Australian Church Leaders See Marriage Vote as Battle for Soul of Australia: Global LGBT Recap 10/30

Still of Hillsong founder Brian Houston from promo video for the pastor's new book.

Editors from the International Press Institute told American journalists “that Donald Trump’s hostility toward the free press is emboldening dictators and autocratic leaders across the globe.”

Human Rights First reacted to raids on LGBT nightclubs in Belarus by saying it is “alarming that police targeted legal businesses violated the privacy of their patrons, demanded personal information and dragged some away to detention.” The group noted that the raids “come after a wave of incidents targeted the LGBT community in the region” and called on U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson “to take immediate action to ensure the perpetrators of crimes against LGBT people in the region are held accountable and that the governments of Russia, Belarus, Chechnya, Azerbaijan, and Tajikistan protect their LGBT citizens.” Belarus has helped lead opposition to the inclusion of LGBT-friendly language in UN agreements. The Independent reported firsthand accounts of men arrested and detained in Azerbaijain.

Four human rights groups jointly published a report documenting the successful defense of the mandate of the UN’s independent expert position, which was created last year to investigate discrimination and violence on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. The position has been bitterly fought in a series of votes forced by Russia and some members of the Africa Group and the Council of Islamic Cooperation. The report is a joint project of ARC International, the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, and Intersex Association, International Service for Human Rights, and OutRight Action International.

Earlier this month, a delegate from Egypt told a UN committee:

Our position on the matter is clear, that we do not recognize the mandate of the independent expert and therefore are not in a position to engage, interact or cooperate with the mandate holder. While reiterating our firm commitment to combat different forms of violence and discrimination, we believe that the resolution establishing the mandate adopted by a margin vote is highly divisive. Moreover the introduction and imposition of controversial notions outside the internationally agreed human rights legal framework contradicts the fundamental universality and would lead to polarization.

A threatened walkout of the October 27 General Assembly presentation by the first person appointed to the position, Vitit Muntarbhorn, did not materialize. Muntarbhorn called for decriminalization of consensual same-sex relations, saying that even when such laws are rarely enforced, they give rise to discrimination. He said LGBT people in many countries live in “a crucible of egregious violations” of human rights. Among the recommendations in his report:

The work of human rights defenders and the much needed space for civil society, including non-governmental organizations and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex groups and persons, calls for more effective safeguards from States against incursions and reprisals from those protagonists, whether State or non-State actors, which act inconsistently with international human rights standards. Cooperation with a multiplicity of actors, including the business sector, the medical/scientific sector, religious and faith groups and the media, including social networks, should be fostered on the basis of international human rights law…

Australia: Church leaders see marriage vote as battle for country’s soul, decry ‘Faithophobic’ rhetoric

As the nonbinding mail vote on marriage equality continues—voting closes on November 7—the referendum “has been seized on by church leaders in this once overwhelmingly Christian county as a battle for the soul of Australia,” writes A. Odysseus Patrick in the Washington Post.

With religious belief in steady decline, the country’s Christian leaders are saying that the sanctity of marriage as well as the faith itself are under attack by this measure.

Although 70 percent of Australians describe themselves as religious, polls suggest a majority also believe same-sex couples should be allowed to marry — a position in direct contradiction to the teachings of many church leaders. …

Many religious leaders see same-sex marriage as likely to weaken churches and lead to a more secular society. Led by Australia’s two biggest churches, the Catholics and the Anglicans, a well-organized and funded campaign has been trying to mobilize supporters.

The plan doesn’t seem to be working. So far, 12 million votes have been cast, a return rate of 75 percent, which experts say is a good sign for the “yes” campaign. The more people who vote, the more the outcome is likely to reflect opinion polls that show a majority want the law changed, analysts say.

The Post reviews the history of Christianity in Australia as well as its changing influence in a more religiously diverse country.

Today, the Lord’s Prayer is still recited in the Australian Parliament when it meets, and most top schools are controlled by religious orders or churches, which receive generous tax breaks. Bishops and archbishops have high social status.

Their influence is threatened by changing attitudes toward religion — a trend evident across most of the Western world.

The decline in religiosity in Australia is clear in polls. In 1966, 88 percent of Australians described themselves as Christians, according to government census figures. By 1991, the figure had slipped to 74 percent. By 2016, it was 52 percent.

