The Church of England have published their response to the Government Equalities Office consultation.  Its worth considering the contents, as many of the assumptions, thoughts and attitudes are not based in fact – but in presumptions, untruths or wrong thinking.

The concept of gay marriage is not new. 11 countries already allow it including Canada and parts of the USA. In 342 AD the Theodocian penal code banned the practice on pain of death – clearly there must have been a sufficient number of gay weddings to merit a ban with such a draconian penalty. Certainly, we know of at least two Roman emperors who married other men.

On an entirely practical approach  marriage gives rise to greater social stability and all the statistics show that children of married parents fare best. Given that we allow gay couples to adopt, and such is science and ingenuity that they can also procreate, why on earth should we deny them the benefit of marriage?

A growing number of Bible believing Christians who think that traditional church teaching has got it completely wrong. The stark fact is that there is nothing in the Bible about being gay (almost certainly because it is not a category that differentiates humans at all), and Jesus does not have a single word to say on the subject. Instead there are a very few scattered references condemning what might be considered as homosexual practice, but I think these are taken out of their proper contexts and poorly translated from the original biblical languages. This is true of the prohibition in Leviticus 18:6 and 20:13 where going to bed with another man is listed with other prohibitions about haircuts, tattoos, intercourse during menstruation, eating pork and shellfish, playing football (playing with pigskin), fortune telling, and mixing threads in clothing (a capital offence!). As for describing sleeping with another man as “an abomination” a more accurate rendering of the Hebrew would be that it is in “poor taste” -and something that really Holy people don’t do.

With respect to the destruction of Sodom in the book of Genesis, of the five Old Testament prophets who draw lessons on the fate of the city, not one puts it down to homosexuality. The graphic account of a crowd besieging Lot’s house demanding that he bring out his guests “that they might know them” (as the King James Bible quaintly puts it) –and which leads to God’s judgement on the city, is terrifying not because the crowd is homosexual, but because they are intent on gang rape.

In the New Testament it is the teaching of St Paul which is used to condemn homosexuality, just as his teaching was once perversely used to justify slavery and then the subjugation of women. If you look carefully at the context and sensitively translate the original Greek, then condemnation of gays just isn’t there. What St Paul was rightly against was the inordinate pursuit of pleasure and self indulgence, including the temple cults of fertility which included orgies, prostitutes of both sexes, straight and gay.

For millennia Christians have taken too great an interest in what other people get up to in bed, it is an unhealthy fascination. A good starting point is that marriage is a blessing, and therefore we have no business denying that blessing to someone because they happen to be gay.

The Church of England state that as a matter of doctrine and derived from the teachings of Christ himself, that marriage in general – and not just the marriage of Christians – is, in its nature, a lifelong union of one man with one woman.

The Church of England (and other churches or religious organisations) are free to consider this as their definition of marriage.  However, it is grossly unfair and arrogant to presume that they can require that civil law is governed by the doctrine of any religious organisation.  Most people in the UK are either not religious or not actively religious.  It is wrong that any (or all) churches dictate how civil law interplays with every person in the nation.

Other churches and religious organisations do not hold the doctrinal views that the Church of England state here (indeed some of their own leaders do not hold these views).  Sticking rigidly to the doctrinal view espoused in civil law denies religious freedom (or freedom from religion) to those who do not hold those views.

The Church of England regularly remarries divorced individuals into new marriages.  This would appear to be contradictory to their doctrinal response to this issue.  Therefore, its sheer hypocrisy (and arguably homophobic) to delineate on grounds of same sex couples, when similar actions are not taken on divorced couples.

Church of England state that they follow an authorised liturgy with regards marriage derived from the Book of Common Prayer of 1662 and they are entitled to that view for themselves and for those who wish to engage with them.  They state that this view includes that  “marriage is given as the foundation of family life in which children may be born and nurtured in accordance with Gods will, to his praise and glory.  In marriage husband and wife belong to one another and they begin a new life together in the community.  It is a way of life that all should honour and it must not be undertaken carelessly, lightly or selfishly but reverently, responsibly and after serious thought” It is sad that they seek to exclude same sex couples in the full life of their church.  Many same sex couples are Christians or would value a church marriage (having seriously, reverently and responsibly considered the issue).

Other churches and religious groups and individuals do not share this view.  They should not have their religious freedom curtailed because the Church of England (or some of it) feel uncomfortable with the issue of same sex couples marrying.

Other individuals have no religious belief and they certainly should not have restrictions placed on them because of the beliefs of others.

Many gay couples are families with adopted, surrogate or natural children (possibly from prior relationships).  They provide love, nurture, support and integrity to those children.  They should not be denied the right to bring up children in a committed and loving marriage because some others are uncomfortable with their relationship.

Not that long ago, there were many churches that taught that slavery was an institution supported by God. They shut their eyes to the bad fruit being borne by the slave system, and they ignored all the things the Bible says about loving your neighbour as yourself, and the equality of human beings. They would find that handful of passages that mentioned slavery (after all, it was part of the culture in which the Bible was written) and they would try to apply those verses to us today, without acknowledging that they were based in the culture and no longer relevant to us.  The abolitionist movement had an uphill battle in some respects because there weren’t specific verses that said, “slavery is bad.” Instead, they had to rely on the overall message of Scripture, and that’s not easy to do.  Today there is cherry picking of many issues of Scripture (or liturgy – even that which dates back to 1662 (why 1662? – why not before!).  There is clear evidence in Scripture that equality was something Jesus valued – and it’s the hypocrisy of religious leaders that he regularly condemned.

The Church of England state that their views are not merely drawn from liturgy and doctrine but which are also drawn from their commitment, as the established church in England, to the common good of all in society.

Effectively the Church of England appear to be arguing that common good of all in society is established by preventing equality of all in society.  Surely, even church leaders can not be ignorant as to see the impossibility and implausibility of this argument?

