Russian Orthodox Patriarch Blames Gays For ISIS; ‘Christian Nationalist’ Sworn In As Guatemala’s President; Vatican Resists Civil Unions in Italy; Global LGBT Recap

US Vice President Joe Biden addressed a group of business leaders gathered in Davos, Switzerland for the World Economic Forum and urged them to do more to advance LGBT equality, saying there is never a cultural justification for human rights violations:

“LGBT people face violence, harassment, unequal treatment, mistreatment by cops, denial of health care, isolation — always in the name of culture,” said Biden as the Huffington Post reported. “I’ve had it up to here with culture. I really mean it.” …

A video of the Biden’s remarks the Huffington Post posted online shows the vice president striking the table with his palms as he spoke during the roundtable.

“Culture never justifies rank, raw, discrimination or violation of human rights,” said Biden. “There is no cultural justification. None. None. None.”

Biden also noted consensual same-sex sexual acts remain criminalized in more than 70 countries.

“I have had some run ins with at least four heads of state already on this, making it absolutely clear to their countries where we were and what we expected of them,” said Biden.

Russia: Orthodox Patriarch Blames Acceptance of Gays for ISIS

Patriarch Kirill, head of the Russian Orthodox Church, said that the increased acceptance of homosexuality was partially to blame for the rise of ISIS, writes John Hall at the Independent.

Patriarch Kirill claimed he was not surprised that some Muslims are flocking to Isis’ quasi-religious state as a way of escaping the “godless civilization” that celebrates events such as Gay Pride.

In an interview published on the Church’s official website, Kirill said: “[Isis] is creating a civilization that is new by comparison to the established one that is godless, secular and even radical in its secularism.”

“We can have parades for the sexual minorities – that is supported – but a million French Christian protestors defending family values are broken up by police,” he added.

Kirill said because the “godless civilization is reaching maturity”, it should come as no surprise that those who are opposed to liberal, secular ideas end up joining terror organisations.

The Patriarch said that given the advance of “godless civilization,” it is  understandable why “honest” Muslims would join ISIS on “truly religious grounds.”

Hall reports that Kirill has previously called the rise of gay rights as a sign of the Apocalypse:

“This is a very dangerous apocalyptic symptom, and we must do everything in our powers to ensure that sin is never sanctioned in Russia by state law, because that would mean that the nation has embarked on a path of self-destruction,” Christian Post quoted him as saying.

Legal harassment of LGBT advocates continues, with a court in Murmansk fining an activist under the country’s anti-gay propaganda law for a statement by his former organization about official moves against another gay rights group. His organization was shut down in October after the Justice Ministry classified it as a foreign agent.

Guatemala: Anti-Equality ‘Christian Nationalist’ Sworn In As President; Lesbian Joins Congress

Sandra Morán, a lesbian and the first openly LGBT person elected to Congress, was sworn in last week, reports the Washington Blade. Morán is a prominent feminist and advocate for indigenous people.

On the same day, President Jimmy Morales, a comedian who ran as a “common man” candidate against official corruption, was also sworn in:

Guatemalan voters last October elected the former comedian with no previous political experience in the wake of a corruption scandal that forced then-President Otto Pérez Molina from office.

Morales, an evangelical Christian, opposes marriage rights for same-sex couples. He has also indicated his opposition to abortion in the Central American country.

“We say that he unfortunately represents a popular exclusion,” Morán told the Blade.. “He is racist, is sexist, is homophobic.”

Back in October, Cedar Attanasio at Latin Times described Morales as a self-styled “Christian Nationalist.”

Morales an outspoken Evangelical Christian in a country where Catholicism has been backsliding for decades. That may have bolstered his outsider image even further; the former Catholic President, Otto Perez Molina, is behind bars on corruption charges.

On the campaign trail, Morales described himself in interviews as a “Christian Nationalist,” though he downplayed the associations that term has with Hitler’s Third Reich, and arguing that religion and patriotism are the only things that bind Guatemala’s geographically and ethnically diverse population.

Opponents pointed to that label along with the conservative former military commanders that fuel his political base. Those former soldiers participated on the government side of a brutal civil war that led to widespread human rights abuses, and mass killings that Morales has said cannot be considered genocide.

Vatican: Catholic Officials Fight Civil Unions in Italy; Pope Fighting Curia’s ‘Gay Lobby’?