The Guardian’s David Marr writes that for political reasons, “the cleric warriors” are muffling their “contempt for homosexuality” and their teaching about sin and damnation in favor of “talking marriage and freedom.” Writing that clerical opponents of marriage equality share a theological position—“no sex ever for gays and lesbians”—he quips about their marriage campaign messaging, “it’s the hate that dare not speak its name.” It’s a strategy that makes sense given polls that show most Christians support marriage equality, he writes. But that doesn’t mean church leaders haven’t been active in opposition:

But in August, Shelton brought a dozen faiths and factions of faiths together in the Coalition for Marriage to fight reform. They were an odd bunch from very different traditions with not much in common but this: a deep commitment to the old hatred of homosexuality.

It’s always been a great ecumenical cause.

The members of the Coalition range from minnows to mighty faiths, from new Pentecostals to the ancient Greek Orthodox Church. But the Coalition wouldn’t amount to much without a couple of heavy hitters: the Catholic and Anglican dioceses of Australia’s sin city, Sydney.

The Sydney Anglicans threatened to split the worldwide church a decade or so ago when Episcopalians (as they are known in America) began consecrating gay bishops. “This dispute is not really about homosexuality,” Archbishop Peter Jensen assured me at the time. “It’s really about authority and who runs the church. And fairly clearly, to most of the rest of us, God runs the church through the Bible.”

So, no poofters.

Marr notes that the Christian Federation lists “militant homosexuality” along with “militant Islam,” “militant atheism” and “hedonism” as “four major forces at war with Christ for the future of Australia.”

Anthony Fisher, Catholic archbishop of Sydney, complained that “Faithophobic slurs are now all too common.” Earlier this month the Catholic Herald reported, “Churches in Australia have been daubed with anti-Christian graffiti amid an increasingly toxic debate about same sex marriage.” It said “bash bigots” and “Crucify ‘no’ voters” had defaced Anglican and Baptist churches in Melbourne. LifeSiteNews has also reported on vandalism of churches and other examples of “dirty politics and ugly campaigning.”

Brian Houston, founder of the Australia-based global evangelical megachurch Hillsong has released a letter urging all Christians to vote, saying, “I believe God’s Word is clear that marriage is between a man and a woman,” and adding, “The writings of the apostle Paul in scripture on the subject of homosexuality are also clear, as I have mentioned in previous public statements.”

Houston’s letter criticizes “some on both sides of the argument” who he says “have failed to understand and respect the views of others.” He adds, “Hillsong Church already functions well and without impediment in other parts of the world where same sex marriage is legal, and as long as we are not forced through legislation to compromise our biblical convictions, we can quite comfortably continue to function whatever the outcome of this plebiscite.”

Not all Christian leaders are urging a no vote. Some Anglican, Catholic, Quaker and other church leaders in Perth launched Australian Christians for Marriage Equality, which Christianity Today called “a sign of how the poll is fracturing Australian Christians.”

With polls suggesting that marriage equality advocates will win the mail ballot with a convincing majority, some conservatives are now suggesting they will try to delay a parliamentary vote even though Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has said he would expect a vote by Christmas if the public votes Yes.

From BuzzFeed:

Speaking to Radio National Breakfast on Thursday morning, [Senator Cory] Bernardi warned against legislating in haste for what he described as a “profound” social change. …

“But I don’t want to legislate in haste. I would rather make sure that if we’re going to make a profound change to one of out great institutions that we’re doing it with a great deal of prudence.”

Bernardi said the religious exemptions in a bill penned by government senator Dean Smith were inadequate and that there is still much to discuss on the issue. Labor has pledged to support the Smith bill in its current form in the parliament. …

Many opponents to same-sex marriage argue significant exemptions are needed to protect religious and various other freedoms, but proponents argue this is a thinly veiled attempt to roll back anti-discrimination protections for LGBTI people.

The Guardian has more on the dispute over the extent of religious exemptions that should be included in a marriage equality law:

On Saturday the no campaign’s Coalition for Marriage pushed for broad exemptions to discrimination law to allow service providers to refuse any weddings that send “a message with which they disagree”, prompting concerns from marriage equality advocates that such a stance would allow discrimination on any basis.

However, Labor has endorsed the cross-party bill produced by the Liberal senator Dean Smith after a Senate committee inquiry, in effect ruling out any further religious freedoms beyond the ability of religious ministers, celebrants and organisations to refuse to conduct weddings.

Meanwhile, the Yes campaign released an ad featuring Harold Hunt, a 91-year-old who recounts the kinds of racial discrimination he faced as an aboriginal Australian. He noted that Australians voted in 1967 to give aboriginal people Australian citizenship, and says people should vote Yes to give gay and lesbian Australians “a fair go.”

