Global Precap: 5 Religion and LGBT Stories to Look For in 2015

One Ring to Rule Them All?

There’s no reason to think the increasingly global culture war between advocates and opponents of LGBT equality will let up this year. In fact, the opposite is true: opponents of LGBT equality are working hard to build a stronger transnational coalition of conservative religious and political leaders whose agendas go far beyond resisting the advance of marriage equality to rolling back LGBT rights and reproductive choice and criminalizing even the advocacy of LGBT equality.

The alliance between Russian strongman Vladimir Putin and the Orthodox Church is flourishing and is funding right-wing political movements throughout Europe even as the Russian government attacks LGBT groups, civil society, and basic freedoms within Russia. In Uganda, anti-gay lawmakers are certain to try to overcome President Yoweri Museveni’s resistance to passage of a new Anti-Homosexuality Act. In Gambia, viciously anti-gay President Yahya Jammeh has portrayed his vehement anti-gay stance as a heroic effort to defend Islam and African independence from European influence. In 2015, Gambia will celebrate 50 years of independence, which will give Jammeh plenty of opportunities for anti-gay posturing. In December, the U.S. dropped the country from special trade status under the African Growth and Opportunity Act.

Here are some of the overlapping and interconnected stories we’ll be watching in 2015.

Pope Francis and the World Meeting of Families

Catholics and non-Catholics alike will be watching intensely as the papacy of Francis continues to unfold and as conservatives in the hierarchy resist even rhetorical softening in the church’s position on sexuality issues. The bishops’ fall 2014 synod on the family was the scene of high-profile sparring over language referring to gay people, which conservative forces seem to have won.

Francis will be visiting the United States in 2015 in what is sure to be one of the big religion stories of the year. Francis will be coming to Philadelphia for the World Meeting of Families in September.  Not to be confused with the World Congress of Families (see below), the World Meeting of Families is a Catholic event organized by the Pontifical Council for the Family.  Philadelphia’s ultraconservative Archbishop Charles Chaput, an ardent culture warrior, will be hosting. Chaput, who disparaged the bishops’ synod for sowing confusion about church teachings on sexuality, has made clear that marriage equality is not on the agenda of the World Meeting of Families, dismissing “the neuralgic sexual issues that seem to dominate the American media.” Equally Blessed, a coalition of pro-equality Catholic groups, is recruiting “pilgirms” for its own presence in Philadelphia.

One oddly named item on the meeting’s agenda is a presentation by Archbishop Socrates Villegas called “One Ring to Rule them All: The Covenant of Marriage.” Does he really mean to equate the marriage covenant with a force of immense supernatural evil?

World Congress of Families and ‘Religious Liberty’

Anti-equality conservatives have made “religious liberty” their rallying cry as well as the centerpiece of their legal and political opposition to marriage equality.  It is also the theme of the 2015 World Congress of Families summit, which will be held in Salt Lake City, the first time the gathering has been held in the U.S.  The annual summit is an international gathering of anti-gay and anti-reproductive choice activists organized by the US-based Howard Center for Family, Religion and Society. Also organizing the Salt Lake City event is the Utah-based Sutherland Institute, whose president Paul Mero has argued that a free society cannot endure if it tolerates “bad behavior.” Being in the U.S., and in the global home of the Mormon Church, is likely to bring added attention to this year’s summit, which will push the religious right’s claims that LGBT equality and religious liberty cannot co-exist.

The World Congress of Families withdrew its official backing for its 2014 Summit in Moscow after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and annexation of Crimea, but the meeting went ahead and  WCF officials and American Religious Right activists such as Brian Brown still attended. One of the organizers of the 2015 summit is Janice Shaw Crouse of Concerned Women for America, who has lavished praise on Putin’s Russia for resisting “western LGBTIQ fascists” and suggested that Islamic jihadists are right about the “moral and spiritual bankruptcy” of the “decadent West.”

Political Network for Values: Conservatives on Offense in Global Culture War

In December, 60 parliamentarians from 20 countries gathered in New York with leaders of religious right organizations from around the globe for a “transatlantic summit” organized by the Political Network for Values. The summit’s declaration of commitments includes rejection of abortion, fertility treatments, surrogacy, and marriage equality and an “unequivocal” commitment to “the defense of the family.” It also calls for religious freedom and “the right to conscientious objection in every sphere” against “the tyranny of relativism.” The group is organized in part to influence negotiations that will be taking place in 2015 over the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.