On Friday, Pope Francis declared that “there can be no confusion between the family as willed by God, and every other type of union.” Meanwhile, in Italy, the last country in Western Europe that does not legally recognize same-sex couples, the parliament is preparing to debate civil unions legislation. AFP reported that this week that the legislative battle “has opened with a group of Catholic senators proposing prison terms for couples who use overseas surrogate mothers to have a child.”

In a move branded “indecent” by Italy’s biggest gay rights group, Catholic senators from Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s Democratic Party have tabled an amendment to draft legislation legalising same sex unions which would require gay couples to prove they had not used a surrogate.

If they cannot, the partner who is not the biological father would not be allowed to adopt the child and a judge would be entitled to have the child placed in care and put up for adoption.

At the Times, Tom Kington writes that Prime Minister Matteo Renzi is up against the Catholic Church in the civil union fight, calling the church a “far more resilient group” than the “business lobbyists and hardline unionists” Renzi has taken on in previous battles. Kington reports that the president of the Italian bishops’ conference Archbishop Angelio Bagnasco, “has given his blessing to a demonstration in Roe on January 30 promoting the supremacy of heterosexual family life and backing Catholic MPs within Renzi’s own party who plan to sabotage a gay unions bill on which the prime minister is staking his credibility.”

The Catholic News Agency reported last week that Honduran Cardinal Oscar Maradiaga “has acknowledged the presence of a ‘gay lobby’ in the Vatican” and that “Pope Francis has adopted a gradual approach to address it.”

The Honduran newspaper El Heraldo asked the cardinal whether there actually was an attempted or successful “infiltration of the gay community in the Vatican.”

Cardinal Maradiaga responded: “Not only that, also the Pope said: there was even a ‘lobby’ in this sense.”

“Little by little the Pope is trying to purify it,” he continued. “One can understand them, and there is pastoral legislation to attend to them, but what is wrong cannot be truth.”

At the National Catholic Reporter, Jamie Manson writes that “LGBTQ people need justice, not mercy, from Pope Francis.”

It’s been nearly two and a half years since Pope Francis uttered his now-legendary “Who am I to judge?” statement while aboard the papal plane.

Since that fateful in-flight press conference, I have been told countless times (often by well-meaning, heterosexual Catholics) that I should find hope and comfort in the pope because he has opened up the doors to mercy for me and my lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer friends.

But mercy, it seems to me, is not the door that LGBTQ people need opened to them. Mercy is an act of love, compassion or service given to those who sin or are afflicted in some way. LGBTQ people, same-sex relationships, and transgender persons are not sins or afflictions.

Some Catholics have tried to convince me that the doors of mercy have a connecting corridor to the doors of justice. “A change in tone can eventually effect a change in teaching,” I’ve heard more than once (usually from folks with a much more privileged place in the church than my out LGBTQ friends and I have).

But Pope Francis’ refusal to speak out against draconian anti-homosexuality laws during his recent trip to three African nations, his continued condemnations of same-sex marriage laws, his ongoing glorification of heterosexual marriage (“God’s masterwork,” as he calls it), and the ceaseless firings of LGBTQ employees of Catholic institutions leave me unconvinced that doors of mercy and justice are somehow adjoined.

Canada: Catholic Bishops Resist Trans-Friendly School Guidelines

Catholic Bishops resist new school policies. The conservative Church Militant reviews a rhetorical battle being waged by a couple of bishops against new education guidelines on gender identity in the province of Alberta. The new guidelines say school boards have until March 31 to come up with policies that support, among other things, students’ right to self-identify their gender and be addressed using their preferred pronouns.

The Alberta Catholic School Trustees’ Association released a statement this week reaffirming “that all Catholic schools in Alberta have been and will continue to be inclusive, welcome, safe and caring environments,” and praising anti-bullying policies, but also reaffirming “the responsibility and the role of the Alberta Catholic Bishops to provide moral and theological leadership to the Catholic community including Catholic education communities.” Calgary Bishop Frederick Henry made his opinion about new education policies clear in a pastoral letter last week titled “Totalitarianism in Alberta.”

Two forms of deception impede the realization of any plan as a nation, i.e., the madness of relativism and the madness of power as a monolithic ideology.

