What Irish Marriage Vote Means for Catholic Church; The Lonely Fight for Equality in Belize; Progress and Backlash in Tunisia; Global LGBT Recap


The big news of the week was Irish voters’ overwhelming “yes” vote on a proposal to add marriage equality to the country’s constitution. The lopsided nature of the vote in heavily Catholic Ireland – and the fact that Church officials were opposed by every political party — has encouraged plenty of speculation about what the vote means for the Church in Ireland and its opposition to LGBT equality globally.

Alex White, the Irish government’s minister for communications, said, “This didn’t change Ireland — it confirmed the change. We can no longer be regarded as the authoritarian state we once might have been perceived to be. This marks the true separation of church and state.” After the vote results were announced last Saturday, the Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin said that the Catholic Church “needs to have a reality check across the board.”

A New York Times story by Danny Hakimmay reviews the power once wielded by the Catholic hierarchy, including the central role played by former Archbishop John Charles McQuaid in the drafting of the country’s constitution. Decades after his death, McQuaid’s reputation crumbled when his role in covering up sexual abuse of children became clear.

After the votes were counted, the carefully planned and executed campaign by activist groups seemed as much about putting behind a past entrenched in theocracy and tradition as it was about marriage for gays and lesbians. And it underscored how different Ireland is today for the young, who turned out in droves to vote. In a little more than a generation, Ireland has both distanced itself from the church and sharpened its secular identity….

“The church needs to take a reality check,” Archbishop Martin said after the Mass, repeating a comment he had made Saturday. “It’s very clear there’s a growing gap between Irish young people and the church, and there’s a growing gap between the culture of Ireland that’s developing and the church.”

The country’s cultural evolution reflects a blend of disaffection with the church, and Ireland’s willingness to embrace a wider vision of itself in the world. As the church lost many people in its scandals and its unwillingness to yield to sexual freedoms, the European Union found itself with a willing and eager member.

At Politico, Donny Mahoney also addressed the status of the Church in Ireland:

It’s clear that this result is the death knell for the Church as the moral arbiter in people’s lives in Ireland. In 1995, Ireland legalized divorce by referendum, but that vote only passed by 9,000 votes. In the intervening years, the Catholic Church in Ireland has had their moral credibility obliterated by a litany of reports that detailed shocking and sadistic abuse carried out by priests and nuns upon some of the most vulnerable in society. The referendum confirms finally what has long been known: the Catholic Church will never again be the dominant institution of Irish life….

The great untangling of Church and State is underway in Ireland, and for many, the next battlegrounds will be in schools and hospitals, most of which are still Church-run and abide by Catholic teaching. Abortion rights activists will take encouragement from this result, but a referendum on that issue, the fourth in Ireland’s history, would be far more divisive. There will be a general election here next year, but political commentators were quick to play down expectations of looming political change.

Wherever this referendum takes the country, it is clear a new chapter has begun in Irish life. For years, many have wondered what, if any, social force would emerge to seize the public imagination that was once so transfixed by the Catholic Church. Well, that force arrived on Saturday, when mainstream Irish society declared that homosexual love—the love of their brothers, sisters, cousins—is natural and normal.

It’s a defining statement of a mature society.

Father Bernárd Lynch, co-chair of London Irish LGBT Network and a priest who was expelled from his Roman Catholic order after the 2012 publication of a memoir in which he discussed his 1998 marriage to husband Billy Desmond, wrote that the vote represented an Irish decision to choose independence from the Catholic Church the way Irish Republicans declared independence from Great Britain nearly a century ago.

Although still Catholic, the majority of the Irish people have voted that the freedom to love transcends their deepest religious beliefs. This marks a seismic shift in the mind of the nation. This consciousness serves not only the LGBT community but the entire people of Ireland in their long and arduous struggle for justice and co-equality among all their citizens.

