Marriage Debate in Australia Shifts To Push For Religious Exemptions; and More in Global LGBT Recap

Queer Asia has issued a call for submissions for the Queer Asia Film Festival and Queer Asia Conference, which are tentatively scheduled for June 29 and 30, 2018. Deadline for submission of abstracts for the conference is December 30, 2017. From the call for submissions:

In Asia and beyond, queer identities and lived experiences offer unprecedented opportunities to challenge dominant ways of living, being, and knowing. The third edition of the ‘Queer’ Asia conference charts new dialogues on burgeoning questions around bodies and borders, with their attendant biopolitics. How are queer lives being managed and manoeuvred? How do they intersect and intervene with the realities and representations of queer communities in Asia and within Asian diasporas.

As migration (enforced and chosen), war, and crisis (personal, professional, political) impact queer bodies we ask: how do they move and survive in the numerous and varied Asian contexts? How do race, gender, ability, religion, class/caste, disease, and violences impact queer Asian bodies? Can queer bodies transgress (internal and external) borders imposed by politics, economy, science, religion, and culture? How do crises around nationalism and globalisation affect non-normative gender and sexual identities?

Australia: Marriage debate shifts to religious exemptions

As we have noted previously, marriage equality opponents in Australia have shifted gears after the overwhelming public vote in favor of marriage equality, and are now focusing on passing broad religious exemptions that would allow business owners with objections to same-sex couples marrying to refuse them services. SBS reports that senior figures in the ruling coalition government are “seemingly divided over whether to incorporate religious protection laws into the bill to legalise same-sex marriage, or to pass the reform swiftly and then move on a separate religious freedoms bill in 2018.” Meanwhile, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced that a “religious freedom review” will be led by former Attorney General Philip Ruddock, who has a long and intense anti-LGBT record. Pink News has more:

Ruddock’s appointment is a major concession to anti-LGBT conservatives, and equality activists fear that the review will be used to undermine LGBT rights protections by introducing a religious ‘license to discriminate’ against gay couples.

Turnbull said: “The impending legalisation of same-sex marriage has seen a variety of proposals for legislative reform to protect freedom of religion. Many of these proposals go beyond the immediate issue of marriage.

“Any reforms to protect religious freedom at large should be undertaken carefully. There is a high risk of unintended consequences when Parliament attempts to legislate protections for basic rights and freedoms, such as freedom of religion.

“The Government is particularly concerned to prevent uncertainties caused by generally worded Bill of Rights-style declarations.

“This will be a timely expert stocktake to inform consideration of any necessary legislative reforms.”

LGBTI activist Rodney Croome called for LGBTI representation on the panel, saying, “Genuine religious freedom must be respected and protected but it must never become a weapon to be wielded against vulnerable minorities.”

Human Rights Watch’s Ryan Thoreson notes that the Australian efforts are part of a broader strategic trend:

This strategy is being used around the globe as people embrace marriage equality. Earlier this month, former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott spoke to the Alliance Defending Freedom, a US-based group that has supported the criminalization of same-sex activity, defended discredited “conversion therapies” for minors, and fought to exclude transgender youth from sharing gendered spaces. At the gathering, Abbott warned the crowd that the drive toward marriage equality threatened religious freedom and would be used “oppressively” against people who opposed it.

Abbott is not the only official traveling abroad to promote this argument. Many Americans remember Kim Davis, the clerk in a rural Kentucky county who, after the US Supreme Court gave same-sex couples the right to marry, refused to issue them marriage licenses, citing her religious objections. In October, the evangelical non-profit Liberty Counsel arranged for Davis to travel to Romania, where she called marriage equality an attack on religious freedom and used her own story to urge voters in an upcoming national referendum to support a constitutional amendment defining marriage as a union of a man and a woman.

Despite the fact that more than two dozen countries have embraced marriage equality, the argument that religious objections should trump LGBT equality is gaining steam globally, with worrying consequences for human rights.

Thoreson writes, “The United Nations Human Rights Committee has repeatedly clarified that freedom of religion does not justify discrimination against women, adherents to other religions, non-believers, and other groups – a point that the UN special rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, Ahmed Shaheed, underscored at an event on faith and sexuality at the United Nations last month.”

