Civil Unions Battle Heats Up in Italy; Church Leaders in Malawi Defend Criminalization of Homosexuality; Report on LGBT Student Group Sparks Backlash in Indonesia; Global LGBT Recap

Several reports relating to LGBT human rights internationally were released this week:

Italy: Debate on Civil Unions Bill Postponed, Opponents Rally in Rome

Debate on civil unions legislation was supposed to take place this week in the Senate, but it was postponed until next week. Opponents of the legislation are hoping to draw a million people to a “Family Day” rally in Rome on Saturday. Proponents held their own “Wake Up Italy” rallies last weekend.

In an in-depth story for Associated Press, Frances D’Emilio examines whether Italy’s view of family as “sacred” will be extended to the families of same-sex couples, which he calls “a bitterly divisive question in a nation where the Vatican packs considerable political weight and where gays have grown impatient as other traditionally Catholic European countries have either allowed same-sex couples to marry or legally recognized their civil unions.”

The coalition government of Premier Matteo Renzi is pushing for the legislation, which includes the right of inheritance, to receive the pension of his or her deceased partner, or to make medical decisions about a partner in hospital. But one provision of the bill, to permit gays to adopt the biological children of their partner, has generated animosity even within Renzi’s coalition.

Opponents fear the so-called “stepchild adoption” will encourage male couples to turn to surrogate mothers abroad. Surrogacy is banned in Italy, as well as in many other European countries. Headlines warning of a surge in “rented uteruses” have abounded lately in Italian Catholic publications, as well as in more conservative lay newspapers….

Pro-Vatican elements among Renzi’s Democrats are among those insisting the adoption provision be jettisoned, and the premier has told lawmakers “to vote according to your conscience.”

D’Emilio talks to a woman about the challenges she faces raising a son with her partner, the boy’s biological mother. She says neighbors and others treat them like a family, but she has no legal rights as a parent. “Society is more advanced than the law,” she says, while lawmakers “have pressures on them, political, cultural, from the church.”

The New York Times’ Jim Yardley took an look at divisions over the legislation in Italy, an outlier among western nations in lacking legal recognition for same sex couples, partly because, Yardley writes, “of the lingering influence of the Roman Catholic Church.”

In the past, the Catholic Church would probably have played a major role in opposing the legislation (as happened in France, where Catholic groups tried in vain to prevent passage of the country’s same-sex marriage law in 2013). But in promoting a more merciful, tolerant tone, Pope Francis has discouraged bishops around the world from diving into culture war issues that have alienated some faithful from the church.

This has created a divide within the Italian Episcopal Conference as Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, president of the conference, has encouraged Catholics to join opponents of the legislation at a coming “Family Day” rally. Supporters of the bill held rallies across Italy over the weekend. Yet the conference’s secretary-general, Msgr. Nunzio Galantino — who was appointed directly by Francis — has been more cautious in directly aligning the church in such a contentious fight.

In an interview, Monsignor Galantino said he recognized that the government has the right to establish laws that prevent discrimination against all people but that he opposes the current bill because he believes it equates civil unions with marriage and because of the clause allowing stepchild adoptions. He agreed that there were “different visions” within the Catholic Church on how to engage the debate but noted that Francis had encouraged priests to “accompany people in the streets” and listen to all the different positions.

Massimo Franco, a columnist for Corriere della Sera, a national newspaper, wrote recently that Francis apparently canceled a meeting with Cardinal Bagnasco after the Italian prelate went public with his support for the opposition rally. In an interview, Mr. Franco said the stepchild adoption provision is causing genuine concern among many lawmakers, especially Catholics, which concerns the Renzi administration.