As LGBT people, we had been robbed of our birthright: our absolute right to live and love as co-equals in our families, churches, towns, villages, and the country of our birth. Many of us left our homeland not for work and employment or for education –– as the Irish have done for centuries by the millions –– but simply because those of us who are LGBT were not welcome. Ireland up until now failed to honour its own Constitution in not “cherishing all her children equally.”

But, Friday, May 22, 2105, this changed forever. We have broken the shackles of our colonial past and our colonial governance by the Roman Catholic Church. We are free at last to live and love as we were born to be. For freedom –– not happiness –– is the precious stone. One cannot cling to happiness; it submits to no clinging. To be free, to live and love in your homeland, this is the most precious stone against which all others fade by comparison.

We now know that, whatever organised religion may say, our way of loving is right. No holy communion is more holy than the human communion of two people in love. I believe that we can honestly assert that what we have learned first and foremost is that it is the oppression and repression of human sexual fulfillment that are the primary cause of sickness in our human communities, both straight and gay.

In contrast, Christopher J. Hale wrote for TIME Magazine that the vote was not a “no” to Catholicism:

The vote in Ireland illuminates a dynamic shift on LGBT issues among Catholics and people of faith across the globe. Today about 60% of Catholics in the United States support gay marriage, compared to about 36% a decade ago.

In fact, many who voted “yes” on gay marriage did so because of their faith, not in spite of it. One elderly Irish couple put it this way: “We are Catholics, and we are taught to believe in compassion and love and fairness and inclusion. Equality, that’s all we’re voting for.”

The idea of an inclusive Catholic Church may have seemed like a pipe dream not many years ago, but under the tenure of Francis the Troublemaker, it doesn’t seem that farfetched. Two summers ago the Pope tweeted, “Let the Church always be a place of mercy and hope, where everyone is welcomed, loved and forgiven.”

But that notion of a Church that embraces LGBT people and their relationships is not reflected in statements from Vatican officials. Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s secretary of state, said the vote was not only a defeat for Christian principles but also a “defeat for humanity.” Conservative Cardinal Raymond Burke said Irish voters are worse than pagans:

Cardinal Raymond Burke, who was recently moved from a senior role in the Vatican to be patron of the Order of Malta, told the Newman Society, Oxford University’s Catholic Society, last night that he struggled to understand “any nation redefining marriage”.

Visibly moved, he went on: “I mean, this is a defiance of God. It’s just incredible. Pagans may have tolerated homosexual behaviours, they never dared to say this was marriage.”

Bishop Nunzio Galantino, secretary general of the Italian bishops conference had a somewhat more nuance reaction:

The margin of the Yes victory in Ireland obliges us all to take on board that Europe, and not just Europe, is undergoing an accelerated process of secularisation which touches on everything, including relationships.

Faced with this reality, our response can be neither a stubborn refusal based on fear and arrogance nor an uncritical acceptance based on fatalism and retreat.

National Catholic Reporter’s Jamie Manson wondered whether Pope Francis and Cardinal “Defeat for Humanity” Parolin might be playing good-cop, bad-cop on marriage, noting that those who are “under the impression that the Vatican is softening its stance on same-sex marriage may have been taken aback” by Parolin’s comments. She notes that Parolin “is widely considered Pope Francis’ top aide.”

In fact, when Francis appointed Parolin to this position in August 2013, John L. Allen Jr. wrote in the pages of NCR: “Nothing says more about where a pope wants to go than the people he chooses to help get him there, and pride of place in that mix generally goes to the Secretary of State, by tradition a pope’s ‘Prime Minister.’ “

As for Francis, he has addressed Ireland only indirectly:

While Francis himself has not spoken directly about the vote, the morning after Parolin’s press conference, the pope offered poetic exhortations on the divine beauty of marriage between one man and one woman.

At his weekly general audience Wednesday, Francis focused on the relationship between engagement and marriage.

