Marriage equality and ‘the end of Catholic Ireland’; Gambian Prez vows to slit gays’ throats; Colombian govt affirms support for marriage and adoption; global LGBT recap

People around the world will celebrate International Day against Homophobia, Biphobia, and Transphobia (#IDAHOT2015) on Sunday, May 17; many lead-up events took place this week. See the video produced by Proud Lebanon. Human rights officials called on governments to repeal anti-LGBT laws, including so-called “propaganda” laws that “arbitrarily restrict rights to freedom of expression and assembly and threaten the work of LGBT organizations and human rights defenders.”

The International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA) released its in-depth 2015 report on state-sponsored homophobia this week, accompanied by a map of world laws.

We see the analysis of the legal situation in countries as one of many layers of analysis. This report provides us with a solid platform from which to understand, discuss, lobby, advocate and analyse further. When we lift that legal layer, we find many brave individuals, organisations operating on shoestring budgets, networks of activists, scholars, policy-makers and other professionals, risking their livelihood (and often their lives) to fight for what is right. We find lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, intersex and queer people manoeuvring through political, social, religious, cultural and linguistic battles to be recognised and respected. These are efforts, initiatives and actions that empower us….

See the report for a comprehensive breakdown of the state of laws regarding LGBT people around the world.

Gambia: President threatens to slit gays’ throats

We have repeatedly reported on viciously anti-gay President Yahya Jammeh and his use of homophobia as a nationalist, anti-European posture. Another example was reported last week by Kayla Ruble at Vice:

The Gambia’s notorious dictator Yahya Jammeh recently intensified his anti-homosexual rhetoric, threatening to slit the throats of gay men living in the small West African nation while seeming to claim that the West could do nothing to stop him, according to a translation provided to VICE News of a speech he made last week on a nationwide agricultural tour.

The 49-year-old president, who has ruled the country since 1994, was speaking during a tour stop last week in the country’s North Bank Region when he delivered his latest inflammatory comments.

“If you do it [in the Gambia] I will slit your throat — if you are a man and want to marry another man in this country and we catch you, no one will ever set eyes on you again, and no white person can do anything about it,” he said in the Wolof language to a crowd in the town of Farafeni as he spoke about fostering a healthy atmosphere for the country’s youth.

Ireland: One week to marriage referendum, polls strong but opposition voice grows

With Ireland’s marriage equality referendum approaching, polls consistently show that the country is set to become the first to approve marriage equality via a national referendum. Musician Bono has endorsed a yes vote, saying that “trying to co-opt the word marriage is like trying to co-opt the word love”. The country’s prime minister Enda Kenny has campaigned for the pro-equality campaign, say he has gay people in his family.

But BuzzFeed’s Lester Feder reports that some activists fear a significant and “silent” no vote, along with a more robust opposition from church leaders, could lead to a last-minute disappointment.

The latest poll shows 78% of voters in favor of passing the amendment on May 22. That is a staggering number, considering that Irish voters only approved divorce in 1995, and with a margin of less than 1%. It also reflects how diminished the power of the Catholic Church has become over the past 20 years, thanks in large part to devastating sexual abuse scandals that have undermined its moral authority. Catholic bishops have come under fire from some conservative laypeople for not doing enough to stop the referendum, while a few priests have even come out in support of it…

Paradoxically, the high poll numbers are making Yes campaigners even more nervous. Irish voters have a history of abandoning proposed constitutional changes in the final days of the campaign. And the shadow of California’s Proposition 8 — when voters rejected marriage equality in the state in 2008 after a win seemed likely — looms large…

Until recently, the leaders of Ireland’s Catholic Church had done little more than pass a formal declaration in December opposing the referendum. The archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin, took a more forceful tone early last week, which he said was in response to criticism from the conservative Catholic press that he “had ‘confused’ the press” with his “attitude to the referendum and had given constant solace to the Yes campaign.” This was followed by a round of statements condemning the referendum from Ireland’s top bishop, Archbishop of Armagh Eamon Martin, and several other senior bishops in their dioceses over the weekend….

The No campaign has mostly been led by a small Catholic think tank, the Iona Institute, and an ad hoc group of conservative newspaper columnists and individuals with little political experience who’ve come together under the name Mothers and Fathers Matter. In addition to organizing the poster campaign, Mothers and Fathers Matter is a clearing house for spokespeople against the referendum for the debates that broadcasters are organizing almost daily.

