Pope and Russian Orthodox Patriarch Declare Shared View of Marriage & Family; Government & Muslim Officials Ramp Up Anti-LGBT Rhetoric in Indonesia; Australian Religious Leaders Ask Parliament to Act on Marriage Equality; Global LGBT Recap

Pope Francis and Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill met in Cuba last Friday, the first meeting between the heads of the two churches since 1054, and they declared, “we are not competitors, but brothers.” The Washington Blade’s Michael Lavers reports on a joint declaration on marriage they signed.

“The family is based on marriage, an act of freely given and faithful love between a man and a woman,” it reads. “It is love that seals their union and teaches them to accept one another as a gift.”

Francis and Kirill in their declaration describe marriage as “a school of love and faithfulness.”

“We regret that other forms of cohabitation have been placed on the same level as this union, while the concept, consecrated in the biblical tradition, of paternity and maternity as the distinct vocation of man and woman in marriage is being banished from the public conscience,” it reads.

The declaration also describes the family as “the natural center of human life and society.”

“We are concerned about the crisis in the family in many countries,” it reads. “Orthodox and Catholics share the same conception of the family, and are called to witness that it is a path of holiness, testifying to the faithfulness of the spouses in their mutual interaction, to their openness to the procreation and rearing of their children, to solidarity between the generations and to respect for the weakest.”

Italy: Prime Minister Tells Church To Stay Out of Parliament’s Business

Last Friday Prime Minister Matteo Renzi publicly rebuked Catholic Church interference in the debate over civil unions legislation. From Reuters:

Renzi spoke a day after the head of the Italian bishops’ conference, Angelo Bagnasco, urged the upper house Senate to allow secret balloting when it votes on the bill, arguing this would allow lawmakers to follow their conscience….”Parliament decides whether or not to allow secret votes … not the head of the bishops’ conference,” Renzi said during an interview with RAI state radio.

Indonesia: Government officials & Muslim leaders push bans on LGBT media and advocacy

We reported last month that Minister of Research Technology and Higher Education said such LGBT groups should not be allowed on campuses because they damage the country’s morality, part of what some activists called “a new outbreak of state homophobia.” This week the anti-LGBT campaign picked up steam on several fronts. On Monday, the government urged the United Nations Development Program to deny funding to programs regarding LGBT people.

On Wednesday, the Indonesian Ulema Council and other Muslim leaders urged the government “to make gay sex and the promotion of LGBT activities illegal,” reports Associated Press.  “The council’s statement said the clerics and other Muslim leaders supported the government’s rejection of foreign funding of LGBT causes and they called for bans on promoting and funding LGBT activities in Indonesia.”

The government has also moved to ban Tumblr unless it blocks LGBT content, and the Indonesian Broadcasting Commission has released a statement discouraging radio and television broadcasters from running programs with LGBT content, reports the Jakarta Post, “as part of an effort to protect children and teenagers from exposure to their lifestyle.” Last week the government told social media sites to ban gay emojis, with an information ministry spokesman saying, ““No social media may show items that smack of LGBT. Because we have our own rules, like religious values and norms, which they must respect.”

More on the broadcasting ban:

“The P3 [broadcasting code of conduct] and SPS [broadcasting program standards] regulations have made clear the values and norms of decency and courtesy. It is also clear with regard to the banning of programs that encourage children and teenagers to adopt indecent behaviors,” KPI deputy chairman Idy Muzayyad said.

The KPI issued the ban following a closed-door meeting between the agency and the Indonesian Child Protection Commission (KPAI) on the issue of deviant sexual orientation.

KPAI spokesperson Erlinda said Saturday her commission fully backed the KPI’s ban as it was in the best interest of children and teenagers in the country.

KPAI maintained it acknowledged the rights of members of the LGBT community but was concerned with the increasing number of television programs promoting or starring members of the LGBT community, such as the popular transgender actor and comedian Dorce Gamalama.

Erlinda said the commission was concerned that many young boys were starting to cross dress or adopt feminine characteristics because they had been “brainwashed” by these television programs.

“The KPAI has stated clearly we reject any LGBT campaigns or propaganda because it goes against our regulations that promote child protection. The commission demands that the government protect our children from deviant sexual orientation,” she said.

Reuters reports that National Commission on Human Rights commissioner Muhammad Nurkhoiron “has lambasted the KPI’s ban and said the commission should instead encourage programs that could shed light on the LGBT community.”