Thoreson notes that neither Australia nor Romania is even considering legislation that would force churches or clergy to marry same-sex couples:

To the contrary, the marriage equality bill in Australia specifies that religious ministers cannot be compelled to marry same-sex couples. Of course, even without such provisions, churches in Australia, the United States, and elsewhere can’t be forced to marry same-sex couples under existing law. In these circumstances, using freedom of religion as a weapon to deprive LGBT people of any partnership recognition at all is misguided at best and disingenuous at worst.

If the United States is any indication, proponents of religious exemptions are unlikely to stop at marriage. Since same-sex couples won the right to marry, many states have enacted laws that permit adoption and foster care providers, counselors, landlords, and others to turn LGBT people away, citing religious beliefs. When the law excuses discrimination in one aspect of daily life, that “exception” can end up swallowing the rule.

Romania: European Court of Justice takes up marriage case; opponents push for referendum

The European Court of Justice has begun to examine a case brought by Adrian Coman, a Romanian man seeking legal residency for his American husband, which the New York Times’ Kit Gillet says “will have major implications for the legal recognition of same-sex relationships across Europe.” Coman and his American partner were married in Belgium in 2010 but “the authorities in Bucharest refused to recognize their relationship for the purposes of residency.”

As we have reported previously, U.S.-based religious conservative groups like the Alliance Defending Freedom have been supporting Romanian religious conservatives who are seeking a referendum to put a ban on same-sex couples marrying into the country’s constitution. More from the Times:

Homosexuality was decriminalized in Romania in 2001. But same-sex marriage remains a contentious issue in the country, with its majority Orthodox Christian population.

In early 2016, three million Romanians out of a population of roughly 20 million signed a petition calling for the constitutional definition of marriage to be altered, from a union between two spouses to one specifically between a man and a woman. In July 2016, the country’s Constitutional Court accepted the validity of the proposal, paving the way for a referendum on the topic, which could be held next year.

As the article notes, “European Union laws give the citizens of the bloc’s member states and their family members the right to move and freely reside across the region, subject to certain conditions.” But religious conservatives across Europe are organizing for a “Mum, Dad & Kids” European referendum that would defined LGBT couples and families out of those protections.

Egypt: Recent anti-gay crackdown part of longer trend

The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights has published “The Trap: Punishing sexual difference in Egypt,” an in-depth report covering “a targeted crackdown on people whose sexualities or sexual practices, actual or perceived, differ from those considered normative in Egyptian society.” The report covers 2013 to 2017, with most of the reporting pre-dating the most recent escalation in anti-LGBT harassment that began this summer. From the executive summary:

The cases covered in the report point to three main strategies and practices used by the General Directorate for Protecting Public Morality (referred to as Morality Police throughout) within the Ministry of Interior. The first and most common strategy is the entrapment of individuals, especially transgender women, through fake accounts on LGBTQ dating websites and applications. The second strategy is the deportation of gay or trans foreign nationals or those perceived to be as such, even when practice of habitual debauchery charges are not upheld. The third is the creation of major sex scandals that receive exceptional media attention. …

The way that most news websites covers incidents of arrest of LGBTQ individuals creates a state of moral panic in society. The method used, through which LGBTQ individuals are demonized, defamed and represented as subhuman, includes sensationalist, exaggerated headlines such as, “The capture of the largest ring of sexual deviants”. The media also uses terms, that are morally charged and that denigrates arrested LGBTQ individuals and strips away their dignity (referring to them as, ‘sexual deviants’, ‘third sex’, or associating them with ‘drugs’). This coverage portrays those individuals as such, identifying them as a threat to the moral fabric of society, depicting them as violent and representing a danger to citizens. This is especially so for individuals living with HIV/AIDS.

Colombia: Catholic and evangelical conservatives flexing political muscles

Sentiido reflects on the mixing of religion and politics and the use of religion in public debates, noting that while the country is  mostly Catholic, its 1991 Constitution “establishes that Colombia is a state with full religious freedom, characterized by its strict separation from the churches and determined the equality of all confessions.”

The legal part is clear. In theory, there is no doubt that Colombia is a secular state or that there is a formal separation between state and churches, but in practice that argument is increasingly dismissed.

Nicolás Panotto, a theologian, explains in the text Religions, Politics and the Lay State: New Approaches for the Latin American Context (2017), that recognizing the secular dimension of the State does not mean that religion ceases to be a public issue . In everyday life, relationships are much more fluid. …

Currently, the focus of attention on the relationship between religion and politics is placed on the efforts of sectors of the Catholic Church and evangelical communities to oppose LGBT inclusion projects.