Egypt: Anti-gay crackdown continues with introduction of harsh criminalization law

Some lawmakers have introduced harsh new anti-gay legislation that would impose prison terms not only for “perverted sexual relations” but also for hosting same-sex events or advertising them on social media. The bill’s sponsor said that homosexuality is a “moral deviation” that is more dangerous to society than terrorism.

Author Mona Eltahawy asks in a New York Times op ed, “Why is the Egyptian government so afraid of a rainbow flag.” As we have reported, social media backlash to images of a rainbow flag being waved at a rock concert in Cairo has sparked a brutal anti-gay crackdown.

As part of what can best be described as hysterical homophobia, more than 65 people, mostly gay men, have been arrested in the crackdown against L.G.B.T. Egyptians. At least 20 people have received prison sentences, ranging from six months to six years. Several men have been subjected to anal examinations, which human rights groups describe as a form of torture, ostensibly to determine whether they have engaged in anal sex.

This wave of arrests and raids began after gay-pride rainbow flags were flown at a concert by a Lebanese indie-rock band, Mashrou’ Leila, whose lead singer, Hamed Sinno, is openly gay. It was not the first time fans displayed rainbow flags at a Mashrou’ Leila concert, a gay friend who has attended some of the band’s previous concerts in Cairo reminds me. He also reminds me that rainbow flags were flown in Tahrir Square during the 18 days of protest that toppled President Hosni Mubarak in 2011.

Same-sex relationships are not illegal in Egypt, but gay men are arrested under “debauchery” laws. So why now? Why the parade of men “confessing” to being gay and “repenting” on TV talk shows, and the psychiatrists touting “conversion therapy”?

Eltahawy says that it would be easy to label the crackdown as a distraction from economic distress and restrictions on political freedom, there is more at play:

A talk-show host who suggested that both terrorism and homosexuality were being used to “ruin our youth” by a nameless external enemy offered perhaps the most honest explanation for this vicious round of homophobia in Egypt: the conflation of a security threat with a “moral” threat.

After the Mashrou’ Leila concert — attended by an estimated 35,000 — a parade of TV personalities pleaded with the regime to “save our youth” from homosexuality. Egyptian authorities promptly barred the group from performing again. In June, Jordan had done the same.

Across the Middle East and North Africa, increasingly bold expressions of sexual freedom are clearly unsettling regimes accustomed to being guardians not just of “national security” but also of our bodies and sexualities. Mr. Sinno is unapologetically “brown, queer and from a Muslim family” by his own description. Mashrou’ Leila, with its sexually subversive songs — which include references to gender fluidity and Abu Nawas, an eighth-century Arab, and Sappho (both known for poems that celebrate same-sex love) — have become icons for a beleaguered but determined L.G.B.T. community and a lightning rod for our moral guardians.

Armed with social media and audacity, more people are questioning taboos around religion and sexuality. There are online L.G.B.T. accounts offering information and solidarity, in Arabic and English. One is the newly formed Alliance of Queer Egyptian Organizations, which coordinated protests outside Egyptian embassies and consulates on Oct. 19. My.Kali, one of the region’s first L.G.B.T. magazines, started publishing in 2008. In July, a video went viral showing an Egyptian lesbian (who lives in the United States) talking about her relationship with a woman and her father’s reaction to her coming out. …

Morality crusades unite military regimes and religious zealots alike. Mr. Sisi, a former army general who became president after forcing out Mohamed Morsi, of the Muslim Brotherhood, understands the potency of connecting the catchall “national security” to “inciting debauchery” as a deliberate reminder that the Islamists do not hold the copyright on piety. (Mr. Mubarak, too, often vaunted his regime’s religiosity to outdo its Islamist rivals.)

At Rolling Stone, Peter Hoslin profiles Mashrou’ Leila, its impact on popular culture in the Middle East, and the impact on band members of the ugliness that has resulted from the flag waved at its concert.

 “The concert itself for us was just magical,” Sinno recalls to Rolling Stone with a heavy sigh. “It felt like such a loving, happy audience. It’s been really difficult, sort of hitting that high and then having it get perverted into what it is now.”

In a region where it’s rare and often risky to be open about one’s non-heteronormative sexuality or gender, Mashrou’ Leila have offered visibility for queer cultural expression. One of the most popular rock bands in the Middle East, they’ve written bold and compassionate songs that address gender and sexuality in addition to politics and other topics, and while they’ve faced online backlash, concert bans and even death threats, they’ve always stood their ground. “My life spent with rights mortgaged off to your sentiments / My history erased from our books like they were yours to claim,” Sinno sings in their song “Tayf” (“Ghost”), a solemn but defiant tribute to a Beirut gay bar that was shut down by Lebanese authorities in 2013.