Australia: Religious leaders call for parliamentary vote, not plebiscite, on marriage

Forty religious leaders, including Catholic, Anglican, Uniting, and Buddhist leaders, urged Prime Minister Malcolm Trumbull not to put marriage equality before the voters in a plebiscite, arguing that it would be unnecessarily divisive. They urged him instead to allow marriage equality to come to a parliamentary vote.

“Polls have demonstrated that opinion on legalising same-sex marriage varies among people of faith. In fact most polls find that a majority favour change,” the letter reads.

“Yet the negative case will be put by religious groups and leaders who claim to speak on behalf of people of faith generally, or religious institutions as a whole.”

The letter from the religious leaders said a plebiscite campaign could harms LGBTI people and religious communities:

“A volatile, public and politically-charged debate could both distance leaders from lay people, marginalise faith communities from broader society and alienate LGBTI individuals within religious communities.”

“After decades of legalised discrimination, and ongoing social stigma, LGBTI Australians will face an angry, drawn-out debate, one likely to multiply existing disadvantages and stigma,” they wrote.

In contrast, the anti-gay Australian Christian Lobby asked that hate speech andanti-discrimination laws be suspended during a plebiscite campaign.

Somalia: Report documents harsh realities for gay people

A report by Benjamin Christman at Northern Ireland’s Law Centre offers a dismal look at the treatment of gay people in Somalia, which argues that gay people should be granted refugee status and not forced to return to the country. The report notes that homosexuality is criminalized in Somalia, and that people found guilty of engaging in consensual same-sex acts have been punished by death. The report notes that the group Al-Shabab enforces a strict interpretation of Shariah Law in the parts of the country under its control – at a judge’s discretion the punishment for homosexuality may be death.

Nigeria: Police arrest participants at same-sex couple’s wedding ceremony

The Daily Trust reported on Wednesday that a male couple’s wedding ceremony was interrupted by police who arrested the couple and other participants. Under Nigeria’s anti-gay law a person who enters into a same-sex marriage or civil union is punishable by 14 years in prison.

Church of England: Bishop says marriage doctrine still under discussion

Archbishop of York John Sentamu wrote in a letter to gay-rights advocate Jayne Ozanne that the church could reconsider its doctrine on marriage, a topic he said is being discussed behind closed doors and that “the outcome of these conversations is not yet known.”

Some have taken the letter to mean the church is reconsidering its traditional teachings, such as marriage only being between a man and a woman and sex before marriage being considered a sin.

In response to a US sister church that was suspended last month due to its stance on equal marriage, Dr Sentamu added he understood there was disagreement in the church on the issue.

“The Christian doctrine of marriage continues to be a subject of discord, but the rejection of homophobic prejudice is undisputed,” he said.

“The Primates were also unanimous in their desire to continue walking together, despite their disagreements.”

Recently, the Archbishop of Canterbury announced plans to try and heal rifts in the church by launching “facilitated conversations”.

In his letter, the Archbishop of York said he hoped these “task groups” would “help to heal the pain and rebuild mutual trust.”

Saudi Arabia: Wedding video sparks social media campaign about killing ‘faggots’

A hashtag spreading across Arabic-language social media translates to “suggest a way to kill the faggots,” report Ezeddin Fadel and Lester Feder at BuzzFeed. The trend was apparently sparked by a video purporting to show a same-sex wedding. This month it was spurred on by a video posted by Saudi YouTube personalities declaring that gays should be “cured” or “impaled” or both.

Turkey: Facebook shuts down lesbian group page for violating ‘community standards’

Facebook has reportedly shut down Turkey’s Lesbian Bisexual Feminists page under the rationale that the content violated “community standards”

The most recent contents shared on the page were an invitation to a conference by [women’s rights organization] Mor Çatı, an article titled “Bras; A Product of Patriarchy” on biliyomuydun.com, and the poster for LezBiFem’s planned party on 13 February. When LezBiFem promoted the party poster through advertisements, Facebook had stated that the image did not fit advertising standards…LezBiFem said, “We are guessing that our page was removed by Facebook after last night’s post on bras did not abide by community morality” and criticized that Facebook continues to censor LGBTIs when it simultaneously runs campaigns like #LoveWins during Pride Week:

“Facebook supposedly creates a free social arena through its Love Wins campaign throughout Pride Week but has now peaked with its anti-woman, heteronormative, and morality-based example”.

LGBTI groups have been censored by the country’s Facebook management before:

Previously during the 2015 Pride Week, the event page “Lesbian Sexual Health: Myths and Truths” was closed due to the community standards reason.

