Catholic Cardinal Slams Jesuit’s Bridge-Building Book; and More in Global LGBT Recap

Cardinal Robert Sarah, in a WSJ op-ed, criticized Fr. Martin's book "Building a Bridge" and asserted that the church has a duty to remind people that gay sex is “gravely sinful.” (Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

Reports from several international LGBT gatherings:

  • The Interfaith Diversity Network of West Africa (IDNOWA), founded in 2016, reported on its August gathering in Accra, Ghana, which drew more than 30 delegates from 10 countries, for interfaith worship and conversations about scripture and advocacy:

The brothers and sisters from ten countries in West Africa: Benin, Nigeria, Ghana, Sierra Leon, Liberia, Gambia, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Mali and Togo told passionate stories of judgement, denial, shame, violence, rape, hatred, and pain.  They spoke about how they overcame, found and embraced love, solidarity, faith in God, acceptance, recovery and values clarification. In all of these stories, they claimed that their personal challenges had brought them closer to God.  One participant said that through it all, “God has been my pillar”.

  • The Asia Pacific Forum and United Nations Development Program have released the conference report from their April conference on the ten-year anniversary of the adoption of the Yogyakarta Principles on the human rights of LGBTI people.
  • Also released: a video report on the Asia-Pacific Rainbow Families Forum which was held in May.

Looking ahead, the Religion News Foundation is sponsoring a September 11 discussion for reporters on “Covering Sexual and Gender Minorities & Religion in Sub-Saharan Africa.” From the invitation:

In Sub-Saharan Africa, as in much of the world, reporting on sex, sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression can be tricky. Cultural taboos, entrenched stereotypes, social hostilities, legal prohibitions and editorial censorship often distort coverage of these sensitive topics. Add religion to the mix and producing responsible journalism on sexual and gender minorities can seem impossible. On this panel, journalists and activists from across Sub-Saharan Africa will share their perspectives on media freedom challenges and opportunities in the region.

Catholic Church: Conservative Cardinal Slams Jesuit’s Bridge-Building Book

Pope Francis, interviewed for a book by French sociologist Dominque Wolton, suggested that he would be OK with civil unions for same-sex couples:

Pope Francis said, “Marriage between people of the same sex? “Marriage” is a historical word… Always in humanity, and not only within the Church, it’s between a man and a woman…we cannot change that…This is the nature of things. This is how they are. Let’s call them “civil unions”.

Meanwhile, Jesuit Fr. James Martin is facing backlash from conservatives in the hierarchy over his book, Building a Bridge: How the Catholic Church and the LGBT Community Can Enter into a Relationship of Respect, Compassion and Sensitivity. Cardinal Robert Sarah, who hails from Guinea and heads the Congregation for Divine Worship, wrote an op ed in the Wall Street Journal on September 1 criticizing Martin and asserting that the church has a duty to remind people that gay sex is “gravely sinful and harmful to the well-being of those who partake in them.” Sarah encourages people to read a different book, Daniel Mattson’s Why I Don’t Call Myself Gay: How I Reclaimed My Sexual Reality and Found Peacefor which Sarah wrote the preface. The conservative National Catholic Register cheered.

Martin responded in turn, saying Sarah failed to acknowledge the “immense suffering that LGBT Catholics have felt at the hands of their church.”  From the Advocate:

Martin responded in several interviews. “Cardinal Sarah is correct that I have been critical of the Church’s overall pastoral response to LGBT Catholics, and have found it lacking,” he told Crux, a website covering Catholic issues. “On that point, His Eminence is correct, and I also think that we agree on that.”

But, he told the Catholic magazine America, “Cardinal Sarah’s op-ed inaccurately states that my book is critical of church teaching, which it is not. Nor am I. Building a Bridge is not a book of moral theology nor a book on the sexual morality of LGBT people. It is an invitation to dialogue and to prayer, and I’m sure that Cardinal Sarah would agree on the importance of both.”

He encouraged Sarah, however, to consider why many LGBT Catholics and their families have rejected church teaching. “The only way that the church will be able to answer that question is by listening to them, which is part of the bridge building I am calling for in my book,” he told America. Also, he said, Sarah’s column failed to recognize “the immense suffering that LGBT Catholics have felt at the hands of their church.”