The Church of England stated during their response “It is well known that there is a continuing debate within the Church of England about its declared view of sexually active homosexual relationships.  It is important to understand that our response to the questions of same sex marriage does not prejudice the outcome of that continuing theological and ethical debate.  Our concern is for the way the meaning of marriage will change for everyone, gay or straight, if the proposals are enacted.  Because we believe that the inherited understanding of marriage contributes a vast amount to the common good, our defence of that understanding is motivated by a concern for the good of all in society.”

Firstly, the good of all in society can not be achieved when you deny equality to some in society.

Secondly, when you decide that some people should be valued differently (which is what denying civil rights amounts to) to others due to their orientation – then this is forming a judgement that is unethical and inhumane.  It therefore, must inform any response to other debates concerning the issue of orientation.  Its difficult to reach a conclusion that an organisation which seeks to deny equality, fairness and integrity to couples due, solely, to their orientation is anything other than institutionally homophobic.  That is a set of attitudes  and values which are unscriptural, and fail in their ability to love their neighbour.

As eminent members of the Anglican Communion have said:

Archbishop Desmond Tutu says:

Churches say that the expression of love in a heterosexual monogamous relationship includes the physical — the touching, embracing, kissing, the genital act; the totality of our love makes each of us grow to become increasingly godlike and compassionate. If this is so for the heterosexual, what earthly reasons have we to say that it is not the case with the homosexual?
The Jesus I worship is not likely to collaborate with those who vilify and persecute an already oppressed minority. I myself could not have opposed the injustice of penalizing people for something about which they could do nothing — their race — and then have kept quiet as women were being penalized for something they could do nothing about — their gender; hence my support for the ordination of women to the priesthood and the episcopate.

Equally, I cannot keep quiet while people are being penalized for something about which they can do nothing — their sexuality. To discriminate against our sisters and brothers who are lesbian or gay on grounds of their sexual orientation for me is as totally unacceptable and unjust as apartheid ever was.”

Nicholas Holtam, Bishop of Salisbury says:

“I think same-sex couples that I know who have formed a partnership have in many respects a relationship which is similar to a marriage and which I now think of as marriage. I am no longer convinced that marriage should be limited to opposite sex couples.  And of course now you can’t really say that a marriage is defined by the possibility of having children. Contraception created a barrier in that line of argument. Would you say that an infertile couple who were knowingly infertile when they got married, weren’t in a proper marriage? No you wouldn’t.”

Alan Wilson, Bishop of Buckingham says:

“A significant proportion of every human population is gay. If some of these people want to build stable faithful relationships based on love, that has to be a good thing. Love is love wherever it is found. We know it by its fruits, not its origins. But the fruits reveal the origin. God is love and those who live in love live in God and God lives in them. This is the good news. Thus the prime question Christians have to ask is not “is the idea of ay marriage right or wrong?” but, whatever we make of the theory of the matter, “how can we be good news to the real human beings involved? …  the highest duty of the Church is not to preserve institutions, but to be, simply and completely, good news. The gospel isn’t “good news/bad news” or “good news as long as you buy it properly.” It isn’t even “what would Jesus do?” It’s “What is Jesus actually doing through the whole creation, and trying to do through us if only we got real?”

The Church of England states that marriage affords many benefits to society which include mutuality and fidelity.  There is nothing in that which could and does not happen in gay marriages elsewhere – nor which could not happen in the United Kingdom.

Marriage is a central and unique social institution which gay couples have successfully engaged with and supported in those nations where it now legally occurs.  The uniqueness and social contribution which the Church mentions is no reason to demand that a segment of the population be prevented from being involved with it.

The Church of England states that there is no such thing as a ban on same sex couples marrying.  That’s disingenuous – as effectively by preventing it happening in law is a quasi-ban.  They try to reinforce this argument by stating that there has never been a same sex marriage.  Either the authors of the Church of Englands response are entirely ignorant or they are lying.  There have been numerous same sex marriage (including in ancient Rome – predating the Church of England, ancient China, the Irish church, etc etc).  Stating that there has never been same sex couples marrying is an act of denial.  11 countries currently engage in equal marriage.  Ancient civilisations engaged in marriage of same sex  couples – there is no reason England can not do the same in the 21st century.

The church of England state that ‘redefining’ marriage to include same sex relationships entails dilution of the meaning of marriage for everyone.  However,  this is patently untrue.  What dilutes marriage is divorce and adultery.  Same sex relationships that are loving and committed to each other actually enhance the institution of marriage – as the experience of the Netherlands and Scandinavian countries where equal marriage occurs has shown.  Same sex couples marrying impacts on the ability of same sex couples to marry – it does not alter, change or dilute the ability of opposite sex couples to marry or any existing marriage.

The Church of England claims that rights between civil partnerships and marriages are identical.  This is a salacious lie.  Not only is there the stigma of different names, but there lacks equality in pension rights, immigration rights and international recognition.

The church of England claims there is no distinction between civil and religious marriage currently.  That is patently untrue.  In

medieval Europe, marriage was governed by canon law, which recognised as valid only those marriages where the parties stated they took one another as husband and wife, regardless of the presence or absence of witnesses. It was not necessary, however, to be married by any official or cleric. This institution was cancelled in England with the enactment of “Lord Hardwicke’s Marriage Act” of 1753, which required that, in order to be valid and registered, all marriages were to be performed in an official ceremony in a religious setting recognised by the state, i.e. Church of England, the Quakers, or in a Jewish ceremony. Any other form of marriage was abolished. Children born into unions which were not valid under the Act would not automatically inherit the property or titles of their parents. For historical reasons, the Act did not apply in Scotland. Consequently, until 1940, it continued to be enough in Scotland for a man and a woman to pledge their commitment to each other in front of witnesses to legalise their marriage. This led to an industry of “fast marriages” in Scottish towns on the border with England; the town of Gretna Green was particularly well known for this. In 1836 the requirement that the ceremony take place in a religious forum was removed, and registrars were given the authority to register marriages not conducted by a religious official.   Many religious organisations are unable to register marriages and thus have to seek a registrar to attend or there must be a separate civil ceremony in a registry office – otherwise the marriage is not legally recognised in England & Wales.  The Church of England have special treatment in that they can register their religious marriages as civil marriage too.  Its arguable they should not have this right as it gives them preferential treatment.  Civil marriages do exist – and many of those UK couples who marry in registry offices out of choice would testify to this.  The law would also accept that the 1836 marriage act introduced civil marriage.

