Swiss Priest Sacked for Blessing Lesbian Couple; Mormon Equality Advocate Excommunicated; Pope-Backed Anti-Gay Referendum Fails; Global LGBT Recap

The World Press Photo of the Year, announced this week, featured Jon and Alex, a gay couple in St. Petersburg Russia, in a tender moment. The photo was both a reminder of and a sharp contrast to the increasingly harsh treatment of LGBT people in Russia, including the January 23 conviction of Elena Klimova, founder of an online supports group for LGBT youth, under Russia’s anti-gay “propaganda law.”  Also this week, a star of one of Russia’s biggest sitcoms, Odin Biron, took an enormous risk by coming out as gay.

András Simonyi, managing director of the Center for Transatlantic Relations at Johns Hopkins University, and a visiting research fellow, Mihai Pătru, published a commentary at Huffington Post this week arguing that the international LGBT community has a goal but no strategy. One excerpt:

It is useful to take into account the history of other human rights struggles, but this is not enough in today’s international context, overwhelmed by security challenges, pressured by economic worries and with a live streaming existence. The LGBT experience is not the exclusive attribute of the Western world, much less a contemporary reality. Social environments that today are scandalized by the potential presence of LGBT people or even deny their existence, forget the tolerance their ancestors preached centuries ago. Abu Nuwas in the ninth century or Shaikh al-Nafzawi three centuries later depicted in their works the tolerance of the Arab world towards any sexual minorities. The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria recently threw a gay man from a tower to his death.

The Williams’ Institute’s Andrew Park, also writing at Huffington Post, counts eleven ways the global LGBT community has helped the American LGBT movement.

Catholic Church: Swiss priest sacked for blessing lesbian couple; LGBT advocates begin pilgrimage

Wendelin Bucheli, a Swiss priest, was dismissed from his parish post by Bishop Vitus Huonder after Bucheli blessed a lesbian couple in a ceremony that reportedly did “not differ very much from a wedding.”

Huonder’s spokesperson told Swiss newspaper NZZ am Sonntag: “His actions caused a stir across national borders and angered many believers,” and added Bucheli’s actions “removed clarity from the Church’s teaching on marriage and family.”

After the blessing Huonder defended his choice, saying that blessings are given to everything else except gay couples.

He told a Swiss newspaper “Today, animals, cars and even weapons are blessed- why shouldn’t you also bless a couple that wants to walk together with God?”

A group of about 50 Catholic advocates for LGBT equality has begun a pilgrimage to Florence, Assisi, and Rome, which will run through next week. The group, “a mixture of LGBT people, family members, pastoral ministers, and friends,” will meet with two Italian Christian LGBT groups, Kairos and Nuova Proposta, as well as a group of LGBT Catholics from England. The group is hoping that Pope Francis will respond to a request from New Ways Ministry’s Sister Jeannine Gramick that he meet with the piligrims while they are in Rome. The pilgrimage will be chronicled on the New Ways Ministry’s blog.

Pope Francis made news this week by calling couples who choose not to have children “selfish.”

Mormon Church: Pro-LGBT Advocate Excommunicated

John Dehlin, a supporter of marriage equality and the host of the “Mormon Stories” podcast was excommunicated following a disciplinary hearing on Sunday.

The conflict between Dehlin and church leadership has been brewing for some months; Dehlin wrote in July that he thought he was “being considered for disciplinary action” because of his website and podcast, his pro-LGBT values, and his support for female clergy. Last June the church excommunicated Kate Kelly, a human rights lawyer who advocated for women’s ordination.

However, the reasons cited for Dehlin’s expulsion concern some of his theological beliefs, not his values regarding marriage equality and the ordination of women. A letter written by a regional LDS leader named Bryan King, for instance, told Dehlin that he was being excommunicated “because of your categorical statements opposing the doctrines of the church, and their wide dissemination via your Internet presence, which has led others away from the church.”

The Mormon Church released a statement disputing the charge that Dehlin got the boot for disagreeing about the church on matters such as marriage, the Tribune reported.

“Attempts have been made to create the impression that the disciplinary council … which has resulted in a loss of church membership or excommunication of Mr. Dehlin arose largely because of his views on same-sex marriage and priesthood ordination for women. Although his stated positions on those subjects are not consistent with the church’s teachings, they were not cited in the local leader’s letter,” the statement said.