Martin also tweeted a series of responses to the anti-gay Nashville Statement released by evangelical leaders.

Sarah has previously called “gender ideology and ISIS” major threats to the family, “almost like two apocalyptic beasts.”

The right-wing Catholic Life Site News gloated that Martin has been uninvited from a speaking engagement for the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre.

Muslim-Majority Nations: How Religion & Culture Shape Responses to HIV/AIDS

At Vice, Max Daly looks at how Muslim-majority countries are handling a rise in HIV infections:

In most parts of the world HIV infections and deaths from Aids have been falling, even in southern and eastern Africa, where more than half of the global HIV population lives. New drugs to prevent infection and lessen the impact of the virus on the body have blunted its impact.

Yet in the conservative, Muslim-majority regions of North Africa, the Middle East and parts of Asia, new HIV infections have been on the rise since 2001. The latest figures show that, despite the availability of antiretroviral drugs, the region is one of two global hotspots (the other is Eastern Europe) where new HIV infections and deaths from Aids are increasing. Damningly, in the Middle East and North Africa, the proportion of people living with HIV who are receiving lifesaving antiretroviral treatment is the lowest in the world.

So how are religion, culture and politics in the region helping, or hindering, efforts to deal with what could become – especially in the face of war and upheaval – an HIV epidemic?

The article notes that stigma around same-sex relations and sex work, which are “condemned by religious doctrine, social norms and the law,” can hinder education and treatment. Daly notes that within the Islamic world, there are “marked disparities” among countries’ approaches to dealing with HIV. And he says the biggest problem is not necessarily religious leaders:

“A country’s politics, its culture and the mentality of the policymakers can have a stronger impact on policy than religion. In some Muslim countries the religious leaders are more open minded than the politicians,” says Iranian Kamiar Alaei, a human rights expert at the State University of New York.

Australia: Campaign on Marriage Vote Gets Ugly, Equality Portrayed as Threat to Church, Kids

The public campaign is underway on the non-binding referendum-by-mail on marriage equality that is scheduled to be undertaken in Australia—even though the mail ballot is still facing a court challenge. Marriage equality advocates had strongly opposed the vote, but are now rallying voters to vote yes. Among those supporting the “yes” campaign is the city of Sydney.

But former Prime Minister Tony Abbott said a “yes” vote would be a “big leap into what I think is the dark,” saying that Catholic adoption agencies in Britain and Canada had been impacted in Britain and Canada and warning that “Safe Schools” curricula would follow. The anti-equality Campaign for Marriage – urging a “no” vote – has begun running ads, complete with ominous music, portraying marriage equality as a threat to children and to parents’ ability to protect their children. One ad features a mother saying her young son was told he could wear a dress to school next year if he wanted to; the school’s principal has said the claim is false.

Other ads confirmed that pro-equality activists were right to fear that a campaign would subject Australians to hateful campaign rhetoric that would “vilify and demean LGBTI Australians and their children.” Posters that appeared in Melbourne portray gay parents as child abusers and scream “Stop the Fags.” Junkee reports that the dissemination of homophobic posters “is apparently being coordinated by a number of neo-Nazi organisations.”

Junkee also explains that the government’s decision to hold a mail survey, rather than a formal referendum at the ballot box, means that election laws don’t apply, and “there is no requirement for campaigners to authorize any material with a name or address. That means any individual or organization can anonymously create posters or advertisements featuring offensive and inaccurate messages without legal repercussion.” Efforts to pass legislation dealing with that loophole, Junkee says, are “at least a few weeks away.”

Archbishop Denis Hart, who chairs the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, and Archbishop Timothy Costelloe, who heads the bishops’ commission on Catholic education, publicly threatened that teachers, nurses and other employees who marry a same-sex partner if and when it becomes legal would be fired.

Some conservative politicians, including Nick Greiner, president of the Liberal Party, are supporting marriage equality. From SkyNews:

Mr Greiner highlighted that no one in the government is advocating for rights to be taken away from institutions that teach a ‘traditional’ view of marriage.

‘I think it ought to be clear that in those situations that have been put up, aged care homes and church schools, they should be allowed to act in accordance to their religious beliefs,’ he said.