The Church of England refers to an Austrian case at the European Court of Human rights as an attempt to justify its false claim that religious bodies would be forced by the courts to engage in same sex marriage.  The Austrian case was in no way related to marriage in a church and is a red herring in this regard.  European court judges are extremely sensitive to religious freedoms and any case that were to be referred to them would be highly unlikely to result in any onerous conditions requiring a church to act outside its belief structure.  What a court case may result in is permitting those churches or other religious organisations who do wish to marry same sex couples to be able to do so – opening up their religious freedoms.  Religious freedoms the Church of England seems keen to suppress.

Marriage has been redefined numerous times throughout history.  Married women were given the right to hold property in 1882 – at the time many argued this undermined marriage – it did not.  Similar claims were also made (supported by some in the church) that when laws were passed to protect women from domestic violence and rape that marriage was being undermined, history shows these claims were false.  History will again show that these claims being made by the Church of England regarding same sex couples marrying are false and illegitimate.

The Church of England has missed an opportunity to move on from its defensiveness which charcterises its approach to same sex relationships and marriage.  Its disappointing as many members of the Church of England disagree with the outrageously offensive and vitriolic stance that the Church has taken which demonises, harms and segregates same sex couples from the rest of society without any justifiable cause.

The Church of England suggests that this will lead to the disestablishment of the Church.  Many would not be disappointed by this.  But for those concerned, perhaps looking to nearby neighbours such as Wales and Scotland where the church is already de-established can evidence that the sky does not fall in if this happens.

There has yet to be proposed a single reason why same-sex marriage is bad for the country that is not based on religious rhetoric (and many religious people oppose those views) or that has not been sufficiently countered. Most of the reasons proposed against same-sex marriage are in fact arguments against homosexuality in general, which is a useless argument to be had in the first place (as if one chooses between homo- or heterosexuality based on logic).  It is difficult to understand how some Christians who oppose equal marriage  cannot appreciate that other religious people might legitimately disagree with them. 

Reasons Christians (if not the officialdom of the Church of England) should endorse and support equal marriage:

Because Christians support equal rights for all.

The “special rights” argument is patently false – this is obviously a clear case of all citizens being treated exactly equally with respect to all of the societal approbations that are associated with marriage: inheritance, taxation, hospital visitation rights etc. What is special about gays and lesbians being granted the same rights as heterosexual couples already have?

Because Christians have long benefited from the freedom of religion in this country, and would want to continue to respect that in the future.

Even if you personally don’t approve of same-sex marriage, you might at least recognize that there are several other denominations who are in favour of same-sex marriage: the Society of Friends, Metropolitan Community Church, Unitarian Church, and others. To deny any religious groups’ belief to practice same-sex marriage violates a belief in the freedom of religion for all.

Because modern Christians realize that marriage has nothing to do with procreation.

Often a primary objection to same-sex marriages is that they cannot bear children. Not only is this narrow-minded and untrue (many creative solutions are available to the same-sex couple that desires to raise children), it’s a double-standard. No one tests heterosexuals for their fertility or desire to raise children before determining their suitability for marriage – on the contrary, churches today regularly marry couples known to be infertile (post-menopausal women being only one example) Inasmuch as any heterosexual couple that has remained childless has been recognized as married by the church, it is hypocritical to resort to this fallacious logic in the same-sex marriage debate.

Because Christians should support marriage in all of its forms.

Some claim that same-sex marriage is an attack on family values, but this is incorrect. On the contrary, it is an attempt by LGBT people to be legally recognized as having families in the first place. It is a non sequitur to claim that only the “traditional” nuclear family model is legitimate when less than half of Canadian families conform to this model currently anyways. Same-sex marriage can be seen as enhancing and strengthening marriage instead of the opposite.

Because Christians realize that the Church has been discriminatory in the past and would seek amends for that.

Formerly the Church denigrated “homosexual promiscuity” without making available any other option (a recognized covenanted relationship). The Christian support of same-sex marriage thus can end a hypocritical position of the Church and give the Church more relevance to contemporary society. Many agree that Christians should be opposed to discrimination in any form. The “have-your-relationships-but-don’t-call-it-marriage” argument is specious as it promotes a South African-type apartheid: the “same water coming from different fountains” is not equal. As the American Supreme Court has decided “separate but equal” is not.

Because Christians realize that marriage has never been a static institution, and therefore there is no reason that it should be now.

From its early origin as a property exchange, to a method of ensuring peace between nations, to being recognized as a church function only in the thirteenth century, to the recent questioning of the “God-given” roles for men and women, the institution of marriage has always been in a state of flux. Things once illegal, such as miscegenation and the marriage of the mentally handicapped, are now permitted. To arbitrarily decide that now marriage has evolved as far as it should according to an 1960’s definition is to deny any possible subsequent influence of the Holy Spirit in our world.

Because responsible Christians support the separation of Church and State.

Hardly anyone believes these days that the Church should define the law in this country – this position is ignorant of the centuries of problems that that historical situation created. In accordance with the freedom of religion, modern Christians realize that the insertion of the Christian God into government only spells trouble for those who (everyone agrees) have the right NOT to believe in that God. Christians do not want their denomination to dictate law for the rest of the country.