Malawi: Church Leaders Push to Keep Laws Criminalizing Homosexuality

“As Malawi debates whether repeal its laws which criminalize homosexuality, the nation’s Catholic bishops are lobbying heavily for keeping such laws on the books,” writes Bob Shine at New Ways Ministry. The Catholic bishops’ conference unsuccessfully sought to meet with U.S. Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBT People Randy Berry when he visited the country. The evangelical Malawi Council of Churches also weighed in, with a spokesperson saying that the timing of Berry’s visit did”not consider the religious and cultural dynamics of the country.”

Archbishops Thomas Msusa told the Nyasa Times, “Our teaching and a majority of our faithful have spoken clearly against the bullying of our international partners on issues of constitutional chance to accommodate homosexuality in our laws.” A group of bishops met with President Peter Mutharika this month and urged him to “resist pressure” from “foreigners” on LGBT human rights.

Shine comments:

Being gay in Malawi is illegal, and a conviction could lead to up to fourteen years hard labor for men and up to five years imprisonment for women.  The government dropped charges in December against two men, Cuthert Kulemeka and Kelvin Gonani, after their arrests for being gay drew widespread criticism.

Justice Minister Samuel Tembenu has issued a moratorium on enforcement of the anti-gay law,until further notice, though anti-LGBT politicians are challenging the legality of this moratorium. Homophobia is still quite prevalent in the nation’s politics. A spokesperson for minority party, People’s Part, said earlier this month that lesbian and gay people should be killed rather than jailed

Malawi’s bishops are promoting misinformation when they claim first that homosexuality is “alien” to Malawians and second that foreign aid is being used to pressure donor nations to adopt LGBT rights. Misinformation is problematic, but doubly so when used to endorse, implicitly as well as explicitly, anti-LGBT prejudices that have and can lead to discrimination, imprisonment, and violence.

Though Catholics are only 20% of the population, Malawi’s bishops possess tremendous authority in the country due to their critical role in the nation’s transition to democracy in the early 1990’s. Their voices weigh heavily in this debate about repealing the criminalization laws which, it should be noted, are not supported by church teaching.

The bishops should be defending the human rights of all people, even if disagreements about sexual ethics exist, instead of providing cover for those politicians and public figures whose homophobia and transphobia has and will have dangerous consequences. But as it stands, the bishops in political and ecclesial arenas alike are failing to defend and may even be causing harm to marginalized LGBT communities in Malawi.

Indonesia: Report on LGBT Student Group Sparks Backlash

The Jakarta Post reported that “verbal and online persecution” of LGBT students has extended to the wider LGBT community and people who support them in the wake of media reports about an LGBT student support group. The country’s Minister of Research Technology and Higher Education said such groups should not be allowed on campuses because they damage the country’s morality. “LGBT is not in accordance with the values and morals of India,” he said. “I forbid them.” After his comments, a conservative Muslim newspaper ran the headline, “LGBT Poses Serious Threat.”

Last weekend, the Alliance of Independent Journalists held workshops about stereotyping and marginalization of LGBT people in media coverage.

“There was also a tendency for journalists to stigmatize the group,” the head of Women and Marginalized Groups of AJI Indonesia, Yekthi Hesthi Murthi, told

Research indicates violations of ethics often occur when Indonesian journalists are covering controversial issues concerning the LGBT in this, the country with the largest Muslim population in the world, she asserted.

She added the press could be in a position to give a voice to those who are voiceless and allow them to stand up for their rights as citizens of this country.

Portugal: President Vetoes Adoption Bill

Two months before leaving office, President Anibal Cavaco Silva vetoed a law that would have granted full adoption rights to same-sex couples and allowed lesbian couples to receive medical assistance with fertilization. According to Nick Duffy at Pink News, “He claimed in a statement that the law doesn’t regard ‘the child’s best interest’ as a priority, which he claims is more important than equality for gay couples.” Duffy notes that many same-sex couples are already raising children together; since 2013 gays have been able to adopt their partner’s children. “Despite being progressive on some LGBT issues,” writes Duffy, “81 percent of Portugal’s population is Catholic – and the powerful Catholic Church remains staunchly opposed to same-sex parenting.”