‘I don’t think there is anyone who is arguing there should be a weakening of the right for example of a catholic school to teach the catholic view of marriage.’

Meanwhile, polling commissioned by marriage equality advocates finds two-thirds of Catholic Australians say they’ll vote yes in the coming ballot – broadly in line with repeated polling for the entire community.

The proportions were similar for Australians from other religions, the Newgate Research poll found.

In the Guardian, Peter Lewis writes that the mail ballot itself skews the vote toward older voters who are statistically more likely to vote against marriage equality, and he warns that public opinion polls showing strong majority support will not necessarily translate into a victory at the ballot.

Israel: Supreme Court Says Marriage is Question for Legislators, Religious Court

The Supreme Court rejected a petition from LGBT equality activists saying that same-sex couples should be allowed to marry under the country’s human rights law. The justices said the decision is up to legislators. More from the Jerusalem Post:

It was stated in the verdict that because the Israeli law sees the rabbinical courts as the only authority when it comes to Jewish marriage in the country, the appeal is wrong in its basis because the High Court is a civil court, not a rabbinical one.

“Essentially, the petitioners are asking from the court to recognize same-sex marriage via legislation, despite the fact that they are not recognized by Israeli law,” the verdict read. “On the matter of recognizing marriage that was not conducted in accordance to the religious law – including same-sex marriage – it was ruled [by the court] in the past that it is better that the issue be determined by the legislative branch.”

Bermuda: Legislators Hoping To Reverse Court, Re-Ban Marriage for Same-Sex Couples

Legislators are preparing an effort to re-outlaw marriage for same-sex couples, just a few months after the Supreme Court ruled that a marriage ban violated the country’s Human Rights Act. Minister of Home Affairs Walton Brown expressed support for a ban, saying “Our position is that same-sex couples should have all the legal rights of heterosexual couples, save for marriage.”

Brown also overturned a commission decision not to renew the charitable status of the anti-equality group Preserve Marriage, freeing the group to raise money to advance its goal of having marriage be “defined and upheld as a special union ordained by God between a man and a woman.”

Egypt: Profile of ‘Most Hated’ Lesbian; US Suspends Some Aid Over Human Rights

Egypt Independent reports on Dalia Al-Faghal, “who recently publicly came out as a lesbian on Facebook.”

In July Faghal made the Facebook post that led to the recent video, she wrote about coming out to her father as a lesbian, providing screen shots of his supportive comments, and a picture of her with her girlfriend.

The screenshots show her father congratulating her on her new relationship, which is what first encouraged her to make the post. Faghal wanted to show the public how proud she was of his acceptance, however her love post was met with an unprecedented wave of attacks and hate comments.

Faghal is considered the first Egyptian woman to come out publicly as a lesbian living in Egypt. She has received violent backlash from some social media users who saw her sexual orientation as a violation of the conservative Egyptian society and its Islamic ideals.

Despite the fact that many launched an attack against Faghal, other users expressed support through messages and comments. Feminists and other renowned figures in Egypt shared their solidarity and considered the matter as part of her personal freedom.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson announced that the U.S. would “withhold almost $100 million in aid to Egypt” and “condition nearly $200 million more on human rights progress,” a decision Brian Dooley called “welcome news” in the Washington Blade:

There’s plenty room for improvement. The Egyptian government has silenced virtually all peaceful dissent. Tens of thousands of people have been jailed or disappeared; many have been convicted in sham trials and tortured in prison. Political opposition figures, human rights defenders, and the LGBT community are key targets of this repression.

Although same-sex relations are not technically illegal in Egypt — the law doesn’t mention them — government authorities vigorously target LGBT people with entrapment, assault and prosecutions for debauchery and other “moral” crimes. The protection of minority rights is something the U.S. should concentrate on when deciding whether to grant the $195 million in military aid it has suspended.

Because of this persecution and social stigmatization, few LGBT Egyptians are out to their families, and data on their experiences is rare.

The Blade cites new research by two LGBT organizations in Egypt about the needs of LGBTQI people in the country.