According to a Catholic News Service article (which was cross-posted by NCR), Francis said:

“The covenant of love between a man and a woman, a covenant for life, cannot be improvised; it cannot be done from one day to the next,” he said. …

Just a few weeks ago Francis “called men and women God’s ‘masterwork,’ adding that Jesus ‘begins his miracles with this masterwork, in a marriage, in a wedding feast: a man and a woman.’ More from NCR’s Manson:

Why is this comparison between Parolin’s and Francis’ words important? Because it gives insight into the Vatican’s new approach to the evangelization of marginalized Catholics.

Francis clearly agrees with Parolin’s “defeat for humanity” opinion on the outcome of Ireland’s same-sex marriage vote. Remember that, back in January, the pope famously likened “gender theory” (which provides the intellectual basis for same-sex marriage and a host of other progressive ideas related to sexuality) to “ideological colonization” and even “Hitler Youth.” Why? Because, Francis explained, gender theory “does not recognize the order of creation.”

But rather than respond directly to Ireland himself, this time, Pope Francis is putting the harsher, condemnatory language in the mouth of his secretary of state while he does the work of evangelizing the youth about the truth and beauty of the church’s teachings on marriage.

Parolin is taking on the old-fashioned role of Vatican scold while Francis takes the new, more merciful, catechetical approach. But ultimately, both men agree with the institutional church’s opposition to marriage equality. Both men believe same-sex relationships violate the traditional understanding of natural law and gender complimentary.

Most importantly, both men believe these church teachings on marriage are correct and should not change. The problem, they believe, is that the institutional church hasn’t done a good job of communicating the church’s truths effectively and pastorally. As Parolin himself said in his statement on Ireland, the church “must strengthen its commitment to evangelization.” Francis attempted to do just that in his audience the following day.

Manson sees these efforts as doomed to failure: “Ireland demonstrates that the pope’s understanding of acting mercifully toward lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people will not be adequate to bring them into the pews.”

Sure, Pope Francis believes the church should minister warmly to LGBT people, but he also believes they should never be given the impression that their relationships have the same potential for goodness and holiness as heterosexual relationships. The pope’s brand of mercy suggests that LGBT Catholics should be tolerated by the church, but not embraced with genuine justice.

The vote in Ireland shows that LGBT people are seeking to live in communities where they are not merely welcomed and tolerated, but treated with equality. As long as our church leaders continue to say, in effect, “you can come in our doors, and you can even be fed, but you cannot marry here,” neither the bad cop nor the good cop will convince many estranged LGBT Catholics to cross their church’s threshold.

At Political Research Associates (for which I have written), Kapya Kaoma had harsher words for Pope Francis, writing this week that “the Vatican’s hypocrisy endangers LGBTQ people worldwide.”

“If a person is gay and seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge him?” Pope Francis told reporters in July 2013. In January 2015, Pope Francis reportedly met with a transgender person, winning praises across the world for his openness. In February, however, the Pope erased any hope of a more progressive Catholic position when he compared gender theory (often used to defend and advocate for transgender rights) to nuclear weapons.

“Let’s think of the nuclear arms, of the possibility to annihilate in a few instants a very high number of human beings,” he was quoted as saying. “Let’s think also of genetic manipulation, of the manipulation of life, or of the gender theory, that does not recognize the order of creation. … God has placed man and woman and the summit of creation and has entrusted them with the earth. The design of the Creator is written in nature.”

Kaoma accuses Francis of playing “hide and seek” on the issue.

In 2009, the Vatican came out strongly against the criminalization of sexual minorities. This followed the introduction of Uganda’s infamous “Kill the Gays” bill in Parliament. Then little-known U.S. evangelical Scott Lively traveled to Uganda for an anti-homosexuality conference in March 2009. The very next month, the Ugandan Parliament drafted and introduced one of the most extreme anti-LGBTI laws in the world—the Anti-Homosexuality Act, as it was officially known, called for the death penalty for LGBTI people. Africans such as Pastor Martin Ssempa (for whom megachurch Pastor Rick Warren was a mentor), Stephen Langa of the Family Life Network, and Uganda’s Joint Christian Council (which includes several Roman Catholic Bishops among its members) ensured the passage of the Anti-Homosexuality Act in February 2014. The law was struck down by the Constitutional Court of Uganda on purely technical reasons later that same year, but it still has the potential to pass again—another reason why the Pope’s voice is so desperately needed in the struggle for sexual rights.