Australia:  Former Prime Minister Says Marriage Equality ‘An Ask Too Far’

Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who stubbornly blocked marriage equality during his tenure, traveled the U.S. to speak at a gathering of the Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative Christian legal group that is expanding its anti-gay, anti-reproductive-choice footprint globally. Australian media reported that Abbott would also meet with media mogul Rupert Murdoch while in New York, possibly to plot his attempted political comeback. (Abbott was removed by members of his own party last year.)

In his address, Abbott stated, “Policy makers shouldn’t be judgmental about people’s personal choices, but we can’t be indifferent to the erosion of the family given its consequences for the wider community.” Abbott referred to one of his sisters’ same-sex partner, saying he doubted that marriage equality would make her any more part of the family, because it was their commitment that mattered. Still, he did not budge from his opposition to marriage equality:

Not long ago, most gay activists rejected marriage as an oppressive institution. Now, they demand as their right what they recently scorned; they demand what was unimaginable in all previous times and still is in most places.

They are seeking what has never been and expecting others to surrender what always has. It’s a massive ask; for me, an ask too far.

Abbott urged civil conversation “so that we can better understand even if we can’t quite agree.”

My own faith, which waxes and wanes, offers less the fullness of truth than the urge to search for it.

Still, when human beings made in the image and likeness of God are our best selves then – we can be confident – that “all shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.”

Mormon Church: Teen Suicides Reportedly Jump in Wake of New Anti-Gay ‘Revelation’

Mama Dragons, a group of Mormon mothers with gay children, said it had been informed of 32 young LGBT Mormons who had committed suicide in the U.S. since early November, when the Church instituted a new policy declaring Mormons in same-sex marriages apostate and refusing to baptize children living in those families. Earlier this month, the LDS Church declared that its new policy was officially a revelation from God to the prophet, LDS President Thomas Monson, a move that gay Mormon activist Mitch Mayne said leaves LGBT Mormon youth with “a bleak Sophie’s Choice: either resign yourself of life of celibacy, or be ejected from your church and family – for all time and eternity.” Most of the reported deaths were in Utah, which ranks in the top five of U.S. states in teen suicide, though the numbers have not been verified. In response to the Mama Dragons report, church officials mourned the deaths and called on churches and family members to make LGBT youth feel welcome.

Tanzania: Activist Profiled

The latest “world voices” feature from Alturi tells the story of James Ouma, an LGBTI activist who speaks “against a growing religious backlash in Tanzania while he calls his uncle, an Anglican priest, his best friend.” Notes Alturi, “Such are the complicated cultural currents in East Africa, where Tanzania is emerging as the next front in the U.S. evangelical export of anti-LGBTI hate.” Ouma has been harassed by government officials who declare that his organization’s offices “are a homosexual recruitment center rather than a social services center.”

This is just the latest challenge in James’s life. The son and grandson of Pentecostal preachers, he was born and raised in a rural village in the Karagwe district of northwest Tanzania. Family acceptance was predictably difficult for the young gay man, but with the support of his uncle he was able to leave isolation behind, be accepted by his mother and attend university in Kenya, where he studied non-profit management. After university he moved to Mwanza and worked as an English teacher then moved to Dar es Salaam where he began his activist career working with the Tanzania AIDS Forum.

In 2009 James told his boss “‘I need to do something else.’ It was a time of major police harassment as thousands of illiterate LGBTI youth were streaming into Dar es Salaam. I joined with some friends to start an organization called Wezesha, which means ’empower’ in Swahili. Initially we started to support and empower LGBTI people and help sex workers find other opportunities.”

Wezesha changed its name to in 2013 to LGBT Voice Tanzania and settled into permanent offices.

Mexico: Unanimous Supreme Court Overturns State of Jalisco Marriage Ban

In an 11-0 ruling, the Supreme Court of Justice of the Nation overturned the state of Jalisco’s ban on same-sex couples getting married.