Because Christians have long known that the Church should not determine legal policy.

Further to the above, Christians universally believe in following one’s own conscience, even when that entails opposing the official policy of one’s church. Catholics believe that each person has a solemn moral obligation to adhere to the dictates of his or her conscience (even if that conscience is erroneous), over and above the dictates of the Church. As Cardinal Ratzinger has written: “Only the absoluteness of conscience is the antithesis to tyranny.” Thus for Catholics convicted that all people should be treated equally and that freedom of religion should be respected as above, not to promote the legalisation of same-sex marriages is sinful. Within Protestantism the case is even easier, as the entire tradition is ultimately based upon an individual acting according to the dictates of his conscience. To stand up and challenge the dominant authority is a practice firmly rooted and celebrated in Protestant tradition. Even those opposed to homosexuality in general can logically support same-sex marriage as a decidedly “lesser evil” than the alternative.

Because Christians realize that to hold up marriage as for heterosexuals only is not only discriminatory, it also borders on idolatry.

Just as the Pharisees in Jesus’ day were maligned for counting their dill seeds while neglecting justice and mercy (Mathew 23:23), Christians today realize that marriage was created for humankind, not the opposite. Jesus’ words in Mark 2:27 are an interesting parallel to the contemporary situation. Marriage is a tool for developing honest, voluntary, long-lasting and mutually accountable relationships between two people, and Christians realize that that is a laudable goal for two people of any gender and seek to promote that.

Because Christians believe in the supremacy of God, not the supremacy of government.

Even those who consider homosexual behaviour to be sinful can believe in the equality of all people under the government. Christians realize that many sins are not covered by the Criminal Code, nor should they be, as they are more matters of individual conscience. Ultimately, Christians can take solace in the fact that all will be judged fairly before God, and leave it to God to do the judging. In the meantime, one can work toward the most equitable society possible on this earth: this is what Jesus would have us do.

The church has to ask itself whether it will protect and support pastorally, faithful, stable, lifelong relationships of whatever kind in order to encourage human values such as love and fidelity and recognise the need in Christian people for some public religious support for these relationships. 

As the Archbishop of Wales said “If the moral aim of the gospel is to encourage love of neighbours, how can that happen when people are made to feel unwanted, unloved, and sinful? How is the gospel good news for homosexuals?”

The Church of England too often acts too late on issues of equality.  It is doing so again, and is demonstrating that it is an institution that regards historical convention as more important that equality – and who has intransigent and damaging institutional homophobia up to levels of Archbishop.

The Church of England has nothing useful to say on the issue of civil marriage and its empty and meaningless threats should be ignored by government.

From salon.com, by Naomi Abraham

When Secretary of State Hilary Clinton made a historic speech in Geneva on Dec. 8 calling for recognition of gay rights and support for those who brave hostility to defend gay rights, she might have been speaking of the Rev. MacDonald Semberka who was in the audience listening.

On the evening  of Sept. 11, 2011, Sembereka, a Malawian Episcopalian, found his house reduced to unrecognizable rubble by a petrol bomb. A month later, he borrowed money for airfare so he could attend a conference at Union Theological Seminary, a Manhattan institution with a long history of social activism.  He arrived wearing a clerical collar and a smile that belied the horror of seeing his home and nearly everything his family owned destroyed. At the two-day conference in New York, he would meet and strategize with other Christian leaders in the fight against Africa’s perilous and increasingly prevalent brand of homophobia.

Sembereka is one of a small but growing group of African religious leaders who have taken great personal and professional hits for supporting LGBT rights. For their efforts, they have faced violence, professional alienation and social ostricization. Yet these straight men and women, primarily Christian clergy, continue to criticize the intensifying vitriol and violence against gay Africans.

The motivation behind the bombing of the house Sembereka shared with his wife, two children and extended family has yet to be determined, and the perpetrators may never be brought to justice. But Malawian human rights organizations say Sembereka was likely a target because of his outspoken pro-gay views and his valiant defense of human rights.

Fortunately, the only ones home that fateful night were two teenage boys who managed to run out unharmed. “I’m thankful that miraculously no one was hurt,” Sembereka told me in an interview. “But what hurts me the most is to see my [7-year-old] daughter traumatized. She’s had bad nightmares since the attack.”

For the most part, African faith leaders have either fanned the flames of homophobia or stayed quiet on the issue.  In some cases, they have been the key agitators of anti-gay attitudes in their countries.

In an interview last summer, Bishop Benjamin Nzimbi, the former archbishop of Kenya, told me that he could fix homosexuals by marrying off lesbians with gay men. Ugandan evangelical pastor Martin Ssempa has shown same-sex pornography to his congregation of hundreds in Kampala in order to rally up support for the Ugandan government’s anti-gay position.

Last month, after British Prime Minister David Cameron threatened to cut aid to Ghana unless it retracted its anti-gay policies, religious leaders there made sharp comments against homosexuality and warned against capitulation.  Some of the criticism came from 53 LGBT African groups who wrote,  “While the intention may well be to protect the rights of LGBTI people on the continent, the decision to cut aid disregards the role of the LGBTI and broader social justice movement on the continent and creates the real risk of a serious backlash.”

Last week, after Clinton announced a similar decision to tie U.S. foreign aid to a country’s record on gay rights, the backlash was evident. Yoweri Museveni, Uganda’s president, said of homosexuality, “It’s something anathema to Africans, and I can say that it is abhorrent in every country on the continent that I can think of.” The National Council of Churches in Kenya stated flatly, “We don’t believe in advancing the rights of gays.”

