What does the pope’s departure mean for the church’s stand on LGBT rights

If Pope Benedict had died in office, many LGBT activists would have been dancing on his grave. But we’re still seeing a fair amount of jubilation at the surprise news of his resignation, (perhaps) tempered by the lack of schadenfreude that the pope is not actually dead.

Dan Savage, for example, had this to say in a post on The Stranger’s “Slog”: “That Motherfucking Power-Hungry, Self-Aggrandized Bigot In the Stupid Fucking Hat Announces His Retirement.”

Pope Benedict has been consistently strident in his opposition to homosexuality, including devoting a special Christmas address to denouncing same-sex marriage in December. Towleroad greeted news of his resignation by posting a roundup of the pope’s anti-LGBT comments.

But if they’re hoping for a more gay-friendly replacement, they’re likely to be disappointed. He appointed several of the cardinals who will choose his successor, and others were selected by John Paul II appointees who helped pick Benedict. I leave it to those who know the church better to game the odds on his replacement, but the nature of the process makes it very unlikely that major change on this issue is in the works.

As the former head of Italy’s Arcigay Franco Grillini told Gay Star News, “Finally, one of the biggest enemies of LGBT people has resigned… But I know [the cardinals] very well and I’m sure that the next Pope will be as extremist as Benedict XVI was. “The cardinals are obsessed by homosexuality and by sex in general. Nothing is going to change.

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.

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.”

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

Catholic = Anti-Gay Marriage? Not quite.

Watching the post-election fallout while reporting on gay marriage in Latin America has been a little bizarre. With Latinos in the United States actually giving President Obama an even greater portion of their support this time around, there’s a lot of head-scratching from the pundits at home. Latinos are supposed to be Catholic, right? And Catholics aren’t supposed to like gay marriage, right? And that means they should punish Obama for his support of gay marriage, right?

The politics of the issue in Latin America presents a similar paradox. Despite the fact that most of Latin America is heavily Catholic—and increasingly evangelical in many places—the region is well ahead of the United States in recognizing same-sex marriage and LGBT rights.

Even though there’s no sign that the church is fading as a political institution, it seems to have lost a lot of traction on this issue—among American Catholics, Latin American Catholics, and, well, European Catholics, too. (Spain and Portugal were among the first to legalize gay marriage, and France is also on its way. And, sure, Europe is more secular, but it’s still worth noting the trend.) Sometimes the courts are ahead of public opinion in pushing things along, but the countries’ Catholicness doesn’t seem to be putting major breaks on the issue.

In Latin America, it’s striking that the church is increasingly throwing its weight behind civil unions in order to head off marriage, a shift that suggests it recognizes all-out opposition is a losing proposition.

“It seems logical that two people of the same sex who care for each other and want to share their lives together can have some sort of civil acknowledgement, but it can’t be the same as what governs marriage,” Uruguay’s top bishop, Jaime Fuentes, said last week as the country’s congress debated the issue.

While the Catholic church remains an important institutional home for opposition to LGBT unions, when we look globally (and speaking in the most simplistic terms), Protestant and Muslim populations seem to be more pivotal demographics for the intensity of opposition to marriage.

A glance at this map from the Economist makes that pretty clear. Laws criminalizing homosexuality are found throughout Africa and the Middle East, but not so much where Catholics are the clearest majority.

In Uganda, for example, 42 percent of the population is Catholic, but another 42 percent is Protestant (mostly Anglican) and another 12 percent is Muslim.

And in Latin America, opposition to LGBT rights is generally strongest where the evangelical movement is strongest. Take the situation in Peru, where a backlash among evangelicals to Lima’s pro-LGBT mayor is driving a recall election.

The gap between what the church says and how this plays out politically is growing—fast. I wonder when that will stop coming as a surprise.

Christians and Muslims unite against gay marriage in Liberia

From The Associated Press:

A few hundred Liberians representing the Christian and Muslim faiths and civil society organizations gathered here Saturday to launch a campaign to press the government to ban same-sex marriage.

At Saturday’s anti-gay marriage rally, an outspoken clergy, representing the Liberia Council of Churches, Rudolph Marsh, lashed out at the influence of foreign powers.

“There are good things in America that we can copy,” he said, “we don’t have to copy the bad ones; let’s leave the bad ones with Americans.”