Marriage equality opponents have adopted Prop 8 proponents’ central fearmongering strategy.  In the words of Thom Senzee at the Advocate, equality opponents are channeling Anita Bryant with ‘save our children’ messaging. More from Feder:

The tactics of the No campaign — which is built around the argument that children will be harmed if same-sex couples are allowed to wed — look disturbingly familiar for American LGBT rights advocates, who are watching the Irish vote carefully. This is exactly the kind of messaging that ate away at support for marriage equality in the Proposition 8 campaign, and they believe it has the fingerprints of the conservative group that pulled off that upset victory, the National Organization for Marriage (NOM).

“When the other side filed [to name their group] as Mothers and Fathers Matter, that was an instant signal to me that their messaging is 100% from the playbook of NOM and the U.S.,” said Thalia Zepatos, director of research and messaging for Freedom to Marry, an organization established in 2003 to counter the wave of ballot measures in U.S. states to ban marriage equality. Like NOM, she said, Mothers and Fathers Matter was using a “drumbeat of fear-based messaging [about children by the No campaign that] brings the numbers lower and lower and lower.”

The Irish campaign “reminds me more of Prop 8 than any other campaign I’ve seen since then,” said Zepatos.

The No side denies that it is borrowing tactics from California, saying it’s learned more from campaigns in eastern European countries like Slovenia in 2012 or Croatia in 2013, where referendums were passed curtailing partnership rights for same-sex couples….

But the No camp has gotten some input from veterans of the California campaign and other marriage fights abroad. Frank Schubert, the conservative political consultant credited with the Proposition 8 victory, told BuzzFeed News before an NOM rally in Washington earlier this month that he has sent private polling, focus-group work, and other messaging guidance to activists on the No side. NOM President Brian Brown also said he had “talked a lot” to Quinn periodically over the past few years, though they hadn’t communicated in over a year.

Irish Central reported on Sunday on a Catholic priest who challenged his bishop’s position:

Last Sunday, the Bishop of Raphoe Philip Boyce issued a pastoral letter at Masses speaking out against the ‘Yes’ campaign. However, Fr Brian Ó Fearraigh, a curate in Gaoth Dobhair, Co Donegal, said he didn’t believe a ‘Yes’ vote would affect families or children, the Irish Independent reports.

In a statement he said: “I’m of the belief that this referendum is purely a civil question and that the State cannot discriminate against its citizens.

“This civil marriage constitutional referendum, in my opinion, is about giving statutory recognition and protection, irrespective of sex, to the relationships of all people who publicly want such recognition by the State, nothing more, nothing less.

“I don’t believe that a ‘Yes’ vote will actively impact children’s well-being.

“What is important – irrespective of the family configuration that children are a part of, and I think we all recognize that there are many different kinds of family formations – is that every child is valued, loved and accepted.”

New Ways Ministry reports on a Sister of Charity Sr. Stanislaus Kennedy and a theologian Fr. Gabriel Daly who have both publicly endorsed the marriage equality referendum. Sr. Kennedy, speaking at a conference, said:

“I have thought a lot about this…I am going to vote Yes in recognition of the gay community as full members of society. They should have an entitlement to marry. It is a civil right and a human right…

“I have a big commitment to equality for all members of society. It’s what my life has been about. We have discriminated against members of the gay and lesbian community for too long. This is a way of embracing them as full members of society.”

From Fr. Day’s article in Doctrine and Life, a Dominican publication:

“Marriage as a sacrament is the proper concern of the church. If the Yes vote succeeds in Ireland, it will be for the church to decide whether to co-operate or not…[I am] unimpressed by the claim that allowing gay men and lesbian women to marry members of their own sex necessarily has an effect on the Christian idea of marriage…Christians are perfectly free to carry on without any threat to their customary understanding of marriage.”

Mary Kenny writes in the Guardian on the “end of Catholic Ireland.”

Among Dublin’s smart set it seemed the kiss of social death to admit to being a practising Catholic [in the wake of the pedophilia scandals]: it’s even vaguely unfashionable to be married, especially only once. Nonetheless, in the 2011 census, it emerged that 84% of the people of the Irish Republic described themselves as “Roman Catholic”. The number of atheists and agnostics and diverse other faiths was up too, but Roman Catholics remained the majority.

However, it is evident, especially in Dublin, that nominal inscription to a religion is one thing, while actual practice is another. Red C’s survey only confirms what is obvious anecdotally: that a substantial number of Irish people have ditched the religion of their ancestors because they think it no longer applies in an age of scientific rationality; because they rebuff “control” by ecclesiastics; because they are disgusted by the clerical scandals – indeed, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin is himself disgusted by what he has had to read in the archives; or because sex, drugs and accumulating electronic gadgets are more “relevant” to modern life than “God and Mary, His Mother”, as the traditional greeting in the Irish language puts it.