Where religion plays a significant role in the lives of many Africans, faith leaders yield great influence over politics and in setting the moral compass of most African societies. Last spring when Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki nominated Willy Mutunga, a pro-gay judge, many of the country’s religious leaders sprang into action to oppose his nomination. Making matters worse for them, Nancy Baraza, the president’s choice for the deputy chief justice, was also supportive of gay rights.  For two months, substantive issues were sidelined for questions on the nominees’ sexuality.

The two nominees, both straight, were eventually confirmed as chief and deputy chief justice.  Activists in Kenya and across Africa hailed this as an unparalleled victory in their struggle for equality. Longtime gay rights activist David Kuria said, “Things are changing and the most pertinent example is the nomination of the deputy and chief justice. This discredits that Africa is universally united in its opposition of homosexuals.”

Methodist Rev. John Makokah of Kenya, who’s been blasted for his pro-gay views, said, “We have a long way to go but Willy Mutunga and Nancy Baraza will help usher a new dawn for persecuted homosexuals.” But the hearings in the Kenyan parliament last summer also demonstrated the strong sway of religion on government decisions.

Generally, media reports on homosexuality in Africa have focused on the legislative push in Uganda to render certain acts of homosexuality a crime punishable by death and on the wave of lesbian “corrective” rapes in South Africa. But little attention has been given to the African activists, gay and straight, who challenge the mistreatment of gay Africans and the criminalization of homosexuality in 38 of 54 countries in Africa.

For example, Bishop Christopher Senonjo, a retired 80-year-old Anglican Bishop from Uganda, who has been a beacon of support for LGBT Ugandans since 1998 when he began to counsel gay men and women.  Around the same time, a group of gay men founded one of Uganda’s first gay groups and asked the bishop to chair the organization.  His decision to accept the invitation would lead to years of persecution. Because of his support of homosexuals, he would be ostracized from the church, stripped of his pension and precluded from performing his religious duties.

But he says the most difficult part of his ordeal has been the backlash against his family.  Recently, his daughter’s fiancé broke off the engagement because he said he didn’t want to be associated with a family who held pro-gay views.  But early on, he says, even his family had their doubts.  His wife, Mary, 73, did not understand or agree with what he was doing but, laughing and showing his toothy smile, he said, “God changed her heart.”

Today, Mary is a quiet force of support for her husband and the LGBT individuals she meets through his work.  When a Ugandan lesbian broke down into uncontrollable tears at the conference in New York, Mary scooted her chair to where the women was sitting and rubbed her back till she stopped sobbing and stayed by her side for the rest of the day.

Albert Ogle, president of St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation, a faith-based organization headquartered in San Diego, says that the Senonjo and Sembereka “are fueled by a moral value, which is about including all the marginalized in ministry and service. It’s not that their mission is about gay rights necessarily but to serve all humanity.”

By the end of the conference Ogle and those in attendance formed a coalition, which they dubbed “Compass to Coalition” to combat punitive laws and attitudes toward LGBT people in Africa and in the 76 countries around the world where it is illegal to be gay.

Anglican priest Michael Kimindu of Kenya says religious leaders in Africa have to be at the helm for changing attitudes toward gay people.  Like many of his counterparts, he’s also been banished from the church and alienated from family members for his work with LGBT Kenyans. “We can’t let them be treated this way,” he says of gay Kenyans. “The church has to lead in bringing dignity to these people.”

When Sembereka took the stage at the conference, he also spoke of the formidable challenges that he and other LGBT-affirming faith leaders faced: “We are branded as Western puppets or gay ourselves.” He added that these attacks would not stop him or his colleagues from continuing to fight the unnecessary persecution of people of diverse sexualities. Later when asked about his destroyed home he said, “That too will be something of the past just like the plague of homophobia.”

From Chicago Pride

 

Cardinal Francis George said Wednesday during a taping of Fox Chicago Sunday that some gay rights activists use anti-Catholic rhetoric that reminds him of the Ku Klux Klan. The Cardinal also said he supported a North Side priest in objecting to the new route for next year’s Chicago Gay Pride Parade.

“Well, I go with the pastor. I mean, he’s telling us that they won’t be able to have church services on Sunday, if that’s the case,” Cardinal George said. “You know, you don’t want the Gay Liberation Movement to morph into something like the Ku Klux Klan, demonstrating in the streets against Catholicism.”

When questioned about the statement, Cardinal George said, “The rhetoric of the Ku Klux Klan, the rhetoric of some in the Gay Liberation. Who is the enemy? The Catholic Church.”

The controversial new route calls for the Pride Parade to travel east down Belmont from Halsted to Broadway, taking it directly in front of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church, one of the city’s oldest Roman Catholic churches.

Church leaders say the plan will interfere with it’s Sunday Mass, possibly causing it to cancel morning mass for the first time in 125 years.

The change in route and time came after last year’s parade drew nearly 800,000 people, which lead to crowd control problems for the city.

A number of LGBT advocates and allies are speaking about the Cardinal’s statements.

“The Cardinals unfortunate choice of words in comparing the LGBT community to the Klu Klux Klan is offensive,” State Rep. Sara Feigenholtz (D-Chicago) told ChicagoPride.com late Wednesday. “I would hope an apology be forthcoming.”

“I think the Cardinal’s remarks were inappropriate and disrespectful. We should always treat each other with respect, even when we disagree,” said openly-gay State Rep. Greg Harris (D-Chicago), whose district also includes the parade route.

The Gay Liberation Network, an LGBT gay rights advocacy group headed by Andy Thayer, issued the following statement: “In comparing LGBT rights advocates to the KKK, the Cardinal shows he is not honest man of faith trying to better the world, but rather, a mendacious one trying to deflect criticism of church policies that promote discrimination. It is ironic that George chooses to mention the KKK, as they are but one of the most extreme examples of organizations which have used religion to shield themselves from criticism of their hateful policies.  While an overwhelming majority of lay Catholics support equality for women and LGBTs, the Catholic leadership has a history and present practice of discrimination which they apparently will go to quite extreme lengths to defend.”