India: Supreme Court’s Privacy Ruling Good News for Pending Sodomy Law Review

The Indian Supreme Court issued a broad ruling affirming a constitutional right to privacy, giving LGBT equality activists reason to believe that a pending Court review would reverse an earlier ruling that re-imposed Section 377, the country’s colonial-era anti-sodomy law. The Times of India characterized the ruling as signaling a “fundamental shift on gay rights”:

The Supreme Court bench on Thursday provided a big boost to the LGBT community by declaring that a 2014 order by a two-judge bench had gravely erred in annulling a Delhi HC verdict decriminalising gay sex between consenting adults.

“Sexual orientation is an essential attribute of privacy. Discrimination against an individual on the basis of sexual orientation is deeply offensive to the dignity and self-worth of the individual. Equality demands that the sexual orientation of each individual in society must be protected on an even platform. The right to privacy and the protection of sexual orientation lie at the core of fundamental rights guaranteed by Articles 14, 15 and 21 of the Constitution,” Justice Dhananjay Y Chandrachud, who authored the lead judgment holding privacy to be a fundamental right, said.

The nine-judge bench’s order will considerably reduce the previous judgment’s chilling effect on LGBT rights. It scythed through the logic in the 2014 judgment in the Suresh Kumar Koushal vs Naz Foundation case saying it was in conflict with the LGBT community’s claim based on right to privacy, entrenched in right to life guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution. This will go a long way in protecting sexual minorities from the impositions of popular or legislative majorities.

The court said the rights of LGBT persons were not a charity. “Their rights are not ‘so called’ but are real rights founded on sound constitutional doctrine. They inhere in the right to life. They dwell in privacy and dignity. They constitute the essence of liberty and freedom. Sexual orientation is an essential component of identity,” the judgment said while criticising the 2014 order’s use of the term “so-called” in the context of gay rights.

Jordan: Government Officials Inflaming Anti-LGBT Animus

High-level officials, including the ministers of justice and the interior, have used the investigation of an online magazine to promote anti-LGBT animus, writes MJ Movahedi in The New Arab:

It all began with a July request from an Islamist member of parliament, Dima Tahboub, to the Jordanian Media Commission to open an inquiry into the website My.Kali, a Jordanian queer-inclusive social affairs online magazine published since 2007.

The commission concluded that same month that the magazine had violated the Press and Publication Law and issued instructions to block access to its website in Jordan. … The law defines online publications subject to the licensing requirement as those that “engage in publication of news, investigations, articles, or comments that have to do with the internal or external affairs of the kingdom”. These vague provisions allow authorities to arbitrarily use the law to limit free expression.

To make matters worse, authorities’ responses stoked the widespread animus against LGBT people in Jordan. In response to Tahboub’s inquiry, which remains private, the ministers of justice and the interior wrote separate official letters to the minister of political and parliamentary affairs, declaring their broad intolerance of LGBT people and making it clear that the government would not defend the rights of LGBT Jordanians.

In his letter, the interior minister, Ghaleb al-Zu’bi, wrote, “Jordan has not and will never endorse any charter or protocol acknowledging homosexuals – known as the LGBT community – or granting them any rights as it is considered a deviation from Islamic law and Jordanian constitution.”

Although Jordan decriminalised same-sex sexual activity in 1951, the justice minister, Dr Awad Al-Mashagbeh, offered similar remarks, contending that LGBT people’s “sexual deviance violates… the state’s general system and decency”.

Indonesia: Interview with Activist on 30th Anniverary of Human Rights Group

At Huffington Post, Bob Ostertag speaks with Dede Oetomo as the LGBT rights organization Oetomo founded turns 30 amid a worsening social and political climate for LGBT people.

The past year was a hard one for queers in Indonesia. A series of outrageous statements by cabinet ministers and conservative Muslim clerics combined with police raids and vigilante violence to create widespread fear.

“There were all kinds of suggestions,” Oetomo recounted. “Threats to ban organizations, campaigns to promote conversion therapy through religion or pseudo psychology. They used the acronym LGBT.” …

“One thing that is alarming is that there is a request for a judicial review of three sexual morality articles in the criminal code, which is now pending at the Constitutional Court. One is the sodomy article, which used to be only for pedophile acts. The conservative Islamists have requested that it be extended to all sex between two men or two women. There is also a bill in Parliament to revise the current criminal code, which was basically translated from the Dutch criminal code. The latest version apparently does have a sodomy article. So we actually face the criminalization of homosexual acts.”

