Trans Protections in India and Malta; Death-by-Stoning Law in Brunei; Church-State Divides on Marriage

Canada: Peter LaBarbera Making the Most of His ‘Persecution’

American anti-gay activist Peter LaBarbera was briefly denied entry into Canada last week based on the country’s laws against “hate propaganda.” LaBarbera was invited to speak by a “pro-life” group in Saskatchewan and his planned appearance had drawn local protest. LaBarbera was allowed into the country to address the conservative organization that invited him, but LaBarbera seemed to be itching for a chance to play the martyr. When he refused to stop distributing materials at the University of Regina after he had been denied a permit to do so, he was arrested on “mischief” charges.  Of course he is portraying his night in jail as persecution for his beliefs. And other religious conservatives are calling him a hero.

India: Court Recognizes ‘Third Gender’ Trans People; Improves Odds of Reversing Sodomy Ruling

This week the Indian Supreme Court recognized transgender people as a “third gender.” Michael Lavers reports in the Washington Blade:

The decision includes hijras and eunuchs – those who do not identify as either male or female – in the definition of transgender.

These groups feature prominently in Hindu mythology and religious texts.

“Discrimination faced by this group in our society is rather unimaginable and their rights have to be protected, irrespective of chromosomal sex, genitals, assigned birth sex or implied gender role,” writes Justice K.S. Radhakrishnan in the ruling. “Rights of transgenders, pure and simple, like hijras, eunuchs, etc., have also to be examined, so also their right to remain as a third gender as well as their physical and psychological integrity.”

Lavers quotes Indian activist Sapnda Pandya praising the court rulings language that “all people have a right to choose their gender.” The Court also said in its ruling, “The spirit of the constitution is to equal opportunity to every citizen to grow and attain their potential, irrespective of caste, religion or gender.”

In December, the Indian Supreme Court reinstated a colonial-era anti-sodomy law, recriminalizing same-sex relations. Buzzfeed’s Lester Feder writes that this week’s “third gender” ruling could make it easier for the Supreme Court to overturn December’s ruling:

For the past 12 years, the Indian LGBTI rights movement had pinned its hope to a challenge to the country’s colonial-era sodomy law, known as Section 377. In December, a two-judge panel of the Supreme Court dealt the effort a crushing defeat, overturning a ruling by the Delhi High Court that had found broad protections for LGBTI rights under the country’s constitution.

Tuesday’s decision, though, could flip the dynamic for lawyers trying to get the Supreme Court to reconsider the ruling in a petition now under consideration. Before Tuesday’s ruling, the Supreme Court basically would have to say that two of its judges committed a gross miscarriage of justice in order to overturn the sodomy law ruling, with very little foundation in Supreme Court jurisprudence. But with the new ruling on the table — which directly contradicted the sodomy ruling on several key points— it is instead being asked to reconcile two wildly divergent opinions of its own justices.

 HRC called the decision a “landmark ruling” and noted:

Part of the judgment also notes that India should “Repeal all laws that criminalize consensual sexual activity among persons of the same sex who are over the age of consent, and ensure that an equal age of consent applies to both same-sex and different-sex sexual activity,” which could be the lead in to overturn Section 377 of the Indian Penal code that still criminalizes consensual same-sex conduct, a remnant from an 1860 British Colonial Era law that exists in many constitutions across the Commonwealth countries even today.

Malta: Civil Union & Adoption Law, Trans Protections in Constitution 

This week the parliament of Malta passed, and President Marie Louise Coleiro Preca signed into law, a civil unions bill under which same-sex couples married in another country will be recognized as a civil partnership. Under the legislation, same-sex couples will also be allowed to adopt children. Malta also became the first country in Europe to add protections against discrimination based on gender identity into its constitution. The government’s moves in one of the most Catholic countries in the world came over the objections of the Catholic Church, which is the state church of Malta: in December, Bishop Charles Sciciuna said that Pope Francis was “shocked” by plans; the bishop used his Christmas sermon to say God’s son was raised by a man and a woman, not two men or women. Malta was the last country in Europe to make divorce legal, which it did by referendum in 2011.

Brunei: New Law Allows Death by Stoning for Homosexuality, Other Offenses

Next week a new law goes into effect in Brunei which will allow gay people and others to be stoned to death. The maximum penalty for homosexuality had been a 10-year prison sentence.

“Rape, adultery, sodomy, extramarital sexual relations for Muslims, insulting any verses of the Quran and Hadith, blasphemy, declaring oneself a prophet or non-Muslim, and murder are the other offences for which the death penalty could be applied under the revised code, which is due to come into force on 22 April,” the International Law Professor Blog reports.

