The Vatican more liberal than the US bishops on same-sex marriage?

The Vatican’s top official on family life endorsed legal protections for same-sex couples in his first public press conference in the Vatican earlier this week. Reporting on the first Vaitican press conference by the head of the Pontifical Council for the Family, Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, Religion News Service wrote:

Paglia conceded that there are several kinds of “cohabitation forms that do not constitute a family,” and that their number is growing. Paglia suggested that nations could find “private law solutions” to help individuals who live in non-matrimonial relations, “to prevent injustice and make their life easier.”

He also said he would “like the church to fight against” sodomy laws in the nations where they’re still in effect.

Paglia, of course, reiterated a firm opposition to recognizing same-sex marriages, saying, “The church must defend the truth, and the truth is that a marriage is only between a man and a woman.”

But if his statements truly reflect the church’s official position, then the Holy See now seems to be to the left of its bishops in many countries—including the United States.

Yesterday, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops reportedly sent a missive to the White House threatening to help block an immigration reform package if it would smooth the immigration path for same-sex partners of American citizens.

The USCCB would not make the letter public, but the bishops’ spokesperson, Sister Mary Anne Walsh, told the Associated Press that inclusion of these provisions—which have been endorsed by the White House—could “jeopardizes passage of the bill.” This threat is shocking because immigration reform has been a major priority for the U.S. church, and one of the few big issues in which it has seen eye-to-eye with the Democratic Party.

The immigration reform package recently unveiled by President Barack Obama proposes treating “same-sex families as families by giving U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents the ability to seek a visa on the basis of a permanent relationship with a same-sex partner.”

The Chilean Church has also staked out a position to the right of this new line from the Vatican in its fight against President Sebastián Piñera’s proposal to provide some protections to same-sex couples, called “Acuerdo de Vida en Pareja.” This translates more or less to a Life Partnership Agreement, and it would be a civil contract that mostly protects the property rights of same-sex couples.

During a hearing last month in the Chilean senate, Bishop Juan Ignacio González testified that even this level of protection would lead to “the destruction of human beings and …. destruction to social and family peace among men.”

Similarly, Catholic hierarchy helped kill a Costa Rican civil union law late last year, pronouncing that recognition of same-sex couples “distorts the perception of fundamental moral values and undermines the institution of marriage.”

Of course, it’s an open question whether Paglia actually is voicing church policy or whether the church intends to follow his words with actions. His call to decriminalize sodomy seems especially contradictory given that the pope gave a special blessing in December to the member of parliament from Uganda who is pushing the “Kill the Gays” bill.

We have seen some softening of the hard-line against protections for same-sex couples in countries where the church is losing the fight over same-sex marriage. In Uruguay, for example, where the Congress is expected to pass an “Equal Marriage Law” this spring, the country’s top bishop has endorsed civil unions, hoping to head off full marriage rights.

The Vatican may be similarly moderating its line as it sees how quickly it is losing the marriage debate on its home continent. It will be interesting to see how long bishops in other places where the same-sex marriage movement is gaining ground—including the United States—will hold onto their hardline position.

New Zimbabwean constitution to include same-sex marriage ban

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe entered into a power-sharing government with his chief rival, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, after violent elections in 2008. Now the two sides have agreed on a draft constitution, according to AFP, which got a peek at the draft on Monday. And along with limiting presidential terms and stripping the executive of prosecutorial immunity, the draft document would ban same-sex marriage.

The draft, according to the AFP report, states that “persons of the same sex are prohibited from marrying each other.”

The same-sex marriage issue became a cudgel used by the ruling party against the opposition during negotiations over the constitution, LGBT rights advocates have said. Mugabe attempted to put the opposition on the defensive by alleging that they were trying to include provisions legalizing same-sex marriage in the constitution. His government also stepped up harassment of LGBT activists in the country, including raiding the offices of Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe.

Public Eye’s Kapya Kaoma recently wrote that the anti-LGBT legislation is being crafted with help from the American conservative group American Center for Law and Justice, which opened an office in Zimbabwe in 2010. The group’s executive director, Jordan Sekulow, met with Mugabe’s vice president, John Nkomo, Prime Minister Tsvangirai, and other politicians during a visit to the country.

 

Chilean bishop: domestic partnerships bring “the destruction of human beings”

During a hearing earlier this week, the Catholic bishop of San Bernardo, Juan Ignacio González, declared that a proposed domestic partnership bill “brings the destruction of human beings and, although they deny it, destruction to social and family peace among men.”

Pablo Simonetti, president of Fundación Iguales, fired back through the media, calling González’s words “apocalyptic” and criticizing the bishop’s affiliation with Opus Dei.

“The majority of Catholics in Chile realize the unjust situation that sexual minorities live with,” he said. “We should clearly differentiate the opinion of the Catholic hierarchy and the Catholic people.”