Greece: Civil Unions Law Goes Into Effect

Civil unions legislation passed in December went into effect this week, with the first same-sex union conducted by Athens Mayor Giorgos Kaminis on Monday

Saudi Arabia: Two Same-Sex Couples Arrested

Four men – two couples – have reportedly been arrested in Saudi Arabia by the nation’s religious police for holding a marriage ceremony, cross-dressing and possessing alcohol and hashish. The police raid may have been the result of images circulated on social media. Gulf News reported that the men admitted they were living as married couples.

England: Plurality of Anglicans Support Same-Sex Marriage

A survey of more than 6,000 British adults found that 43 percent of people who identified themselves as having a Church of England, Anglican, or Episcopal affiliation and living in England said they think same-sex marriage is “right” and 35 percent say it is “wrong.” Three years ago, the numbers were nearly reversed, with 47 percent against and 38 percent in favor.

Germany: More than Two-Thirds of Catholics and Protestants Back Marriage Equality

A poll released this week found 68 percent of Germans in favor of legal equality and only 24 percent opposed. Although Chancellor Angela Merkel remains opposed, 61 percent of voters for her conservative Union support marriage equality. More from The Local:

The poll also sought to find out opinions from within church congregations – again support for equality was high.

Sixty eight percent of Catholics were in favour and 67 percent of Protestants. Within both religions, just over a quarter of respondents did not want the law changed.

Currently gay couples are allowed to enter into a civil union which entails many, but not all of the rights of a heterosexual marriage.

Hong Kong: Majority Support Nondiscrimination Laws on Sexual Orientation & Gender Identity

A survey released by the Equal Opportunities Commission found that 55.7 percent support legislation banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status, nearly double the support measured in 2005. Support was overwhelming – more than 90 percent – among young people. Among people “with religious views,” nearly half support nondiscrimination legislation. From a press release announcing the findings:

The study also indicates that there are diverse views on this issue among different religious groups. Although there were strong views expressed against legislation from some religiously-affiliated groups during the study, nearly half (48.9%) of survey respondents who identified as having religious beliefs agreed that there should be legal protection against discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status.

“The EOC recognises that there are divergent views on this issue, even within distinct communities. In considering the way forward, the study paid particular attention on ways to address the various concerns raised in relation to potential legislation. The EOC believes that it would be possible to balance the need to protect LGBTI people from discrimination with such concerns and rights of other groups to freedoms of expression and religion, and the right to privacy. Indeed, Hong Kong’s human rights legislation, such as the Bill of Rights Ordinance, as well as existing anti-discrimination Ordinances, already do balance such rights in their provisions and day-to-day implementation. In addition, some jurisdictions, which were examined in the study, have done this in various ways, such as through exemptions in the law,” said Dr. Chow.

India: Supreme Court Will Reconsider Sodomy Law Ruling

BuzzFeed’s Lester Feder reported this week that a panel of judges on India’s Supreme Court will revisit the 2013 ruling that re-instated the country’s colonial-era sodomy law years after it had been overturned in a lower court.

Canada: Alberta Conservatives Push to Drop Marriage Opposition From Party Platform

The Conservative Party in Alberta adopted a resolution urging that opposition to marriage by same-sex couples be dropped from the official party policy.

Germany: LGBT Activists Prepare Shelters for Gay Refugees and Migrants

NBC News reports that LGBT groups in Germany are preparing shelters for gay refugees and migrants in the wake of reports of violence, including rape, against migrants from Iraq and Syria, “where ISIS militants are targeting or killing homosexuals.”

Afghanistan: Petition Calls for Legal Protections for Religious, Sexual Minorities

A petition is calling for changes in the laws of Afghanistan to protect the rights of both apostate (defined by petition organizers as “agnostic, atheist, freethinker, humanist, skeptic”) and LGBTIQA (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersexual, queer, asexual) Afghans.