Somoa: Prime Minister Says ‘Christian Country’ Will Never OK Abortion, Same-Sex Marriage

Prime Minister Tuilaepa Seilele Malielegaoi said in a radio interview that Samoa is a Christian country and he would never allow “heathenistic practices” such as abortion and same-sex marriage  to be legalized as long as his “Human Rights Protection Party” remains in power.

Italy: Waldensian Church Will Give Formal Blessing to Same-Sex Couples

The Waldensian Evangelical Church became the country’s first Protestant church that will give its blessing to same-sex couples in civil partnerships, which The Local says is “common practice in Protestant churches across Europe.” At least one of the partners must be a member of the church. More on the Waldensians:

Founded in the 12th century, the Waldensian Church preached the Christian Gospel in the countryside and was persecuted by the Catholic Church.

The world’s oldest Protestant community founded some 350 years before Luther’s reformation, Waldensians were repressed by the civil and religious authorities until the middle of the 19th century when modern-day Italy came into being.

The community now numbers between 25,000 and 40,000 believers, mostly in the north of Italy.

Malta: Marriage Equality Law Takes Effect

A marriage equality law went into effect in this officially Catholic country on Friday, September 1.

Chile: Marriage Equality Law Introduced

President Michelle Bachelet introduced marriage equality legislation last Monday, which ABC notes was a week after the Constitutional Court upheld a loosening of restrictions on abortion. Civil unions were approved in 2015.

Inter-American Commission on Human Rights rapporteur for Chile Luis Ernesto Vargas said that the commitment of the government of President Michelle Bachelet to pursue marriage equality is a commitment of the state, not just the current government.

Mexico: Marriage Equality Legislation Introduced in Sonora

Marriage equality legislation was introduced in the parliament of the state of Sonora.

Mongolia: ‘Epic’ Pride Celebration Follows Recent Passage of Hate Crimes Legislation

Gay Star News reports that the country’s pride celebration was kicked off with an “epic” parade that included “locals, dignitaries and expats.” In July, the country passed legislation protecting LGBT people under hate crimes laws.

South Korea: Constitutional Court Nominee Says Country Not Ready For Marriage Equality

Lee You-jung, a nominee to the Constitutional Court, said during a confirmation hearing, “As for the controversial same-sex marriage, it is a matter that requires a long time to be legalized even in Western society and should be based on a long-term social consensus.” She added, “I am not confident that our society has reached the level to accept such a type of family.” However, she also opposed the idea of outlawing homosexuality, saying, “Homosexual love is an issue that concerns an individual’s sexual orientation, something that can’t be legally banned.”

LGBT Refugees

Canadian charity Rainbow Railroad has “partnered with the Canadian government to help dozens of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender refugees escape persecution in Russia’s Cechnya republic,” reports CTV News.

In  contrast, Radio New Zealand reports that gay men have been detained on Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island after seeking asylum in Australia have been subjected to abuse and are now facing an uncertain future with Australian government plans to close the center before the end of October. Homosexuality is illegal in Papua New Guinea, but some detainees fear that returning to nations like Iran would “result in certain death.”

Australian human rights lawyer George Newhouse shared the concern for the fate of the men if they were left in the country.

“The Australian government knows it’s not safe for the asylum seekers to be outside of the compound and they are forcing them out,” Mr Newhouse said.

“There have already been machete attacks and people, more people, may die and those deaths will be on the head of the Australian government.”

Mr Newhouse said Australia had a duty of care to those detained on Manus, which Canberra was ignoring.

PNG’s conservative Christian culture also poses a threat to the gay men, outside of its laws, and Mr Taghinia said some of them would rather die in the centre than be forced into the community.

For the man who fled Iran hoping to find safety in Australia, detention on Manus held more promise than life outside.

“Every time a local attacks us, I see death in front of my eyes,” he said.

Jamaica: Prominent LGBT Activist Murdered

Dexter Pottinger, an activist who “became the face of Pride Week” in 2016. according to the Independent, was found murdered in his home last Thursday. Police have arrested a subject but not yet suggested if the motive was robbery or homophobia or a combination of the two.