ activists in asserting SOGIE inclusion in the ASEAN,” writes Filipino activist Ging Cristobal in an email.

The story notes the existence of Colonial-era anti-sodomy laws across the region as well as conservative religious and cultural resistance:

Residents of ASEAN countries can be just as conservative as their legislators, if not more so. A webpage published by Singapore’s Health Promotion Board addressing questions on homosexuality and bisexuality ignited a firestorm of debate after conservative Christians both in and out of Parliament raised objections. They had taken exception to the webpage stating that homosexual relationships were “not that different” from heterosexual ones, saying that it was a signal to young Singaporeans that there was nothing wrong with homosexuality.

Han reports that even other human rights activists are worried to address SOGIE issues because they fear it might harm their own work within ASEAN and its institutions.

South Korea: Christian Surgeon Overcomes Religious Resistance to Sex Reassignment Surgery

Hyung-Jim Kim’s Associated Press profile of Dr. Kim Seok-Kwun, a devout Protestant, begins with a description of sex reassignment surgery he performed for a Buddhist monk who has been living as a man for many years.  The story recounts Dr. Kim’s own journey to overcome his own religious concerns and those of his pastor about whether his work would be defying God’s will.

“At first, I agonized over whether I should do these operations because I wondered if I was defying God. I was overcome with a sense of shame. But my patients desperately wanted these surgeries. Without them, they’d kill themselves.” …

When Kim first started doing the surgeries in the 1980s, his pastor objected. Friends and fellow doctors joked that he was going to hell if he didn’t stop. He now feels a great sense of achievement for helping people who feel trapped in the wrong body. He believes he’s correcting what he calls God’s mistakes.

“Some people are born without genitals or with cleft lips or with no ears or with their fingers stuck together. Why does God create people like this? Aren’t these God’s mistakes?” Kim said. “And isn’t a mismatched sexual identity a mistake, too?”

It is clear that Dr. Kim and his patients face plenty of lingering prejudice and religious resistance. The profile notes that in 2012, “vehement protests by conservative activists and Christian groups forced a TV channel to scrap a talk show program featuring transgender people after airing its first segment.”

A strong bias against sexual minorities persists in South Korea, the result of lingering Confucian beliefs that children should never damage the bodies they received from their parents; a large, vocal conservative Christian community; and past military-backed dictatorships that ignored minority voices.

Sex change operations “are a blasphemy against God and make the world a more miserable place,” said the Rev. Hong Jae Chul, president of the Seoul-based Christian Council of Korea. He called Kim’s remarks “cursed and deplorable.”

Russia: Move to Declare Same-Sex Marriage Unconstitutional

Member of Parliament Igor Zotov has reportedly begun collecting signatures to amend the Russian Constitution to say that “Motherhood and childhood, family and marriage as a voluntary union between a man and a woman are under the protection of the state.”  Of course same-sex marriage  is already forbidden under law in Russia. The amendment push follows the passage of the country’s notorious anti-gay “propaganda law.” In a story about the new constitutional amendment push, RT.com reminds us, “In 2013 President Vladimir Putin compared same-sex partnership to Satanism in a public speech and blasted it as “a direct course to degradation and simplification, to the deep demographic and moral crisis.”

Kosovo and Bosnia-Herzegovina: LGBT Life on Europe’s ‘Frontier’

Liam Hoare at Slate examines the precarious lives of LGBT people on “the European Union’s frontier,” where “people’s identities are defined by their ethnicity or religion, in opposition to other ethnicities and religions.”

Because Kosovo and Bosnia-Herzegovina hope to join the European Union, LGBTQ people there are at least afforded some degree of legal protection. In Kosovo, discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation is outlawed by the constitution; and since 2009, Bosnia-Herzegovina has prohibited discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

However…while legislation broadly respects the human rights of LGBTQ people, “we have terrible problems with the implementation of these laws.” Jasenko Suljetovic, director of the Banja Luka Queer Association (known as BUKA), said that in Republika Srpska, “judges and prosecutors refuse to enforce the [human-rights] laws that exist.” He added: “The institutions will not enforce the existing laws until you pull on their sleeves and tell them that they have to, and even then, they will try and run from it as much as they can. But if you’re persistent enough, then they have to.” Earlier this year, BUKA successfully petitioned the police to remove graffiti that appeared all over Banja Luka carrying messages like, “Kill the Fags” and “Stop the Gay Pride,” a reference to a parade that had occurred in Belgrade, Serbia.

Australia: Court Gives Approval to Registration of Neutral Gender

The country’s High Court ruled that a person is permitted to register their gender as “not specific.”

Peter Montgomery, a Washington, DC-based writer, is an associate editor for Religion Dispatches and a Senior Fellow at People For the American Way. His work focuses on religion, politics, and LGBT issues. Follow him on twitter @petemont.

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