Fox Chicago Sunday will air Christmas morning at 8:30 a.m. The entire interview with the Cardinal is currently posted on the Fox Chicago website at MyFoxChicago.com.

From The Huffington Post

 

Lillian Kirenyi, a member of Zimbabwe’s parliament, has been arrested for allegedly calling President Robert Mugabe gay.

As the Daily Nation is reporting, Kirenyi is quoted as saying, “Zanu PF [President Mugabe's party] members been attacking MDC president [Prime Minister Morgan] Tsvangirai alleging he is pro-homosexuals yet Robert Mugabe has practiced homosexuality with [Professor] Jonathan Moyo [former Information minister] and Canaan Banana [Zimbabwe’s first ceremonial president].”

Kirenyi was on Tuesday charged with undermining the authority of President Mugabe and is currently being held without bail, according to reports. The late Banana, who died in 2003, was jailed in 1999 after being found guilty of 11 counts of sodomy and abusing his power to engage in “unnatural acts” with men, including many who were on his presidential staff, The Guardian reported.

Known for a notoriously hostile stance on his nation’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) population, Mugabe has in recent weeks said that gay people will be punished for their behavior in accordance with “African and Christian values” and criticized British Prime Minister David Cameron for urging African states to decriminalize homosexuality.

Earlier this year, Tsvangirai came under fire after proclaiming that he wanted to see LGBT rights protected in the nation’s new constitution. “As long as it doesn’t interfere with anybody, who am I to define what individual [one's] opinion is going to be as far as their sexual preferences are concerned? To me, it’s a human right,” he told the BBC in October. At the time, Tsvangirai’s spokesman was quick to clarify that the prime minister “still believes that the issue of homosexuality is alien in Africa,” according to the AFP.

Last year, two gay rights activists in Zimbabwe claimed to have been abused and tortured after six days in police custody, after being accused accused of possessing pornographic material and insulting Mugabe,

from The Washington Blade, by Chris Johnson

Would a President Hillary Clinton have made more progress on LGBT issues over the course of her first term as opposed to what we’ve seen under President Obama?

The secretary of state certainly stole the spotlight on LGBT issues when she gave a high-profile speech in Geneva earlier this month calling for an end to anti-gay abuses overseas and emphasizing her previously stated belief that gay rights are human rights and human rights are gay rights.

“In our lifetimes, attitudes toward gay people in many places have been transformed,” Clinton said. “Many people, including myself, have experienced a deepening of our own convictions on this topic over the years, as we have devoted more thought to it, engaged in dialogues and debates, and established personal and professional relationships with people who are gay.”

Clinton had a strong LGBT following in 2008 when she was competing against Obama for the Democratic nomination for president. There were many high-profile LGBT Clintonistas, although many of them became Obama supporters after he won the Democratic mantle.

Former members of Clinton’s 2008 LGBT steering committee praised her speech in Geneva, but noted that it took place as part of a coordinated effort under the Obama administration.

Elizabeth Birch, former executive director of the Human Rights Campaign and a Clinton backer in 2008, said the Clinton speech was “bold and historic,” but wouldn’t have taken place if President Obama didn’t want it to happen.

“It was as deeply thoughtful and intelligent as Secretary Clinton herself,” Birch said. “But we all know that the secretary of state serves the president and our nation. This speech took place because this administration — including Secretary Clinton — wanted it to take place.”

Peter Rosenstein, a gay D.C. Democratic activist and 2008 Clinton delegate, noted Clinton’s speech followed Obama’s speech at the United Nations in which he became the first sitting president to mention gay rights in a speech before the full U.N. General Assembly.

“I think Hillary made a brilliant, heartfelt speech on LGBT rights but let us not forget that President Obama spoke out first at the United Nations on the need to protect gay and lesbian people around the world,” Rosenstein said.

But questions linger among some Clinton supporters over what progress the LGBT community would have seen if she had won the presidency.

Clinton’s LGBT advocacy in her role as secretary of state has been aggressive. Early on during the administration, Clinton instituted a change to offer equal benefits to same-sex partners of Foreign Service officers.

The change allowed same-sex partners to have access to diplomatic passports, use of medical facilities at posts overseas, medical and other emergency evacuation privileges, compensation for transportation between posts and training in security and languages.

The Obama administration has no seen no shortage of major advancements for the LGBT community. Notable among them is passage of hate crimes protection legislation, repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and the discontinuation of the defense of the Defense of Marriage Act in court.

Clo Ewing, an Obama campaign spokesperson, touted the president’s record in response to an inquiry on whether a President Clinton would have accomplished more than President Obama.

“President Obama’s administration has done more to advance LGBT equality than any other, accomplishing the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,’ signing the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crime Prevention Act into law and ending discrimination based on gender identity in the federal government,” Ewing said. “And if he’s reelected, that progress will continue.”

Still, many LGBT advocates are frustrated that Obama has yet to come out in support of same-sex marriage. Obama has said he could “evolve” to support marriage rights, but more than a year has passed since he made that statement and he has yet to do so.

Moreover, one major piece of legislation that Obama backed during his 2008 campaign continues to languish in Congress: the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

Passage would be difficult given the current makeup of Congress, but Obama in the interim could issue an executive order preventing federal dollars from going to contractors that don’t have their own non-discrimination protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity in place for workers.

Lane Hudson, a gay D.C.-based Democratic activist and 2008 Clinton supporter, thinks she would have made more progress on ENDA and marriage if she were president.

“My gut tells me that Hillary would have evolved to a position supporting full marriage equality,” Hudson said. “While her speech in Geneva didn’t mention it specifically, I feel that it is implied in her statement that ‘gay rights are human rights and human rights are gay rights.”