Facebook Turkey’s management had also censored KaosGL.org’s news story titled “Naked against homophobia” in July 2015. The article was removed from shared content for violating community standards.

Facebook’s censorship was not limited to KaosGL.org. Bianet’s news story on Facebook’s censorship of Kaos GL’s article that depicted the Brazilian gay couple who shed their clothes against homophobia was also censored.

Peru: Policy break-up kiss-in protest

Police in Lima turned water cannons on protesters who had gathered in the plaza de Armas for a “kisses against homophobia” demonstration.

Sin Etiquetas, a Lima-based LGBT website, also shared numerous photos of same-sex couples kissing and holding hands in the street before police moved in with armoured trucks.

George Liendo of Promsex, a Peruvian LGBT rights group, said members of his organisation took part in the protest.

“The aggression was excessive towards the young people who gather each year in the main square to kiss against homophobia,” he said.

He added that religious and cultural events regularly take place in the square without incident.

Uganda: Attacks on LGBTs as presidential campaign tactic

Uganda held presidential elections on Thursday; police have reportedly tear-gassed opposition party offices to prevent opposition leaders from holding a press conference contesting the results. Two days before the election, human rights activist Nicholas Opiyo wrote in the New York Times that candidates had been targeting LGBT people in their campaigns:

In Uganda, we hold elections on Feb. 18, and our eight candidates for the presidency are fiercely vying, too. But their ferocity is different; it may put at risk the lives of many Ugandans — our gay, lesbian, bisexual, transsexual and transgender-intersex people.

As the election fervor mounts, so have vitriol and physical attacks against these people — despite our success in August 2014 at overturning Uganda’s most draconian anti-homosexuality law in our Constitutional Court. Unfortunately, the government still makes use of several other legal avenues that allow it to punish and silence people whose sexual identity is out of public favor.

Imagine this scene: Uganda was holding its first-ever televised presidential debate last month (though it was shunned by the incumbent candidate, President Yoweri Museveni). Joseph Mabirizi, a pastor and independent candidate, tried to turn voters away from one rival — a former prime minister — by accusing him of supporting “gays,” toward whom the public is nearly unanimous in its hostility.

Opiyo notes that public opinion surveys show an overwhelming number of Ugandans believe homosexuality is inconsistent with Ugandan culture and religion, and the LGBTI people do not deserve to have their legal and constitutional rights protected.

This harsh climate and these campaign tactics have inspired yet another rise in sentiment against L.G.B.T.I. people and emboldened the government’s resolve to enact laws that outlaw or severely limit organizing by them and other human rights advocates. Formal registration as a group is already forbidden to L.G.B.T.I. organizations.

In this campaign to suffocate the civic space for L.G.B.T.I. groups, the Uganda Registration Bureau explained its refusal to register the leading umbrella group, Sexual Minority Uganda, or SMUG, by declaring that the name itself “offends the law.“ The bureau labeled the group “undesirable,” explaining that the organization advocates for the “rights and well-being of lesbian and gay (sic) among others which persons are engaged in criminal activities” under a British colonial law enacted in 1950.

To silence groups like SMUG, the bureau was granted special powers in 2015 to refuse permits to any organization that works against the “dignity of the people of Uganda.” To make this more punitive, the new law (which awaits the assent of President Museveni to take effect) offers no definition for what is meant by the “dignity of the people of Uganda.” Given the current climate, it will not be enough for the anti-gay campaign to merely silence expression or forbid organizing; we can expect it also to criminalize L.G.B.T.I. people and send them to jail.

Finland: Legislation finalized in preparation for marriage next month

This week the legislature approved changes to the legal code that will allow same-sex couples to convert their registered partnerships to civil marriage beginning in March 2017.

Vietnam: Government works with advocates on pro-LGBT radio show

The Phnom Penh Post reports, “The Ministry of Information says it is working with LGBT rights groups to create a regular radio program that discusses LGBT issues, with the aim of making society more welcoming.”

Minister of Information Khieu Kanharith is cooperating with NGO Cam-ASEAN Youth Future founder Srun Srorn, who will organise the program.

The radio show will discuss human rights and the needs of the LGBT communities, such as the right to get legal recognition for married status.

“LGBTs are also human beings, they are not deputy humans,” said Kanharith. “They are part of society.”

Kanharith on Tuesday organised a meeting with representatives from the Ministries of Health, Education, Interior, and Women’s Affairs.

He told them that it’s important to engage LGBT people because they are marginalised and made to feel unwelcome.