The new penal code has been condemned by the United Nations.

England: Priest Defies Church Ban to Marry His Partner; University Bans Anti-Gay Muslim Speakers

Last week Rev. Jeremy Pemberton, a priest with the Church of England, married his partner Laurence Cunnington in defiance of church rules forbidding clergy from even blessing same-sex unions.  The head of the conservative group Christian Concern, Andrea Williams, called it “extraordinarily disappointing” that a clergyman “would defy the Church’s teaching, but more importantly defy God’s teaching as clearly set out in the Bible.” As Michael O’Loughlin reports in the Advocate, conservatives in the church predict a crisis if Pemberton is not punished:

But Rev. Rod Thomas, a conservative member of the General Synod, told The Telegraph that without consequences for Pemberton, the Church of England could face a “crisis.”

“If there is not clear discipline then it is the equivalent to saying ‘we really didn’t mean what we said.’ It will precipitate a crisis,” he said.

As we reported last week, Archbishop Justin Welby said recently that if the Church of England were to recognize same-sex marriages it would contribute to the killing of Christians in Africa.

Also in England, the University of East London announced that Murtaza Khan and Uthman Lateef, who were scheduled to speak at the university’s Islamic Society’s annual dinner, were barred from speaking after a student group raised concerns about the men’s anti-gay rhetoric. University officials have said the Islamic Society will not be permitted to use university facilities or premises for the event. According to Pink News, “Khan has suggested that the Bible recommends Christians throw gay people from the tops of mountains” and is “incensed at the idea of gay Muslims.” Lateef, according to Pink News, has said, “We don’t accept homosexuality…we hate it because Allah hates it.”

Scotland: Congregations Leaving Church of Scotland Over Moves Toward Gay Inclusion

The Church of Scotland voted last May to allow gay men and women to be ordained; legislation will be drafted this year and go to regional presbyteries before returning for final approval in 2015. But according to Pink News, some churches are quitting the denomination before next month’s General Assembly meeting. Two Edinburgh congregations that together contribute £315,000 to the Church of Scotland are among those who are leaving.

Italy: Court Orders City to Register Gay Couple’s Marriage; Church Objects

Last week the Court of Grosseto ordered city registrars to register the marriage of a gay couple who were married in New York in 2012, saying there is no reference to gender in the city council registry of married couples. The president of the Italian Bishops Conference, Angelo Bagnasco, condemned the ruling, which he said was likely to “sweep away the fundamental pillars of the institution of marriage.”

Ethiopia: Anti-Gay Legislation and Planned Rally Reportedly Dropped

We have previously reported on plans by religious organizations and some government officials to team up for an anti-gay rally this month. But Associated Press reports from Addis Ababa this week that plans for the anti-gay rally and legislative efforts to make homosexuality a non-pardonable crime have been dropped.  AP quotes rally organizer Dereje Negash, chairman of a group affiliated with the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, saying he will continue his struggle against the gay community in spite of threats he says he has received. “I believe I have been given a task by God to do this. I will do this even if it means life or death.” Homosexual activity is already punishable by up to 15 years in Ethiopia; Dereje wants to make punishments for gay sex more severe.  

Jamaica: Prime Minister Backs Off Pledge to Introduce Repeal of Sodomy Law

Jamaican activists are criticizing statements this month by Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller backing away from her 2011 campaign pledge to bring a vote to repeal the country’s colonial-era anti-sodomy law to Parliament. Her government had also pledged a vote would take place before the parliamentary year ended in March.  As we reported in January, American religious conservatives like Peter LaBarbera and Brian Camenker attended a conference in Jamaica at the end of last year to rally opposition to changes in the “buggery law.”

Hungary: Neo-Nazi Jobbik Party Gains in Parliament

The  Jobbik Party won more than 20 percent of the vote in Hugary’s April 6 parliamentary elections. The Jobbiks, which operate a paramilitary army, denounce gays,Roma, Jews, immigrants, and the EU. Jobbik’s facebook page describes it as “a principled, conservative and radically patriotic Christian party,” but others consider Jobbik a neo-Nazi organization.  Jobbik leader Gabor Vona has praised Russia’s anti-gay laws and said Russia and Turkey could provide “political, economic and cultural resistance against the Euro-Atlantic block.” Jobbik has praised Russia’s annexation of Crimea and has called for a national referendum on EU membership. The Guardian reports that University of Georgia professor Cas Mudde “said Jobbik had achieved the strongest showing in the past few years for any far-right party in the EU…”