Another Chilean update: Govt throws weight behind civil union law

In remarks this morning, Cecilia Pérez, the spokeswoman for the administration of Chilean President Sebastián Piñera announced that passing a civil union law would be among his top priorities for 2013. Pérez said,

As we did last year winning approval of the Anti-discrimination Law, we are convinced that the [Acuerdo de Vida en Pareja] is another significant step for Chile to continue advancing down the path of integration and equality in order to construct a more inclusive and respectful society.

Marriage key issue in Chilean presidential debate

Same-sex marriage emerged as a major dividing line between two potential presidential nominees of the Chilean Christian Democrat party in their first televised debate.

Claudio Orrego, who just finished his second term as mayor of the city of Peñalolén, said that he supported a civil union proposal currently under debate in the Chilean Congress. But he wants marriage to remain between a man and a woman. He said,

I have firmly supported the Acuerdo de Vida en Común, the anti-discrimination law, and I think and believe, like many Chileans, that marriage as an institution is between a man and a woman and this doesn’t seem to me to be arbitrary discrimination. I think it is part of the anthropology of life.

According to La Nación, Orrego’s opponent, Senator Ximena Rincón, responded that she opposes all discrimination and “if there is love” there is no reason not to allow same-sex couples to marry.

As I wrote in this post a few weeks ago, the debate over partnership rights is currently stalemated in the legislature. This election could have a huge impact on where it goes from here.

 

Another marriage suit on its way to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights

It’s looking increasingly likely that the Inter-American Court of Human Rights is going to have to decide whether same-sex couples’ right to marry is protected by international law.

Activists in Costa Rica have announced that they’ll start the process of suing their government after a civil union bill was blocked by conservative members of the country’s legislature. Their suit would join one filed earlier this year by three couples in Chile. And the Mexican lawyer who successfully sued on behalf of three couples from Oaxaca, Alex Alí Méndez Díaz, told me earlier this month that he’s also preparing to go to the Inter-American Court to broaden the ruling to allow same-sex couples to marry across Mexico.

Though the United States does not recognize the authority of the Inter-American Court (big surprise), most Latin American countries do. If the court were to rule that same-sex couples have the right to marry under the American Convention on Human Rights, it could lead to equal marriage rights across the region. Continue reading

Uruguayan Senate postpones marriage vote til April

The Uruguayan Senate was supposed to give final ratification to the country’s Equal Marriage Bill Wednesday afternoon. But then the chamber unanimously agreed to postpone the vote until April, according to UltimaHora.com.

This is a surprise since the law overwhelmingly passed the House of Representatives earlier this month. But it sounds like opposition senators are mounting a fierce counteroffensive, accusing the ruling Frente Amplio party of “authoritarianism” for accelerating the timetable for passage.

Catholic Church divides on civil unions—theology or strategy?

The leadership of Costa Rica’s Catholic Church put out a statement this week opposing civil union legislation now being debated in the country’s legislature.

The opposition to such legislation wouldn’t be surprising, except that Catholic hierarchy in some other Latin American countries have given the OK to civil unions, even endorsing the argument that same-sex couples deserve some level of legal protection.

Is this a theological difference, or a political one?

Take this statement last month from Uruguayan Bishop Jaime Fuentes, who handles family issues for the church hierarchy in his country. Continue reading

Chile apologizes to lesbian mother

Karen Atala. Photo by Kena Lorenzini.

In a rather incredible ceremony Friday, the government of Chile apologized to Karen Atala, a lesbian mother who sued in the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, to retain custody of her children. The ceremony was led by Chile’s chief justice with several other senior government officials present.

If you missed it (as I did because I was stuck in Mexico City traffic…), the video is here. More on the significance of Atala’s case—which established that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is a violation of the American Convention on Human Rights—is here.

The apology was made under court order, but it’s amazing to note how much LGBT politics have shifted in Chile since Atala brought her suit. Continue reading

Overwhelming majority backs gay marriage in Uruguay’s House

Eighty-one of the 99 members of Uruguay’s lower house voted in favor of same-sex marriage Tuesday night. It now heads to the Senate, where LGBT activists expect it will pass early next year.

The press coverage of the debate shows the long shadow still cast by Argentina’s vote to legalize same-sex marriage in 2010. The emotional highlight of the seven-hour session seems to have been the reading of a letter from the son of a gay father in Argentina, which was written during the run-up to the Argentine vote. Daniel Lezana wrote in 2010:

[My father], when he marries, he is going to do it with another gay, who feels the same as he does…. He’s not going to marry the heteros—what are they afraid of? That the gays are a plague that are going to infect us? If my father marries, both [my fathers] will be able to sign letters from school, either can come to my school meetings. I want to have the same rights as my classmates, and if (my dads) separate, [I want] to have the same rights that the children of [straight] separated parents have. Their children have [these rights] and I don’t—why?