During the summit, Austin Ruse of C-FAM hosted a press conference which featured Oscar Ivan Zuluaga, President of the Democratic Center Party in Colombia and a former presidential candidate; Zoltan Balog, the Hungarian Minister for Human Capacities, and U.S. Congressman Jeff Fortenberry, Helen M. Alvaré, Professor at George Mason University School of Law. Right-wing forces have been gaining power in Hungary, where the government is led by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, described byDer Spiegel in April as “a man for whom democracy is something of a bother.” CitizenGo, a conservative social media operation, is gathering signatures cheering Hungary’s role in the summit.

During the Q&A, Fortenberry said the group’s effort to get families included in the Sustainable Development Goals would not define gay families out of that term. Fortenberry’s comments were either disingenuous or reflected ignorance about the intense ongoing efforts of Ruse, C-FAM, and others to prevent any reference to “non-traditional” families in UN documents and international agreements. In a year-end email gloating about its successes in doing so, Ruse bragged that his group is committed to keeping “sexual orientation and gender identity” out of human rights law and says “we have been able to consistently stop this phrase from entering into international law.”

“Gender Ideology”

A year ago, Polish bishops launched a campaign against “gender ideology,” which they said was being used to promote acceptance of homosexual relationships and the idea that “a person can voluntarily decide for themselves whether they are a man or a woman.” Among other things, the bishops charged that the World Health Organization and a European anti-domestic-violence effort were sowing sexual confusion among youth. Critics argued that church officials were using the campaign as a distraction from sex abuse allegations.

Conservatives have been fighting about gender at international bodies for a long time. But the use of “gender ideology” as a propaganda tool against feminism, LGBT equality, and even the existence of transgender people, has caught on among religious conservatives. Gabriele Kuby, a German sociologist and author of “The Global Sexual Revolution: The Destruction of Freedom on the Name of Freedom,” is one of the campaign’s prime movers. Kuby, a Catholic convert, says “gender theory” will lead to tyranny. She says communism protect Eastern European countries from the sexual revolution and hopes they will now “become a stronghold of resistance in the European Union.” Kuby’s daughter Sophia runs the socialconservative group European Dignity Watch and was listed as a participant in the Political Network for Values summit in December.

Conservatives use the term “gender ideology” as a rhetorical device for denying the existence of transgender people, in much the same way that many deny the existence of people with a homosexual identity. This shows up in the use of terms such as “people with same-sex attraction” by those who want to avoid acknowledging that there are people with a gay identity. In December, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops complained about the Obama administration’s regulations implementing his executive order prohibiting federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. The bishops’ statement puts “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” in quotes. Among the USCCB’s complaints about the regulations is that they “advance the false ideology of ‘gender identity,’ which ignores biological reality…”  The final report out of the bishops’ synod on the family had also included similar language, calling it unacceptable “that international bodies make financial aid dependent on the introduction of regulations inspired by gender ideology.”

Marriage Equality

In the United States, marriage equality spread to 35 states and the District of Columbia during 2014, and it looks as if same-sex couples in at least some parts of Florida will be able to marry early in January. It also seems that 2015 could be the year in which the U.S. Supreme Court rules on the constitutionality of state marriage bans; on January 9, the Court will be considering whether to hear appeals in cases coming out of five states. Marriage equality came to Scotland at the end of 2014, joining England and Wales; marriage equality also spread in Mexico. In contrast, Slovakia’s lawmakers amended their constitution to ban marriage by same-sex couples.

In 2015, marriage equality will become a reality in Luxembourg and Ireland is gearing up for a marriage equality referendum in May. In Chile, President Michelle Bachelet is a supporter of marriage equality, but her government plans to push first for passage of civil union legislation, whose advancement in parliament just before Christmas sparked outraged protest from anti-gay evangelical pastor Javier Soto, who called lawmakers “dirty” and “corrupt.”

Look for more anti-marriage-equality collaboration from conservative Catholics, evangelicals, and Mormons, of the kind we saw in November at the interfaith gathering on “complementarity” in marriage that was organized by conservative forces in the Catholic Church.