“Relativism, under the guise of respect for differences, is homogenized into transgression and demagoguery; it allows anything, because it wishes to avoid being burdened by all the inconveniences required of a mature courage to uphold values and principles. Relativism, is curiously, absolutist and totalitarian. Relativism does not allow for any differing opinion. In no way does it differ from an attitude of “shut up” or “don’t get involved.”‘

Power as a monolithic ideology is another lie which accentuates narrow-mindedness and seeks dominance over others. Consequently, social trust, the root and fruit of love is eroded.

Henry complained that new guidelines issued on January 13 “breathe pure secularism.”

This approach and directive smack of the madness of relativism and the forceful imposition of a particular narrow-minded anti-Catholic ideology. Such a totalitarian approach is not in accordance with the Supreme Court of Canda opinion (Loyola) deliverd on March 19, 2015 and must be rejected….

After reviewing Catholic Church teachings on sexuality and chastity, Henry writes (citations removed):

GSAs and QSAs are highly politicized ideological clubs which seek to cure society of “homophobia” and “heterosexism,” and which accept the idea that all forms of consensual sexual expression are legitimate. The view of sexuality that they espouse is not Catholic.

The Supreme Court held that “to tell a Catholic school how to explain its faith undermines the liberty of the members of its community who have chosen to give effect to the collective dimension of their religious beliefs by participating in a denominational school”, “ìt amounts to requiring a Catholic institution to speak about Catholicism in terms defined by the state rather than by its own understanding of Catholicism”, and “ìt also interferes with the rights of parents to transmit the Catholic faith to their children” and the “rights of parents to guide their children’s religious upbringing”.

Two other bishops have joined Henry’s resistance to the new guidelines, one of them writing, “”The Church believes that one’s physiological gender is not arbitrary, but determines the identity that we grow into. This process of growth in identity must be respected.”

Australia: Bishop OKs Same-Sex Dance Date At Catholic Schools 

Melbourne Archbishop Denis Hart told Catholic high schools in Victoria that they should “be sensitive and respectful to students who wanted to invite a same-sex date to the biggest night of the year,” according to Marika Dobbin at The Age.

“Students in a secondary school are growing up and in developmental stages where relationships are more like strong friendships and are not usually permanent, they are not in a situation where they are committing,” Archbishop Hart said in a statement to Fairfax Media.

“The Catholic Church respects any relationship but always sticks quite firmly with its teaching that a relationship in the eyes of the church is heterosexual, between a male and female, and that is something we would always stand by.”

Archbishop Hart was criticised last year for allegedly burying Jesuit Social Services’s Not So Straight report, which had found widespread bullying and homophobic abuse of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students in Catholic schools, leading to high-levels of self harm, and even suicide.

In another story, a gay British man whose husband was killed in a fall on their honeymoon in South Australia called on the British government for help after South Australian authorities insisted on listing his late husband’s marital status as “never married” on the death certificate. In addition, the surviving husband was given no say in next-of-kin decisions. Following the furor, South Australian premier Jay Weatherill said he would introduce legislation recognizing same-sex couples’ overseas marriages.

Seventh-day Adventist Church Grapples With Trans Issues

In Spectrum this week, Jared Wright reviews conversations about transgender people that took place within the Seventh-day Adventist Church during the past year.

Within the last year, the Seventh-day Adventist Church has had its own awakening concerning transgender people. From late 2014 to late 2015, trans people became not only a topic of serious discussion within the denomination, but also the subject of multiple position statements, a film project, several articles—even a talking point for the first Seventh-day Adventist candidate for President of the United States. For the first time, transgender people showed up on Adventist radar in a significant way.

The Ethics Committee of the Biblical Research Institute released a statement on “transgenderism” in late 2014, which said that “from a biblical perspective the human being is a psychosomatic unity. This means that sexual identity cannot be entirely independent from one’s body as is frequently asserted.” A 2015 statement by the Theological Seminary at Andrews University issued a statement that dealt exclusively with homosexuality.

On November 2, 2015, the North American Division of Seventh-day Adventists approved a statement on human sexuality that, like the BRI’s statement, essentially professed agnosticism concerning transgender people. The NAD statement said, “While the Seventh-day Adventist Church has formulated teachings on gender and sexuality that may have a bearing on issues related to transgenderism, the Church has not yet articulated an official position applying these teachings to the issue. The complex nature of transgenderism calls for further discussion before recommendations can be made for the Church.”

A conservative Adventist website has decried as an “abomination” the appearance of a gay men’s chorus at a Sabbath worship at an SDA Church in Palm Springs, California.