On December 10, 2009, the Holy See released a little-known historic statement that opposed “all forms of violence and unjust discrimination against homosexual persons, including discriminatory penal legislation which undermines the inherent dignity of the human person.” With this statement, the Vatican seemed to establish a position in firm opposition to the (not yet extant) “Kill the Gays” bill in Uganda and similar laws elsewhere.

The human rights world applauded the Vatican’s position—but the above words were never uttered by the Pontiff himself or inserted into the Encyclical (the official document of Roman Catholic positions on various issues). Rather than making a bold statement affirming and defending LGBTQI peoples, the Vatican’s posturing outsmarted human rights advocates around the world. By denouncing criminalization of sexual minorities, the Vatican was able to evade responsibility for human rights abuses (laying the blame solely on U.S. conservative evangelicals), while still endorsing the work of U.S.-based Catholic groups such The Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute, Human Life International, and Priests for Life, as well as bishops and other church leaders guilty of campaigning for the criminalization of sexual minorities. In Nigeria, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, and many other African countries, Roman Catholic bishops and priests—with the support of their colleagues in the U.S. and at the Vatican—have been at the forefront of anti-LGBTI campaigns.

Much blame has been placed on the shoulders of conservative American evangelicals, but U.S. Roman Catholic right-wing groups are equally guilty of exporting homophobia and sexism to Africa….The passage of Nigeria’s 2014 anti-LGBTQI law, which applies a 14-year jail sentence for same-sex marriages and prohibits advocacy of sexual minorities’ rights, was celebrated by Nigerian Roman Catholic Bishops. The bishops commended the government for its “courageous and wise decision” to fight “the conspiracy of the developed world to make our country and continent the dumping ground for the promotion of all immoral practices that have continued to debase the purpose of God for man in the area of creation and morality, in their own countries.” Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama went as far as saying “thank God that this bill was passed.” The failure of the Vatican to oppose or counter such statements implies approval; its hide-and-seek game essentially sanctions the persecution of sexual minorities in Africa and other parts of the world.

Here at RD, Mary Hunt asked whether Ireland really “buried” the Catholic Church, writing, “Many people think the vote heralds the end of the Roman Catholic Church as we know it—but I think the reality might be more complicated.”

We do know for sure that good Irish Catholics followed their faith in the direction of inclusion, compassion, equality, justice, and a host of other Catholic values when they voted with the majority despite some clergymen’s efforts to lead them astray. The hard sell for “no” from a group of bishops was all but ignored. Some clergy were public about their “yes” vote, and my guess is that more than a few gay priests (and some straight ones, too) voted for their own self-interest. Generations of Irish Catholics showed what they are made of.

Some of the most effective social media around the vote featured families of LGBTIQ Catholics. Their simple statements of love for their children and their hope that they might marry and form good Irish families were persuasive. It was all rather traditional in the end—everyone is entitled to love. While the institutional church lost miserably, the enduring message of post-Vatican II Catholicism—that all persons are equal with corresponding rights and responsibilities—had a good day. The fact that this message was distilled from the rubble of sexual abuse, clergy cover-up, heterosexism, disdain for women, and the rest of the clerically-constructed system is a miracle in itself. The pulpits are still in the hands of the priests, though, and they do not show many signs of sharing….

Many Irish Catholics, both on the isle and in diaspora, are so heartily sick of the institution’s duplicity, game playing, and pomposity that we would probably vote against the institutional Church on the value of chocolate ice cream. The recurring Irish debates on abortion will give way to another referendum before too long. I suspect the hierarchy, wounded but not slain, will mount another nasty campaign—and hopefully experience another comeuppance.