Sentiido references an article by William Mauricio Beltrán, professor of Sociology at the National University of Colombia, who says the “moral agenda” is likely to be decisive in 2018 elections:

The evangelical and Pentecostal sectors are convinced that their vote will be decisive. …

This agenda, explains Beltrán, has put old rivals on the same side: evangelicals and fundamentalist Catholics, because both consider that recognizing LGBT rights is a form of decadence and implies the risk of “homosexualizing” society.

Russia: Anti-Gay ‘propaganda’ law cements Putin-Orthodox ties, boosts anti-LGBT violence

Reuters reported on a study by the Center for Independent Social Research saying that anti-LGBT hate crimes have doubled in the five years since the passage of Russia’s anti-gay “propaganda” law. From the Reuters story:

“(Offenders) have become more aggressive and less fearful,” said Svetlana Zakharova, a board member with Russian LGBT Network, the country’s most prominent gay rights campaign group, which has noted the same trend.

“It seems to them that, to some extent, the government supports their actions. Many perpetrators openly talk about their crimes as noble deeds.” …

Homosexuality in Russia, where the influence of the socially conservative Orthodox Church has grown in recent years, was a criminal offence until 1993 and classed as a mental illness until 1999. …

The ‘gay propaganda’ law, which has been used to stop gay pride marches and to detain gay rights activists, is seen by many as a move by President Vladimir Putin to crack down on dissent and draw closer to the Russian Orthodox Church.

We previously noted that LGBT activists were attacked during an inclusive family conference in Moscow earlier this month. Human Rights Watch has charged that the Moscow police have failed to “effectively investigate” the attack.

Turkey: Recent bans on LGBT activity reflect growing religious influence, spur fears of more to come

We reported last week on bans on LGBT activities by officials in Ankara and Instanbul. At Hurriyet Daily News, Serkan Demirtas calls the ban on LGBT events “a clear violation of the Turkish Constitution” and says growing anti-LGBT discrimination is “just another consequence of the growing religious conservative understanding in the ruling AKP’s political sphere.”

The Guardian’s Carmen Fishwick has followed up with activists who fear that there’s more to come:

Turkey’s LGBT community says the government’s banning of LGBT eventsis not only an illegal curtailing of personal freedoms but further proof of the government’s anti-secular agenda, with some saying they are increasingly worried for their safety.

Respondents to a Guardian callout said they thought Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was waging a war against them, and they felt a change in mood towards their community across the country – including in areas where they had previously enjoyed personal freedom. …

Last week, Erdoğan said empowering gay people was “against the values of our nation”, echoing a sentiment he expressed earlier in the year after cancelling Istanbul’s gay pride parade for a third year in a row. Police used rubber bullets and detained 10 people to suppress the event, according to the Turkish newspaper Hürriyet.

One activist said he feared that rising nationalism hurts the LGBT community because it makes people believe “we cannot be the descendant of our supposedly glorious ancestors.”

Another activist warned that the government’s attack on secularism is “extremely dangerous.”

“The public were told that secularism was the enemy of Islam and its values. But LGBTI+ people are citizens of this country and it is the state’s duty to protect them. If there is an issue of homophobia, rather than trying to hush down the LGBTI+ movement, the public needs to be educated,” he said.

Another individual mourned the growing hostility toward LGBT people:

“The rise of political Islam meant that everything from legislations to education was seen as not Islamic enough,” he said. “It is such a shame that the unique status of Turkey as the most LGBTI+ friendly Muslim-majority country is being eroded.”

India: Privacy ruling boosts activist hopes

The New York Times Kai Schultz followed up on last weekend’s reporting from the New Delhi pride celebration with an analysis of gay rights activists’ perception of positive momentum:

If the parade atmosphere seemed even more buoyant than usual, it may have been because a major victory was in sight for gay rights in this country. In a landmark decision in August, India’s Supreme Court ruled that the country’s citizens had a constitutional right to privacy. In its judgment, the court made special note of the gay community, writing that “sexual orientation is an essential attribute of privacy.”

For lawyers building a case against a colonial-era law, known as Section 377, that criminalizes sex between men in India, the ruling was welcome news. And it has renewed some hope for the repeal of other repressive laws, including one requiring the “registration and control of eunuchs” and marital rape exceptions in the Indian Penal Code. …

Depictions of gender-fluid identity are common in ancient texts found in Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism. In Hinduism, gods transform into goddesses, or they cross-dress. Men become pregnant.