But Sinno has struggled to process this painful ordeal: He wasn’t prepared for his fans to come under attack, too.

“For a couple days after, I really started to question everything we’ve been doing for the last 10 years,” Sinno says, speaking by phone from a recent tour stop in San Francisco. “A big part of what we do and why we address politics and gender and class and whatever – be that through our music and through our positions in the public eye – a big part of that is about trying to create sort of a cultural roster for people to identify with and feel emboldened by. And it felt like for a few days, we had to doubt whether we were actually doing that, or if we were just feeding the trolls.”

Indonesia: More than 500 people publicly flogged in two years under Aceh province Sharia code

Human Rights Watch reported that more than 530 people “have been publicly flogged in Indonesia’s Aceh province since a new Islamic criminal code was enacted in October 2015.” From HRW Indonesia Research Andreas Harsono:

People caned include hundreds of men and women punished for “victimless crimes” such as gambling, non-marital kissing, and extramarital sex.

Under national legislation stemming from a “Special Status” agreement brokered in 1999, Aceh is the only one of Indonesia’s 34 provinces that can legally adopt bylaws derived from Sharia, or Islamic law. These bylaws apply not only to Aceh’s predominantly Muslim population, but to about 90,000 non-Muslims residents, mostly Christians and Buddhists, as well as domestic and foreign visitors to the province. In September 2014, the Aceh provincial parliament approved the Principles of the Islamic Bylaw and the Islamic criminal code, which created new discriminatory offenses that do not exist in the Indonesian national criminal code.

The bylaws extend Sharia to non-Muslims and criminalize consensual same-sex sexual acts as well as all zina (sexual relations outside of marriage). The criminal code permits as punishment up to 100 lashes and up to 100 months in prison for consensual same-sex sexual acts, while zina violations carry a penalty of 100 lashes. The Principles of the Islamic Bylaw violate the right to freedom of religion enshrined in the Indonesian constitution and international law by effectively requiring all Muslims to practice the Sunni tradition of Islam. Aceh’s Sharia bylaws also violate commitments to “universal principles of human rights” embodied in the Helsinki agreement, which officially ended a decades-long pro-independence insurgency in Aceh in August 2015. President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo has yet to challenge these regulations.

Tanzania: Some of detained human rights lawyers deported

Three South African human rights lawyers with the Initiative for Strategic Litigation in Africa, who were among 13 human rights activists detained and charged with “promoting homosexuality,” were deported:

Local police chief Lazaro Mambosasa said they had been “promoting homosexuality”.

“Tanzanian law forbids this act between people of the same sex, it is a violation of our country’s laws,” said Mambosasa.

Just days later an NGO, the Community Health Education Services and Advocacy (CHESA) centre, was suspended on the same charge and accused of organising a workshop at the Peacock hotel.

CHESA and ISLA insisted they were merely coordinating a “legal consultation” to challenge a government decision to limit the provision of some health services.

In February, Tanzania provoked criticism notably from the United States after announcing the closure of several health centres specialising in AIDS prevention, alleging they were fronts for promoting homosexuality.

Tanzania has vowed to deport foreigners campaigning for gay rights in a country where gay male sex is punishable by anything from 30 years to life imprisonment.

Panama: High court considering draft decision upholding marriage ban as constitutional

We reported last week that Supreme Court of Justice Judge Luis Ramon Fabrega had drafted a decision rejecting lawsuits that are seeking a ruling in favor of marriage equality. The draft ruling upholding the restriction of marriage to a man and a woman suggests that the legislature pass a law recognizing civil unions for same-sex couples. TVN reports that his draft judgment is being reviewed  by the court’s nine judges in a reading period that will last until November 22. The Panamanian Alliance for Life and the Family said the reported recommendation “is in line with what the Constitution establishes, that the article of the Family Code is constitutional.”

Uruguay: First transgender senator discusses legislative agenda

Michelle Suarez, the country’s first transgender senator, was interviewed by Anastasia Moloney reports for the Thomson Reuters Foundation. the 34-year-old Suarez says the life expectancy of trans women in Uruguay is 35, about half of the life expectancy for people in general. She has introduced legislation to strengthen legal protections for transgender people and set up a fund to compensate trans people persecuted during the military dictatorship that ruled from 1973 to 1985.

Taiwan: Government will try to send marriage equality bill to legislature

Premier Lai Ching-te said that the Executive Yuan will try to send a marriage equality bill to the Legislative Yuan before the end of the legislative session. A Constitutional Court ruling in May gave the government two years to pass legislation implementing marriage equality.