Irish clergy used to make a living telling other people how to live their lives no matter how flawed their own were. A generation ago people in Ireland went to daily mass after work and heard the messages repeated ad nauseam. Irish Catholics proved they know how to separate the wheat from the chaff, the important values like love and justice from warped attempts to dictate outmoded morality.

One interesting feature of the campaign, as we have noted, was the emergence of priests and nuns, as well as Catholic politicians, willing to publicly buck the church. Raw Story cited post-election comments from Tony Flannery, a Redemptorist priest who was stripped of his ministry in 2012 for his outspoken views on contraception and the ordination of women. “The last thing the Irish bishops should be doing is further alienating the young generation who the Church, to a fair degree, has lost already,” said Flannery.

The impact of the vote could extend well beyond Ireland. The vote was celebrated by Catholic U.S. Vice President Joe Biden and other American officials. NY Assemblyman Daniel J. O’Donnell, sponsor of the state’s marriage equality legislation, wrote in a letter to the New York Times saying that even though he was a visible Irish American he had often felt that he didn’t belong.

Irish people from all over the world returned home to vote in this election. I returned to the birthplace of my family to help in any way I could.

I feel proud to be Irish in a new way today after the people of Ireland declared that one can be Irish and gay and recognized in loving same-sex relationships. Thank you, Ireland, for voting for another step toward universal human rights for all.

James Norman, a gay man in Australia, wrote in the Guardian that before the Irish vote he had been ambivalent on the issue of gay marriage.

That ambivalence came from a concern that gays fighting for an old fashioned, conservative institution like marriage could somehow de-radicalise queer politics.

I was worried that by placing gay marriage at the centre of our politics rather than other issues – such as the rights of gays in countries that still persecute them for their sexuality, or fighting against inequality of access to HIV medications in the developing world – that we were somehow indulging in the politics of privilege.

But over the years, after lengthy conversations with several Australia marriage equality activists, my views began to change. Watching and then partaking in marriage equality rallies in my home city of Melbourne, and feeling supported within my own family, I came to recognise that basic equality matters because its absence shrinks the human spirit and diminishes us all.

After viewing the unity, solidarity and goodwill generated by the vote in Ireland last weekend I now recognise that gay marriage can be the pivot that shakes loose the shackles of oppression against the LGBT community across the board because it simply recognises us as an ordinary part of society, deserving of the same dignity and freedom as everyone else.

In Australia, the vote has given momentum to equality advocates who have been running into a brick wall of opposition by Prime Minister Tony Abbott and the ruling Liberal Party, which to date has refused to allow its parliamentarians to vote their own conscience on the issue. In the wake of the Irish vote, Green Party and Labor Party leaders are pushing for a parliamentary vote on marriage equality legislation. Bill Shorten, leader of the opposition Labor Party, announced that he would introduce a private members bill and that Labor MPs would be free to vote their conscience. “The Australian Green Party is also pushing forward a Marriage Equality Bill, which will be debated in the Senate on 18 June, and will go to a vote on 12 November.”

BuzzFeed’s Lester Feder examined the potential impact of the vote in other countries, including Italy —  the only Western European nation that provides no legal recognition to same-sex couples – where Prime Minister Matteo Renzi has promised a vote on civil union legislation by the end of the summer, and Germany, where Prime Minister Angela Merkel has reiterated her opposition to marriage equality, even though three-quarters of Germans support it.

Greenland:  Marriage equality law passes unanimously

The Parliament of Greenland, an autonomous country in the Kingdom of Denmark, voted unanimously this week in favor of marriage equality and adoption rights for LGBT couples. According to Out.com,

In 1989, Denmark became the first nation in the world to recognize same-sex unions, in the form of “registered partnerships.” Greenland also adopted the Danish civil union law in 1996, but didn’t follow suit when Denmark legalized same-sex marriage in 2012.