And yes, the forename of “Mary”, once so common that half the class at my convent school bore it, is now a highly unusual moniker among younger generations.

Yet I would distinguish between “religion” and “faith” in the Irish context. If the traditional structures of “religion” are weaker, there remains a strong deposit of “faith” among the people. Country pilgrimages still thrive. When there is a local tragedy – fishermen drowned at sea, teenagers killed in a bad road collision – the parish priest still speaks for the people, and organises the rites of passage. And solace.

I was in a church in a small Co Leitrim townland of 900 people not long ago when the priest thanked parishioners for helping out flood victims in Pakistan – they had put over €3,000 on the plate for the poor in Pakistan. If the structures of religion are weaker, some of the kind impulses of faith are still there.

Colombia: Government affirms support for marriage equality, adoption rights

This week the Minister of the Interior affirmed the government’s support for marriage equality and adoption rights.

“We will not submit rights issues to the will of the majority. Respect for rights is not optional,” said Interior Minister Juan Fernando Cristo, saying that the Government will take the regulations and administrative measures in its orbit competition, “to realize the rights of LGBTI people.”

He also reiterated that the government will work to “bring its reasoned argument under the law before the high courts in the most important to influence the formation of constitutional law cases.”

It also said it is aware that Colombians, according to polls, are against equal marriage, however, “the government believes in equality for all” and therefore assume “the fight on a stage that is not easy” through pedagogy and concrete actions such as the inclusion of an article in the National Development Plan for the benefit of the LGBTI population.

Also this week, Evan Wolfson of the US-based Freedom to Marry addressed an Equality Forum sponsored by Colombia Diversa at Universidad de los Andes.

Kenya: Newspaper criticized for naming ‘top gays’

In a move reminiscent of Ugandan tabloids, the Nairobi newspaper Weekly Citizen published a front-page story featuring the names and photographs of “top gays.”

Some activists believe the list’s publication is part of a backlash against two recent victories by the LGBT community in Kenya, including successfully securing an apology from the country’s vice president for insinuating that there was no place for homosexuals in Kenyan society.

The other victory was a court ruling that overturned a bureaucratic decision to block Kenya’s National Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission from operating as an officially recognized nongovernmental organization, on the grounds that Kenyan law “criminalizes gay and lesbian liaisons.”

As the Advocate reports, the move drew criticism from others.

“The article was clearly written to instigate violence towards the LGBT community and activists in particular, but that won’t stop us from fighting for our rights. We shall not be cowed or intimidated,” George Barasa, a Kenyan gay rights activist told Uganda’s Kuchu Times, a news outlet run by LGBT activists in east Africa….

Indeed, Kuchu Times reflected on the hostile environment LGBT Africans face in the media, lamenting that “Such incidences where the media has incited violence to the point of death should serve as a lesson not to put other people’s lives in danger, but not in Africa.”

Critics included many of the paper’s own readers:

Comments on the newspaper’s website were overwhelmingly supportive of the gay and lesbian people outed by the publication, including words of encouragement directed at the activists listed who ventured into the Citizen‘s comment board. In fact, at press time, there was not a single comment supporting the list on the first page of comments at the paper’s own site.

Cuba: Pride celebration includes symbolic mass wedding

Mariela Castro, daughter of President Raul Castro, sponsored a gay pride march in Havana last weekend that included a symbolic wedding ceremony for gay couples; Cuban law does not permit marriage by same-sex couples. Among those providing blessings were clergy from the US and Canada.

Hong Kong: British woman asks for spousal immigration status

In what the BBC’s Juliana Liu calls a “landmark trial,” a British woman challenged discriminatory treatment by the Immigration Department. She and her partner entered a civil partnership in the UK when they moved to Hong Kong in 2011, following her partner’s job. But she was denied a dependant visa, normally granted to spouses of expats working in Hong Kong. But government officials have refused to recognize the UK partnership.

United Kingdom: World’s ‘gayest’ legislature?

The biggest news from the UK’s parliamentary elections was the surprising size of the Conservative Party’s victory. Less noticed  was the fact that nearly five percent of Members of Parliament in the House of Commons are openly gay or bisexual MPs, nearly five percent, leading ome to declare it the “gayest” legislature in the world. In related news, Prime Minister David Cameron promoted the first out lesbian MP to a Conservative Government as an Assistant Government Whip.