Hudson went to 10 states — including New Hampshire where Clinton won the primary — to campaign for the then-Democratic presidential candidate. He also served as host for LGBT-focused fundraisers in D.C.

Clinton, in her role as secretary of state, has continued to support civil unions as opposed to same-sex marriage. But, during a speech at the State Department this year commemorating June as Pride month, she praised the marriage law in New York, saying it, “gives such visibility and credibility to everything that so many of you have done over so many years.”

Still, she hasn’t endorsed marriage rights even as at least one other member of Obama’s cabinet has declared his personal support. Secretary of Housing & Urban Development Shaun Donovan expressed his support for same-sex marriage last month.

It’s difficult to say whether ENDA would be further along under a Clinton administration because employment protections haven’t been under her purview as secretary of state.

Still, Hudson said he believes Clinton would “have been more aggressive in helping to get ENDA passed into law.”

“Without question, Hillary would have been more successful at legislating,” Hudson said. “Not only does she have a solid record as a senator, but she would have been far more engaged with the Congress. ENDA didn’t even leave the House committee in the last Congress.”

But many prominent LGBT Clinton backers say they’re pleased with the Obama administration and she and the president have been working closely to advance LGBT issues.

Other former Clinton supporters were dubious that the secretary of state would have come out for marriage equality or guided ENDA to passage had she been elected president instead of Obama.

Hilary Rosen, a D.C.-based Democratic activist, called herself “Hillary Clinton’s greatest fan,” but expressed skepticism that Clinton would have succeeded on ENDA or evolved on marriage.

“ENDA is stuck in the Congress not the White House and I just don’t know if she would have changed her view publicly by now about marriage if she were president,” Rosen said. “And anyone who tells you they know is making it up.”

Birch said Obama achieved tremendous legislative success for the LGBT community — counting passage of hate crimes legislation and “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal as two signature accomplishments — and said people should “work harder than ever in their lives to re-elect a president that invested in real change.”

“President Obama has achieved what no other president has ever achieved — a breakthrough of majority votes in the United States Congress to actually change the federal law of our country,” Birch said. ”He has done it twice. He prioritized us and that is how it happened.”

Steve Elmendorf, a gay Democratic lobbyist, said he doesn’t think “we’d see any difference” if Clinton were president instead of Obama.

“I was an enthusiastic Hillary backer; I am an enthusiastic Obama backer now,” Elmendorf said. “In terms of passing of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ [repeal] and hate crimes, I think Obama has done a terrific job and, I think, the community should be enthusiastic about him — particularly if they watch the Republican primary process play out and see what the alternative is.”

Elmendorf, also a member of Clinton’s 2008 LGBT steering committee, said the only thing Obama hasn’t done is come out publicly for marriage equality, but noted Clinton also has yet to make such an endorsement.

“The opposition is so horrible, and marriage is just one issue and he’s got such a good record on just everything else that it doesn’t in any way diminish my enthusiasm for him,” Elmendorf said.

From Queerty

Tesco, one of the largest supermarket/retail chains in the United Kingdom, is in hot water with religious groups because one of the company’s top honchos took a personal stand against anti-gay Christians.

Back in 2008 Nick Lansley, the company’s openly gay head of Research and Development, wrote on his Flickr profile page, “I’m…campaigning against evil Christians (that’s not all Christians, just bad ones) who think that gay people should not lead happy lives and get married to their same-sex partners.”

Not that we’re taking sides, but good for you, Nick.

Now, some three years after the comment was made, the Christian Institute—a nondenominational charity dedicated to “the furtherance and promotion of the Christian religion in the United Kingdom” is backing a boycott of Tesco. (Delayed reaction much?)

The boycott is also prompted by Tesco making a £30,000 (roughly $47, 000) donation to London Pride. (Which, by the way, is just a paltry 0.05% of the company’s total annual donations.

“I won’t be shopping at Tesco this Christmas, and I am repeatedly hearing from other Christians who have already come to the same conclusion,” Christian Institute Colin Hart said, “Mr Lansley is entitled to his opinions, and Christians are entitled to choose not to shop at Tesco.”

We’re sure you’re on Santa’s naughty list, Mr. Hart.

A Tesco spokesman told the Telegraph, “Mr Lansley’s comments, made in a personal capacity in 2008, in no way reflect the views of Tesco… We are very sorry that anyone might have thought that there was any blurring of the boundary between his personal comments and his work for Tesco. We have therefore asked him to remove the comments, and he has done so.”

So Lansley (at left), made a private comment on his photo page—one that’s in no way connected to his job—and his employer should be published? If Lansley was a Fundamentalist Christian who posted a comment bashing marriage equality, you can bet Hart and his cronies would be defending his remarks from all comers.

We’re disappointed Tesco made Lansley, who’s been with the company for 23 year, take down his comment and is distancing itself from his sentiment. But good on them for giving a big donation to London Pride.

 

 

From Reuters, by Carmel Crimmens

Gay, lesbian or bisexual teachers in many Irish schools — which are still dominated by the Catholic Church — risk discrimination or even the sack if they reveal their sexuality, thanks to a law that permits religious employers to penalize employees for actions undermining their religious standards.

“When you are in the school system, you are caught up in the ethos of the school, you are caught up in the silence,” said Leo Kilroy, 34, who used to teach in a Catholic-run primary school in Dublin’s inner city.

“You are aware that if you come out as a gay or a lesbian you may experience discrimination. Your very existence in that post is up for challenge.”

The Church has been toppled from its once pre-eminent position in Irish life thanks to rising prosperity, membership of the European Union, the shift from farm to city and wave after wave of sex abuse scandals. Ireland’s recent decision to close its embassy in the Vatican brought relations to a historic low.