Islam: Between Me and Allah Project Highlights Queer Muslims

At Quartz, Loubna Mrie interviews Samra Habib, a queer Pakistani Muslim and creator of the “Between Me and Allah” Tumblr project, which explores “how queer Muslims of all ages have learned to reconcile faith with love.” Quartz reprints photos and interview excerpts from seven queer Muslims whose families come from around the world.

Bolivia: Bishops Oppose Trans ID Law As ‘Gender Ideology’

Last week, pro-LGBT Catholic New Ways Ministry criticized last month’s attack by bishops in Bolivia on a legal change meant to allow transgender people to change their gender on official ID. Bishop Aurelio Pesoa, head of the Bolivian Episcopal Conference, held a press conference just before Christmas, in which he denounced the legislation as an example of “gender ideology.”

“That bill is inspired by a gender ideology that has been pushed by an international lobby and aims to subvert one of the foundations of our human lifestyle by denying the fundamental truth of masculine and feminine genders. Living as male or female would no longer be a biological truth but the result of a simple personal choice. That ideology is totally alien to the indigenous cultures of our country. As a result, this initiative is a clear attempt of cultural colonization.”

In a New Year’s Day op ed in La Razón, author Juan Carlos Zambrana Marchetti blamed the slow process of change on LGBT issues on “the continuing power of the Catholic Church to invervene in politics to hold back the changes.”

According to a press release of the Bolivian Episcopal Conference, the proposed Law of Identity of Gender would seek to “subvert one of the foundations of our human coexistence, denying the basic and fundamental truth of what is masculine or feminine. To live ‘as a man’ or ‘as a woman’ would no longer be a biological reality, but the result of a simple personal choice.” The communiqué seeks to confuse public opinion by suggesting that the Church respects “biological reality,” which is false. The Church has never recognized the genetic component that legitimates homosexuality and trans-sexuality (identification with the opposite sex) as being natural. Much to the contrary, it de-legitimates them, reducing them to a “personal choice”, immoral and abominable. If it is considered that, in reality, it is very hard for the Church to commit that error out of ignorance, what is more probable is that it does so deliberately in order to impose its conservatism, even at the cost of continuing to make it hard for human beings to understand their own nature.

Attempt to colonize: The Bolivian Episcopal Conference also declared that the above-mentioned bill, now being debated within the Plurinational Assembly, is an attempt to achieve “cultural colonization” because it is alien to the indigenous cultures of Bolivia. The truth is that, historically, there was nothing more alien to the indigenous cultures of Bolivia than the Christianity of cross and sword, which bloodily imposed itself as the instrument of the imperialist oligarchies, in order to adjudicate to the Christian God the veneration of the rich and the subjection of the poor. The Church –having been the alienating instrument of colonization to subject the indigenous peoples through the fear of that God, in imposing the humility that took away not only their spirit of liberty and rebelliousness, but also their most basic mechanism of reaction and defense– now brazenly suggests that it defends the indigenous cultures.

Lebanon: Court Allows Trans Man to Legally Change Gender

In a decision released last week, an appeals court judge in Beiruit ruled that a transgender man can legally change his gender.

Iran: Activists Say Govt Evades Questions About LGBT Human Rights

The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child questioned the Iranian government about the human rights of LGBTI children and about coercive practices children are subjected to in order to “cure” their “illness.” LGBT advocacy organization 6rang reported, “The Iranian delegates evaded many questions during the two day sessions by delay, denial and even at times mischaracterization of Iranian law.”

In two previous reports to the committee, 6Rang had explicitly addressed the situation of the LGBTI children in Iran. 6Rang’s report contained specific details about unnecessary hormone therapy, electroshocks and sexual reassignment surgeries.  The report had also denoted the lack of knowledge and lack of access to scientific information for the LGBTI children in Iran.

“Although the committee members asked about LGBTI children on multiple occasions, the Iranian state decided to demonstrate their indifference by remaining silent on this issue.” Shadi Amin added.

The committee also expressed serious concern regarding discrimination against adolescent girls, ethnic and religious minorities, street children, hijab, early and forced marriage and other forms of discrimination.

Greenland: Same-Sex Couples Can Marry on April 1

The final legislative hurdles to marriage equality legislation were cleared this week and same-sex couples will be able to marry on April 1, reports The Perchy Bird.