My new home at BuzzFeed

Last month, I announced that I have joined BuzzFeed as a contributor covering international LGBT issues. As I head to South Africa, Indonesia, and India in the coming year, my reporting will primarily appear there.

Thanks so much for supporting for the past six months, and hope that you will continue to follow my work. You can keep updated by following me on twitter, @jlfeder, or on my BuzzFeed page,


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.

Thai airport opens premium lane to same-sex couples

“Amazing Romance” mascot
Photo by Michael Nassar

Same-sex couples visiting Thailand this month will find they can use a premium lane to skip the immigration lines at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport. This perk is part of the country’s tourism agency’s “Amazing Thailand, Amazing Romance” campaign.

According to a press statement quoted by the website Fridae, the Tourism Authority of Thailand aims to “enable couples, straight or gay, traveling together to expedite their arrival in Thailand.”

Fridae explains:

Couples who visit the “Amazing Thailand, Amazing Romance” counters — located at both the East Concord (which receives passengers from Gates A, B, and C) and the West Concord (which receives passengers from Gates E, F, and G) — can register for the “premium lane” and avoid traffic at immigration…. Once registered, travelers will be given pink heart-shaped stickers with the “Amazing Romance” logo, which will entitle the holders to use the “premium lane” for a fast track through the immigration process. Registrants also will be given key chains with the Thailand tourism mascot, “Sook Jai (Happiness),” to welcome them to Thailand. The counters will open between 5 a.m. and 9 p.m. and that souvenirs are limited in numbers.

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.


Latin America’s gay marriage revolution

Published by Foreign Policy Magazine.

In his second inaugural address, U.S. President Barack Obama pledged to make the United States a beacon for the world by recommitting the country to its ideals of equality. He also made history by saying those ideals demand marriage rights for same-sex couples just as they have demanded equal citizenship for women and African Americans.

But even if the Supreme Court or lawmakers soon agree with Obama’s words — “for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well” — the United States will be a latecomer to advancing marriage rights. The world’s leaders on this issue are not just from places Americans might expect — Western Europe or Canada — but many countries in our own hemisphere; places not usually known for progressivism on social issues. While Obama was undergoing his “evolution” on marriage rights, there has been a gay rights revolution that has stretched from Tierra del Fuego to the Rio Grande.

One dramatic illustration: When a broad coalition of human-rights activists brought a gay rights charter to the United Nations in 2007, the push was led not by the likes of Sweden or the Netherlands, but by Argentina, Uruguay, and Brazil. Same-sex marriage was not legal in any of these countries then, but a lot has changed in the years since. Continue reading

Same-sex couple leading court challenge in Taiwan to withdraw case tomorrow

This is a guest post by Amy Hsieh, a former aide in the Taiwan legislature and a doctoral student in political science at George Washington University.

The same-sex couple who was about to become a test case for marriage rights in Taiwan’s top court has announced they will formally withdraw their case tomorrow. According to a press release, Nelson Chen and Kao Chih-wei will hold a press conference tomorrow afternoon and then submit their motion to the court. This comes just a week after the court postponed a decision until late February on sending the case up to the Constitutional Court for interpretation.

This decision is a real head-scratcher, since their justifications seem thin and it comes over the objections of their attorney. Chen—who does the public speaking for the couple—has said that he is worried about the safety of his family and friends after getting threats on Facebook. He also has cited dissatisfaction with the court’s handling of the case, but it’s unclear what he would have liked to see handled differently.

The couple’s own pro bono lawyer, Liu Chi-wei, had requested the judge to send the case up for constitutional interpretation. Now Chen has posted an apology to Liu for deciding to withdraw the suit and thanked him for his hard work over the past year.

Chen is now urging their supporters to now instead support the Task Force’s efforts to push for a bill on domestic partnership rights, with whom he previously clashed over whether to proceed with the case in the first place.

It’s not yet clear whether this move will actually end this landmark case in Taiwan’s LGBT history. According to Chen’s lawyers, technically the court can deny the request to withdraw the suit if the case is deemed to be in the public interest.

Chen has scheduled a full day of public activities for tomorrow on top of the press conference. He will have lunch with the first gay couple to openly marry in the central Taiwan city of Taichung, shop for clothes at a boutique in Taipei’s gay-friendly Red Theater district, and take a blood test for HIV. Al Jazeera reporters will be covering his itinerary.