England: Queen reportedly sees marriage equality as ‘wonderful’

Queen Elizabeth II signed the country’s marriage equality law in 2013 but has avoided making public comments on the matter, which is reportedly “in line with Royal Protocol.” But comedian Stephen Fry said in an appearance on The Jonathan Ross Show last Saturday that he had a “well founded” source for a story about Elizabeth:

“It was only last summer that Her Majesty The Queen gave the Royal Assent,” he said.

“When the Queen signed the Royal Assent for the equal marriages act, allowing gay people to marry for the first time, she put it down and said “Well, who’d have thought 62 years ago when I came to the throne, I’d be signing something like this? Isn’t it wonderful?”

Slovakia: Pope-Backed Anti-Gay Referendum Fails on Low Turnout

We reported last week that Pope Francis had given verbal support to proponents of an anti-gay referendum in Slovakia that was held last Saturday. The referendum failed due to low voter turnout, which at 21.4% was well below the 50 percent required to make the referendum binding. More from GLAAD:

To take advantage of the 50% rule was a plan put together by the liberals and LGBT advocates from the beginning. Fearing the possible outcome of the referendum, Slovakian LGBT groups, led by Iniciatíva Inakosť, launched a portal (notgoing) where they encouraged people not to vote at all. Under the tagline “there are no right answers for bad questions”, the group was sharing stories of prominent members of Slovak society condemning the referendum and giving the reasons why they are not going to vote. For example, Tomáš Borec, the Minister of Justice said “I am the father of the family, on Saturday I will attend a family program. This I consider to be my duty.”

Slovakia, as a rather conservative and predominately Roman Catholic country, currently does not recognize same-sex partnerships, and defines marriage exclusively as a union between a man and a woman. The proposal would strengthen the already conservative status quo and make it hard for any progressive legislation in the future.

Slovak people were asked whether they agree with 3 statements. Those are:

  1. No other cohabitation of persons other than a union between one man and one woman can be called marriage.
  2. Same-sex couples or groups shall not be permitted to adopt and subsequently raise children.
  3. Schools shall not require children to participate in education in the area of sexual behavior or euthanasia if their parents or the children themselves do not agree with it.

The fourth question “Decent people have fallen prey to the system as the ÚS (the Slovak constitutional court) has forbidden them to voice their view of what the family is.” was removed by the ÚS (the Slovak constitutional court).

Voters who did turn up overwhelmingly voted “yes” — 95, 92 and 90%, respectively — to the three proposed questions. The leader of the Christian organization Alliance za Rodinu (Alliance for Family), who initiated the referendum by gathering over 400,000 signatures (350,000 is the minimum to initiate the referendum), Anton Chromik, was satisfied with the results. He called the result a good base for the further actions and declared the fight not be over. He is planning to initiate a second referendum with the same goal after the required three year break period runs out.

Italy: High Court says no to marriage equality

In a decision released on Monday, Italy’s highest court ruled that the country’s constitution does not require the government to give same-sex couples the right to marry, but said that gays and lesbians what a right to a “protective” law that would give them the same rights as other unmarried Italian couples. More from the Washington Blade’s Michael Lavers:

Monday’s ruling comes roughly five months after Rome Mayor Ignazio Marino registered 16 same-sex marriages that were legally performed abroad in defiance of Interior Minister Angelino Alfano’s previous pledge to annul them. This action roughly coincided with a meeting of Roman Catholics at the Vatican during which they discussed the family and reiterated their opposition to gay unions….

Prime Minister Matteo Renzi has proposed the legal recognition of civil partnerships, but he does not support the extension of marriage rights for same-sex couples.

Rome, Florence, Naples, Palermo and more than 100 other Italian cities and municipalities have created largely symbolic civil union registries. Tuscany, Puglia and Emilia-Romagna are among the regional governments that have also enacted similar registries.

Latvia: Civil partnership bill may advance this year

Gay Star News reported this week that Latvia “may become the next Eastern European state to formally recognize the relationships of unmarried couples.”

Under Unity Party MP Veiko Spolitis’ proposal, couples entering into civil partnerships would have to be over 18, compared to 16 for married couples, and would be banned from solemnizing their relationships in religious places of worship.

According to Latvian news agency, Spolitis announced on Thursday that he had submitted his bill to the Latvian Parliament’s Legal Committee in the hope that it can be voted on in the Parliament before the end of the year.

However opponents are saying that if the bill is passed it will be the first step towards same-sex couples adopting and marrying in Latvia – though there is nothing about adoption in the proposal.

Recognition of same-sex couples was among the recommendations of the European Humanist Federation to the Latvian Council Presidency.