Marsh called on Liberian Christians and Muslims to remain united “and stand together and tell the world that Liberia is a place of civilized people and will not allow same-sex marriage.”

Lima’s mayor recalled over support for LGBT rights

Lima Mayor Susana Villarán will face a recall election in March, and her opponents are making her support for LGBT rights a central plank of their campaign. And they’re counting on evangelicals to oust her.

Last week, one of the leaders of the recall effort, Marco Tulio Gutiérrez, told a Peruvian magazine that evangelicals “do not agree with a mayor that participates in marches of transvestites and sissies [maricas], a pro-lesbian, pro-gay mayor…. Thanks to … evangelical churches’ pro-life and pro-family movements, everything has headed towards a good result.”

“We’re not homophobic,” he added. “But the state can’t take that [pro-LGBT] posture. That is going to be the banner of the [recall] campaign.”

(Gutiérrez doubled-down on his language in a subsequent interview.)

Villarán made headlines when she appeared in Lima’s gay pride march in 2011. And then she provoked an unexpected uprising from the city’s large evangelical community in 2011 when she backed an ordinance prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

The sponsor of the nondiscrimination ordinance in the city’s legislature, Manuel Cardenas, told me that Villarán’s team had been caught entirely off guard by the strength of religious opposition to the proposal:

We did not think there was such a fundamentalist vision [in Lima]. We discovered that there was very fundamentalist thought… [Evangelical churches] had never shown such hardcore [fundamentalism]. Yes, we expected it from the Catholic church…. Really, we did not evaluate it. It was an error.

The recall election will take place on March 17, 2013. A recent poll found that 65 percent of Lima residents support the recall.

Malawian government in knots over sodomy

First President Joyce Banda wanted to repeal Malawi’s sodomy law, which was used to imprison a couple that held a public engagement ceremony in 2009.

Then she backtracked in the face of difficult elections, saying “Malawians are not ready to deal with that right now.”

Last week, Justice Minister Ralph Kasambara reversed Banda’s reversal at a forum organized by the Center for Development of People and the Center for Human Rights and Rehabilitation, reportedly saying, “There is a moratorium on such laws, meaning that police will not arrest or prosecute anyone based on these laws. These laws will not be enforced until the time Parliament makes a decision.”

This was confirmed to me by the Center for Development of People’s Gift Trapence, who sent me an email saying, “He just said that President wants more debate on it and that no gay person will be arrested.”

But now Kasmabara has reversed his reversal of President Banda’s reversal, declaring Wednesday, “There was no such announcement, and there was no discussion about same-sex marriages.”

Colombian priest considers suing church over gay wedding

Things are getting a little weird in Cartago.

This Colombia town made headlines earlier this month when a Catholic priest, Alberto Piedrahíta, celebrated a gay wedding, complete with filing the official paperwork registering the couple’s union.

Piedrahíta was immediately denounced by the bishop, Monseñor Alejandro Castaño, who released a statement saying that Piedrahíta was ordained in Canada, making his religious ceremonies in the area illegal. He should be considered a “vagabond priest, because he is not in communion with the Diocese of Cartago and therefore not allowed to celebrate,” the bishop said, according to El Pais. He also called on people to boycott any religious ceremonies Piedrahíta performs.

Piedrahíta subsequently told a local paper that he was now consulting with lawyers about the possibility of suing the Diocese of Cartago because “they have violated my human rights. I have also the right to work, the right to freedom of religion, [and] freedom of expression.”

This controversy comes as the country’s Senate is at work on gay marriage legislation, which the high court ordered it to pass by 2013.

How Argentina Did It: The Religious Answer

This is the second in a series of posts examining the forces that made it possible to pass a same-sex marriage law in Argentina. The first, on the political factors, is available here.

When I first started reporting in Argentina, I repeatedly had the same conversation. Every time, it made my head want to explode.

“Why was it possible to legalize gay marriage?” I’d ask.

“Because Argentina isn’t very religious.”

“Then why is abortion so illegal?” I’d reply.

“Because the Catholic Church is so powerful.”

The fact that the same people can simultaneously believe both of these things to be true shows that the religious politics of sexuality in Argentina are not straightforward. Religion operates in the country’s politics very differently than in the United States. And, unlike in the US, attitudes towards same-sex marriage and abortion don’t necessarily go hand in hand.

Continue reading