Belize: Fight against sodomy law (and its US supporters) long and lonely

Julia Scott, writing in the New York Times Magazine, explores “The Lonely Fight Against Belize’s Antigay Laws,” asking, “Can one challenge to a statute criminalizing sodomy create a domino effect in the Caribbean?” The story profiles activist Caleb Orozco, whose legal challenge to the colonial-era law that punishes gay sex with up to 10 years in prison has been met with insults, threats, and violence. “The L.G.B.T. community in Belize, with the exception of a dedicated corps of organizers and supporters, remains timid, fractured and apolitical.”

He is Belize’s most reviled homosexual and its most ostracized citizen, a man whom fundamentalists pray for and passers-by scorn; a marked man at 30 paces. His weary face is on the evening news and in newspaper caricatures, which have depicted him in fishnets and heels. His name is now a label, one used to remind other gays that they are sinners and public offenders. Win or lose, Orozco’s fight for his fundamental rights and freedoms will follow him for the rest of his life.

Americans and Europeans visit Belize for all the things that make “the Jewel” an ideal place to relax: coral reefs, paradisiacal white beaches, a green-azure sea. It is a deeply Christian country, with a Constitution that proclaims the “supremacy of God” as a first principle. Recently, it has seen a surge in Pentecostalism and other proselytizing strains of faith. Although bounded on two sides by Latin American countries with more liberal attitudes toward same-sex relationships, Belize retains a culture more closely aligned with Caribbean countries whose perspectives were colored by 200 years of British occupation. There is an ethos of “live and let live,” but only as long as the gay community remains invisible. Gay couples cohabitate and quietly raise children, but without demanding legal recognition. Couples don’t hold hands in public. No hate-crime laws exist to punish targeted assaults.

Formerly British Honduras, Belize gained independence in 1981, inheriting most of its governing documents from its former master. Section 53 is an artifact of Belize’s colonial past dating to the 1880s. The British bequeathed similar “buggery” laws to all 11 other Caribbean countries once ruled by the crown. (The Bahamas has subsequently removed them.) Buggery became a criminal offense in the England of King Henry VIII in 1533. Of the 76 countries that still criminalize sodomy around the world today, most do so as a holdover from British colonial rule. (Britain repealed its buggery laws in 2003.) In Belize, anti­gay laws extend beyond the criminal code: Homosexuals are still technically an explicit class of prohibited immigrants, along with prostitutes, “any idiot,” the insane and “any person who is deaf and dumb.”

….In Belize, church leaders are granted deference in the press and by lawmakers on social issues. But in large part, the ecclesiastical focus has always been on the spiritual rather than the political realm. So Orozco was blindsided by the announcement, soon after the suit was filed, that the Roman Catholic Church of Belize, the Belize Evangelical Association of Churches and the Anglican Church had together joined the case on the government’s side as an “interested party,” a legal distinction that allowed them to hire lawyers, file motions and be heard during the trial. More than 400 church leaders and ministries came together to mobilize their adherents in the name of public morality. In another first for Belize, church leaders founded a nationwide activist campaign, Belize Action, and began drawing thousands of believers to rallies that denounced the “homosexual agenda.”

Orozco is criticized for receiving support from international human rights groups; he is portrayed as the “traitorous pawns” of “meddling colonizers.” But American Religious Right groups, including the Alliance Defending Freedom and the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute have been supporting Belize Action, the group opposing Orozco’s lawsuit. A 2013 report from the Southern Poverty Law Center documented the role played by American religious conservatives supporting the criminalization of homosexuality in Belize and elsewhere in the Caribbean.