But the Church’s influence is still profound in two key areas — schools and family law, which is governed by a constitution still bearing the legacy of Ireland’s Catholic past.

More than nine in ten primary schools and half of all high schools are run by the Church. The boards of such schools are typically chaired by a parish priest and, although the state pays the teachers’ salaries, the Church still has a say in enrolment and recruitment.

Kilroy came out as a gay man in his late 20s after he left his teaching post.

He now lecturers trainee teachers and is treasurer of a group representing lesbian, gay and bisexual primary school teachers. It has 45 members out of a sector with an estimated 31,000 employees.

“One of the reasons that I was freer to come out was because I was free of the school system. A gay and lesbian person in a staff room has to censor themselves,” he said.

“I know of gay teachers who have been passed over for promotion, they have been verbally abused and discriminated against and had to suffer jokes about gay or lesbian people.”

 

Up until 1993, it was a crime to commit a homosexual act in Ireland — anal sex could land you in prison for life.

Before that, most people opted to hide their sexuality. Gay pride parades in 1980s Dublin were paltry affairs, attracting a few hundred people and the odd bigot shouting taunts about AIDS.

Attitudes have changed dramatically since then. This year’s gay pride event attracted 25,000 people, the second-largest procession in the country after the St. Patrick’s’ Day Parade.

Polls show a majority of the public are in favor of gay marriage, including many practicing Catholics.

“The Lord made them that way. They should have equal rights,” said Ita Phelan, 91, on her way into Sunday Mass at Dublin’s main Roman Catholic church.

But in many classrooms, where about half an hour of daily religious instruction and a crucifix on the wall are the norm, not much has changed.

Patrick Dempsey used to pretend to be sick to avoid going into school in Dublin’s south inner city.

“From first year right up until I left I had to deal with bullying, name-calling, being afraid to walk down a corridor.

“When you know someone is going to call you a faggot or a queer and you know you are going to be embarrassed in front of 30 or so odd people you are going to want to avoid that at all cost.”

The 19-year-old eventually dropped out of the Catholic-run school in his final year in frustration at how the staff was ignoring the problem.

“I think it came down to the ethos of the school because it was a Catholic school they didn’t have a specific policy towards homophobic bullying,” he said.

“It was so open in the school it was unbelievable. Homophobic language was used by one of the teachers.”

 

While it has followed other European countries in legislating for divorce and contraception, Ireland is still a relatively religious country with church weddings and funerals the norm and baptism still considered a natural rite of passage.

The Irish government consulted the archbishop of Dublin in 1937 when drafting the constitution. A clause recognizing the special position of the Catholic Church was removed in the early 1970s but the first line of the charter still reads “In the name of the most Holy Trinity” and there is a reference to the role of the woman in the home.

“Whilst we are becoming more liberal and there is a growing appetite for a more secular approach to policymaking we still don’t see very strong secularism coming out of the main political parties,” said Theresa Reidy, a lecturer in politics at University College Cork.

“They are slow in moving in a completely secular direction.”

Prime Minister Enda Kenny’s ruling coalition has pledged to look at the possibility of constitutional change to allow for gay marriage, which opinion polls show is favored by a majority of the public, and wants to reduce the number of schools that fall under the Catholic Church’s remit.

But with the government focused on trying to steer Ireland out of financial crisis, the last thing Kenny wants to do is tackle contentious social issues, and the idea of cutting back on the church role in schools is likely to suffer from a shortage of funds.

His government has yet to introduce a law clarifying when abortion is legal in Ireland, a year after the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the lack of legislation was violating women’s human rights.

And it has made only a vague reference to examine the threat hanging over gay and lesbian teachers from the employment legislation, which allows religious employers to take actions which are “reasonably necessary” to ensure employees or prospective employees do not undermine their religious ethos.

 

Nowadays, teenagers are more comfortable about coming out. Most of the callers to Dublin-based gay youth services group BeLonG To are aged between 14 and 15 compared to 19 and 20 when it was first set up nearly nine years ago.

“There is a quiet revolution going on out there. The numbers of young people coming to BeLonG To have more than doubled each year for the last three. It’s quite phenomenal,” said Michael Barron, the group’s co-founder.

More than 2,500 people got involved with the organization’s youth group this year and tens of thousands contacted it via email.

Barron works with schools to raise awareness about lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues and to campaign against homophobic bullying, which he describes as a huge problem.

The attitude of the schools’ management boards and principals, the vast majority of whom are no longer nuns or priests, is key.

“Some of the best schools we have worked with have been religious schools but it certainly poses a barrier overall,” said Barron. It is not unheard of for teachers to tell pupils homosexuality is sinful.

“The educational system still has that Catholic legacy and in some cases it’s more than a legacy it’s still how things are taught,” said Barron.

“We would know of many gay teachers who aren’t out in schools. It is an issue. Those gay teachers could provide vital role-modeling for young people, particularly a young person who is struggling, who thinks they are the only gay or transgender young person in the world.

 

For Feargha Ni Bhroin, being a lesbian isn’t an issue at the non-religious vocational college where she teaches. The problem is at home.

Ni Bhroin and her partner, Linda Cullen, are stuck in legal limbo since becoming parents to twin girls.

Under Irish law, Cullen has no relationship with her daughters because she is not their biological mother. She cannot adopt them or be their guardian and she is not named on their birth certificates.

“If we separated I would have no rights, and more importantly the children have no rights on me, so I wouldn’t have to pay maintenance or anything if I didn’t want to,” said the Dubliner, who runs a television production company.

Legislation unveiled last year gives same-sex couples who register as civil partners the same financial entitlements as married heterosexual couples but not full equality. That means children of same sex couples, even those who chose to enter a civil partnership, are not protected by the law.

“The children know I am their mother. I am up with them at 3, 4, 5 in the morning. But the law doesn’t.”

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.