But when the British colonized India, they imported “a great discomfort with all things pleasurable and sensual,” said Devdutt Pattanaik, the author of several books on mythology. The British also declared transgender people a “criminal tribe,” he said.

Today, many Indians object to homosexuality not so much on moral grounds, but because of the pressure to marry someone of the opposite sex. Marriage is often framed as a social pact between two families in India.

“Unlike in the West, where religion is organized, and even homophobia seems institutionalized, in India, all of this is very fluid,” Mr. Pattanaik said. “The only major issue is marriage. People want men and women to marry, no matter what their sexual orientation.”

Bermuda: Human Rights Commission criticizes plan to replace marriage equality with partnership law

The Human Rights Commission has criticized a legislative proposal to create domestic partnerships for same-sex couples and withdraw from them the right, won in the courts, to be legally married.

The Commission said that it recognised “many” in the community were “strongly against” same-sex marriage, in some cases due to religious and moral beliefs.

It added: “We also recognise that there are sectors of our religious community that are supportive of same-sex marriage and the public debate has been caricatured to ignore this fact.

“Everyone has a right to hold beliefs opposing same-sex marriage so long as they do not incite harm or promote hate through their speech or actions.

“However, individuals have a right to be treated equally and be protected from discrimination regardless of how unpopular such rights are and how small the number of people who hold those rights may be.”

While the proposed partnerships would offer couples “most of the rights afforded to traditional marriages,” there are significant differences.

Chile: Debate on marriage equality bill begins as presidential election approaches

An estimated one hundred thousand LGBT equality backers marched on Saturday in a massive show of support for marriage equality legislation that will be debated in parliament beginning on Monday. Among those participating was presidential candidate Alejandro Guillier, who will face anti-marriage-equality candidate Sebastián Piñera in the December 17 runoff election. Activists announced that majorities in both chambers of the national legislature are committed to marriage equality.

Democratic Republic of Congo: Pro-LGBT radio host profiled

NPR’s Christopher Clark profiles Patou Izai, a self-employed IT technician in Kinshasa who produces “Jeuniafrica,” a weekly radio show that “seeks to challenge the negative attitudes toward Kishasa’s LGBTI community.”

“Jeuniafrica” has cultivated a snappy conversational style interspersed with snippets of on-the-ground reporting, man-on-the-street quotes and in-studio interviews with church leaders, doctors, human rights workers, journalists and psychologists. Themes range from basic sexual health tips to dealing with depression to reconciling homosexuality and religion.

Zimbabwe: LGBT activists celebrate end of Mugabe’s rule

LGBT rights advocates joined many fellow Zimbabweans in celebrating the resignation of the intensely anti-gay 93-year old Robert Mugabe, who had held the office of president since 1980.

Fiji: Greater acceptance and visibility comes with continued stigma and discrimination

LGBT people are “more openly expressing their love and affection,” a sign that Fijian society is “to some degree more accepting of people of diverse sexual orientation, gender identity and expression” than it was 10 years ago, according to activist leader Sulique Waqa of the Haus of Khameleon. But, according to Fiji Village, Waqa “says despite constitutional protection for LGBT people, the reality is that they face high levels of violence, stigma, discrimination and even murder.”

Lithuania: Parliamentarians push for ban on legal gender change

This month 31 members of parliament introduced legislation that would ban medical procedures for gender reassignment as well as any legal recognition of gender change or transgender status.  The language used by the parliamentarians echoes anti-transgender language used by religious conservatives who refer to gender reassignment surgery as “mutilation” and insist that a strict biological binary supports the principle of “complementarity” between the sexes.

Estonia: Court overturns ruling that favored lesbian couple

A court decision requiring immigration officials to grant a residence permit to an American woman married in the U.S. to an Estonian woman was overturned by a circuit court. The women say they will appeal to the Supreme Court.

Hong Kong: Pride participants push for nondiscrimination law

Ten thousand people attended the ninth annual Pride Parade. “We hope the new government will stop procrastinating and push for an anti-discrimination ordinance for sexual minorities,” said one organizer.

Cambodia: Report on ‘Rainbow Families’

The Cambodian Center for Human Rights released a report, “Cambodia’s Rainbow Families,” which finds that “although rainbow couples face many legal obstacles, there is growing acceptance in Cambodian society of LGBTIQ couples living together and starting a family.”