Estonia: Legislation to Regulate Unmarried Couples of Any Gender Introduced

Parliamentarians introduced legislation this week to regulate financial, inheritance, care, and visitation rights for unmarried cohabiting couples. The bill would apply to all couples regardless of sex, causing some “anxiety” in parliament, but the bill would not permit same-sex couples to be married. Rait Maruste of the Reform Party, who heads the constitutional committee, said:

“You will not lose anything, nothing will be taken from you,” he assured. “The area of regulation of cohabitation goes beyond solving the problems of gays and lesbians. Even if we were to reduce the issue to that alone, which I think would be wrong, then people should understand that gays and lesbians were not transported to us from outer space, they are the children of our heterosexual parents.”

Another supporter, Scoail Democrat Jaak Allik, said, ““I think the obligation of the state is to help its citizens to be free and happy, unless their happiness disturbs others. I see no reason why their happiness would disturb others, therefore I support this bill.”

Norway: Prime Minister Personally Backs Church Weddings, Affirms Church Authority

We reported last week that the Church of Norway had affirmed its opposition to same-sex marriage. This week the country’s Prime Minister, Erna Solberg, said she personally believes that gay couples should be allowed to get married in the church. “This is the way I, as a church member, want the church to go.” But, she said, “We have separated the church and the state, and so I have to respect that it is the church who makes these decisions.”

Chile: Pastor Says Wildfire God’s Punishment for Civil Unions Bill

Pastor Javier Soto said this week that a forest fire that ravaged the city of Valparaíso was God’s punishment for a civil unions bill being considered in the legislature. President Michelle Bachelet supports the civil unions bill.

Australia: Church Camp Loses Appeal Over Anti-Gay Discrimination

A Christian organization that runs youth camps in Australia this week lost an appeal of an earlier court ruling that it had committed discrimination when it refused in 2007 to rent its facilities to WayOut, a suicide prevention program that works with LGBT youth. The camp organization refused the booking because it said WayOut promotes homosexual activity, which counters its understanding of the Bible. The appeals  court upheld a 2010 finding of discrimination from the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal. According to Australia’s ABC, “The Court of Appeals has found there was no legal error in the tribunal’s decision and exemptions to preserve religious freedoms to not apply in this case.”

Turkey: Pro-LGBT Mayors Elected; Govt Plans Separate LGBT Prisons

The Hurriyet Daily News reported earlier this month that four mayoral candidates who signed the LGBT Friendly Municipality Protocol were elected in March 30 local elections. The report says that 40 candidates signed the protocols, vowing to protect and improve gay rights, partner with LGBT groups, and promote anti-discrimination measures regarding sexual orientation and gender identity. The protocols were prepared by the Social Policies, Gender Identity, and Sexual Orientation Studies Association (SPOD), a pro-equality NGO founded in 2011.

Three of the four elected LGBT friendly mayors are the Republican People’s Party’s (CHP) candidates of Istanbul’s central districts: Aykurt Nuhoğlu in Kadıköy, Murat Hazinedar in Beşiktaş and Hayri İnönü in Şişli. 

The other is the Peace and Democracy Party’s BDP co-candidate in the southern Mersin province’s Akdeniz district Yüksel Mutlu, who won the race in his constituency, becoming the only LGBT friendly mayor outside Turkey’s biggest metropolis.

Homosexuality is legal in Turkey but discrimination and anti-gay violence persist; efforts to include constitutional protections failed when a new draft constitution was defeated last November.

Turkey’s Islamist administration has announced that the government will construct separate prisons for openly gay or transgender inmates, something the government says is designed to protect inmates from abuse. But LGBT rights activists have protested against the planned segregation, calling it a form of punishment. 

Russia: Government Targets LGBT Activist, Backs New HIV Fingerprinting Bill

Russian authorities are targeting LGBT rights activist Oleg Kluenkov, reports Human Rights First. The group says officials pushed Kluenkov’s employer, a regional university, to ask for his resignation as punishment for a trip Kluenkov made to the US last year to meet with LGBT rights activists and US officials.

It is not clear what punishment might away three Russian gay couples who will get married next month in Copenhagen as part of a three-day lead-in to the Eurovision song contest commemorating 25 years since Denmark began recognizing same-sex civil partnerships.

Putin administration officials are reportedly backing a new bill that would create a national database with fingerprint information for people with infectious diseases like HIV. The rules would apply to Russians and to foreigners visiting the country.

In Buzzfeed, Susie Armitage reports on the growing number of LGBT Russians seeking asylum in the U.S.