Tunisia: LGBT advocacy group gains official recognition, experiences backlash and support

 Shams became the first LGBT rights group to win official recognition by the interior ministry. The group had applied in December 2014 and again in March 2015 and announced their status at a May 17 convening of LGBT groups, but it has meet a ferocious public backlash. From Oximity:

Originally hailed as a monumental victory for sexual and gender minorities in the MENA region at large, a week of rampant homophobic abuse in Tunisia’s national news, social media outlets, and community mosques has human rights defenders warning that Shams’ authorization may bring just as much risk as it does progress.

Homosexuality is illegal in Tunisia, punishable by up to three years in prison. Article 230 of the penal code criminalizes “homosexual acts” by both men and women in the Arabic text and “sodomy” in the French version. Despite the recent move to legalize an LGBT organization in Tunisia, the continued criminalization of homosexuality in Article 230 still severely threatens sexual minorities in the North African country.

In the 9 days since Shams’ received its authorization, local journalists, media personalities, and national religious figures have issued harsh condemnations of the group’s new status.

“What is the use of such associations for Tunisians?” asked an editorial in the Arabic daily Essabah on 23 May. Two days earlier, Sayda Hammami, executive board member of the National Syndicate of Tunisian Journalists, publicly denounced homosexuality as “conduct contrary to nature,” while an article in the Adhamir journal claimed that a “majority” of Tunisians “reject” homosexuality.

The homophobic abuse hasn’t stopped at journalistic rhetoric. Senda ben Jebara, deputy director of the Tunisian feminist LBT group Chouf told Front Line Defenders that a YouTube video published last week shows a Tunisian imam calling for the killing of LGBT people:

An imam in [the Tunisian city of] Sfax told locals at mosque that ‘these [LGBT] people’ are unnatural, bring shame on their country, bring shame on their families. He said ‘they’ cant live; that ‘they’ need to be killed.

The highest levels of Tunisia’s religious leadership have joined the campaign against Shams. The Mufti of Tunisia, responsible for issuing Islamic legal opinions, released a statement on Monday, 25 May, calling on the government to rescind the human rights group’s authorization.* Mufti Said Hamda wrote that homosexuality “undermines the values of Islam, morality of Muslims and principles of the former Tunisian society.” In the statement, published on the Mufti’s official website, he called on government authorities to “review the authorization granted to this type of deviant behavior,” warning that “extremism and terrorism” could soon follow.

Ben Jebara did say that the public conversation, which he called “an earthquake,” has also brought an outpouring of support in response to the ugly backlash. After this week, he said, “no one can say there are no gays in Tunisia.” Shams Vice President Ahmed Ben Amor called on the government to take action, saying, “life in the country will remain unsafe for homosexuals until the government puts laws in place to protect them.”

In another story from Tunisia, human rights attorney Wahid Ferchichi says Article 230 of the Criminal Code, which criminalizes homosexuality, is in conflict with the January 2014 Constitution’s protections for freedom and individual rights.

Israel: Editorial says Israelis ‘ready to follow Ireland’s lead’

An editorial in Haaretz this week declared, “Israelis are ready to follow Ireland’s lead and legalize gay marriage.”

The result of the Irish referendum is the best illustration of the change in popular attitudes toward the LGBT community. Ireland has always been considered a conservative country, and until 1993 homosexuality was a crime. The lack of substantial resistance to the idea of same-sex marriage demonstrates the readiness of the society and its institutions — even the most conservative of them, like the Catholic Church — to accept homosexuality without seeing it as something that to change or to deny.

Israel is part of this global trend. Israelis, like the Irish, are increasingly open to and welcoming of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. This can be seen not only in the growing number of celebrities and public figures who are open about their sexual orientation and no longer suffer the stress of concealing who they are, but also and above all in the many Israeli households that are headed by LGBT parents; by the pride parades that have nearly become national holidays in which everyone participates and by the many draft laws that have been submitted with the aim of securing equal civil and economic rights for LGBT Israelis. While many of them have yet to become law, they are nonetheless paving the LGBT community’s way into the heart of the national consensus.