Ireland: Lesbian senator campaigns for marriage equality

Ireland’s only out lesbian senator, Katherine Zappone, made a video for the Marriage Equality campaign that is promoting a referendum coming in May. According to Pink News, she and her partner married in Canada in 2003 but the High Court in Dublin refused in 2006 to recognize her marriage.

Uganda: Magazine gives LGBTI Ugandans a voice

The Advocate profiles Bombastic, a new magazine “by and for LGBTI Ugandans” and its editor Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera.

Reclaiming messaging from antigay lawmakers — who had promised a new antigay law as a “Christmas gift” to Ugandans after the “Jail the Gays” law was overturned on a technicality in August — Nabagesera and her supporters published their first issue.

“We give you Bombastic Magazine as a gift to you all this Christmas,” Nabagesera said in the press release. “We share our lived realities in the hope that they will inspire many people who have been filled with hate from politicians and religious leaders seeking political power and cheap popularity.”

She and more than 130 volunteers then distributed the magazine across the country and into some unlikely hands, including to Uganda’s Parliament, president, and other politicians, as well as churches and media outlets.

Nabagesera says Bombastic has been a “big hit,” allowing her to attract correspondents in every country across the African continent. She told AFP the magazine’s two phone lines ring off the hook.

But there is still a lot of opposition. Copies in some eastern Ugandan shops have been burned, and distributors in the west have been threatened. Nabagesera says she herself was threatened with legal action after one issue was delivered to a church. And Uganda’s ethics minister warned Nabagesera she is at risk of arrest for “promoting homosexuality.”

Mexico: Marriage equality expands; Spanish couple in legal limbo

The first same-sex wedding in the border state of Sonora is reportedly scheduled for this evening, February 13, but the couple involved is keeping details of the ceremony and its location secret.

El Pais reports that a married gay couple from Spain is reportedly stuck in legal limbo in Mexico, where a woman acting as a surrogate mother gave birth to twins on January 6. The state where the children were born recognizes surrogate births but the federal Secretariat of Foreign Affairs, which is responsible for passports, does not. Surrogacy is illegal in Spain but children born to surrogates in other countries can get Spanish passports if the country confirms a couple’s parenthood.

Nepal: Government committee recommends marriage equality

The Washington Blade reports, “Nepal could become the first Asian country to extend marriage rights to same-sex couples if its government accepts the recommendations of a committee that studied the issue.”

A translated copy of the recommendations the Washington Blade obtained from gay Nepalese Parliamentarian Sunil Babu Pant, who founded the Blue Diamond Society, the country’s only LGBT advocacy group, notes the “positive international trends” towards homosexuality and marriage rights for same-sex couples.

“It is recommended to have equal marriage legal provision for same-sex couples with equal family protection to the couple and children,” reads the 150-page report, according to Pant.

Another recommendation urges Nepalese lawmakers to “make necessary changes” to address discriminatory criminal and civil laws.

“Make the family law inclusive to protect the family members who are sexual and gender minorities as the heterosexual family members are protected,” it reads, according to Pant….

Media reports indicate the committee formally submitted its recommendations to Nepalese Chief Secretary Lila Mani Poudyal in Kathmandu, the country’s capital, on Monday.

Malaysia: Court upholds opposition leader’s sodomy conviction

Malaysia’s high court upheld a conviction and five-year prison sentence against former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim this week, which Anwar described as the “murder of judicial independence.” The Washington Blade reports that Anwar had been acquitted of charges under the anti-sodomy law in 2012 but that prosecutors refiled them almost immediately.

 “I maintain my innocence,” said Anwar, 67, inside the courtroom, according to the Associated Press. “This to me is a fabrication coming from a political conspiracy to stop my political career.”

Rupert Colville, a spokesperson for the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, also criticized the verdict.

“We are disappointed by the Federal Court ruling today to uphold the Appeals Court decision of March 2014 sentencing Mr. Anwar Ibrahim, the opposition leader, to five years in prison on charges of sodomy, a crime that should not exist under international human rights law,” he said in a statement.

China: Alibaba marketing campaign promotes same-sex couples

China’s social media behemoth Alibaba launched a marketing campaign that will send ten same-sex couples to the US and other countries where same-sex couples can be legally married.

Japan: Tokyo district will recognize same-sex partnerships

In Japan, where the constitution defines marriage as “a union based on the mutual consent of parties from both sexes,” the Shibuya district of Tokyo announced that it would issue “partnership certificates” to same-sex couples.