It would not be going too far to say that in 2015 Israel, the recognition of LGBT rights is the political norm, shared by all the parties except the religious ones — and even in these parties there are individuals who are open and sympathetic to the issue. The latest election season proved this, when antiquated anti-gay marriage remarks by figures in Habayit Hayehudi chased away potential voters, especially young ones. Likud, in contrast, took care to present a pro-LGBT agenda, and senior party figures such as Benjamin Netanyahu, Moshe Ya’alon and Miri Regev repeatedly spoke out against homophobia and for equal rights.

The Israeli public is largely ready to move forward on pro-LGBT legislation and equal rights for the community, chief among them the right to marry. In Israel, marriage is a religious institution, and as same-sex marriage is prohibited, as is heterosexual marriage in a wide variety of circumstances. The LGBT breakthrough is another reason to introduce civil marriage in Israel, as in the rest of the West, in order to free groups and individuals from the tyranny of laws that are irrelevant to them and to offer them genuine justice and equality instead.

U.S.: Religious Right complains about pro-LGBT diplomacy

Right Wing Watch, a project of People For the American Way (where I am a senior fellow) reported that that “FRC senior fellow Peter Sprigg — who once called for the U.S. to ‘export homosexuals’ — criticized Randy Berry, the Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBT Persons, for reportedly traveling to travel to Uganda and Jamaica.”

Sprigg said that Berry and the Obama administration are trying to “force this American-style homosexual agenda down the throats of other countries” such as Uganda, “which is one of the countries which has been most bitterly attacked by homosexual activists around the world.”

Turkey: First out gay candidate running in general election

“For the first time in Turkey, an out gay candidate is running in the country’s general election,” Pink News reported this week. The report says that 37-year-old Baris Sulu is standing for election as a candidate of the People’s Democratic Party in the Eskisehir district. Sulu told the Anadolu news agency, “I am not a secret gay. I have got the biggest support from my family and boyfriend and my friends in the party have given me their opinions.” He predicts that the elections in four years will be “utterly” different with more LGBT candidates.

Cuba: Change and challenges for LGBT community

The Washington Blade’s Michael Lavers, concluded his reporting from Cuba with an in-depth story on the changes that have taken place and lingering challenges facing LGBT activists in Cuba. His story reflects divisions among LGBT Cubans on the visible role played by Mariela Castro, the daughter of current President Raúl Castro, who has become a vocal advocate for LGBT equality but who others see as a mouthpiece for the government.

These positions and overtures stand in stark contrast to the treatment of LGBT people in the years following the 1959 Cuban Revolution.

Then-President Fidel Castro in the 1960s sent more than 25,000 gay men and others deemed unfit for military service to labor camps known as Military Units to Aid Production or the Spanish acronym UMAP. Cuba repealed its sodomy law in 1979, but trans people continued to face persecution.

Hernández spent two years in prison in the 1980s for what the Associated Press described as “dangerousness” because of her gender identity. The Cuban government forcibly quarantined people living with HIV/AIDS in state-run sanitaria until 1993.

Fidel Castro during a 2010 interview with a Mexican newspaper described the persecution of gay Cubans that included sending them to work camps in the years following the revolution as a “great injustice.”

Independent Cuban LGBT rights advocates and their supporters in the U.S. and elsewhere insist the government continues to persecute those who criticize it through arbitrary detentions, the enforcement of public assembly laws and social isolation. The normalization of relations between Washington and Havana that President Obama announced late last year has done little to temper these criticisms inside Cuba and abroad.

Taiwan: Presidential candidate pledges support for marriage equality

“Shih Ming-teh, the former chairman of Taiwan’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party, said he will allow same-sex marriage” if he becomes president, reported Chinatopix.

In December 2014, Taiwan’s Legislature reviewed a bill to legalize gay marriage, making Taiwan the first East Asian country which has reviewed a same-sex marriage bill in the parliamentary level.

The bill was stalled however because Ministry of Justice and religious groups opposed to the Legislature’s review. Since then, the issue was dropped in committee.