Why a “gay Roe vs Wade” is unlikely

Andrew Sullivan wrote last night that part of him is hoping the U.S. Supreme Court issues a narrow ruling in the gay marriage cases. He said:

To my mind, that smaller decision would be a relief. Why? Because I do not want a gay Roe vs Wade, a decision that appears to foist a premature answer on a still-not-entirely-convinced public.

Sullivan talks himself out of this desire by focusing on the “moral clarity of our cause,” which he thinks demands the court strike down all bans on same-sex marriage. But there’s a historical reason why he could breathe easier about the risk of a backlash.

The conservative movement has already won as much as it can on the gay marriage issue. 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.

US Gay Pride a problem for Kenyan activists

The US was just trying to help, but the decision of its embassy to organize the first gay pride event in Kenya on June 26 has given local activists heartburn–some even called for a boycott.

Though homosexuality is illegal in Kenya, my understanding is that it has a vibrant home-grown LGBTI movement, and that there is some hope of making progress on repressive laws. But as in much of Africa, homosexuality is often framed by opponents as being a western import.

And the tension over this event demonstrates the shadow that the US–and by extension, the US gay rights movement–casts over gay rights movements in the non-Europeanish world: things have moved so far so fast here that activists in some places have to disavow ties to movements in Western countries out of fear of a backlash.

Wanja Muguongo, who directs UHAI– the East African Sexual Health and Rights Initiative–explained to GayStarNews,

When it comes to Kenya, [prides] have not been done in the past for very many reasons. So for the American embassy to go out to do it is not good and can be really damaging…Any kind of activism can hurt. It can be dangerous. But the danger must be something that is decided upon by that community and that is what I have a problem with in this case.

But a columnist who writes under the name Queer Watchtower for the online publication Identity Kenya, took a slap at the critics of the event:

After months of disorganization and sloth in petty wrangles that have harmed the movement, some activists want to use this opportunity to spoil for a fight.  Where is the security threat? Who is being forced to attend? We need to stop spreading fear and inciting insecurities where we have no credible basis and when the movement has for a long time been unstrategic.

But he followed up his comments with a disclaimer that said the event was actually intended for US nationals living in Kenya. I don’t know if that’s true, but it’s not how the event’s been covered, which makes me think there’s a conscious effort even among activists who support it (or plan to attend) to distance it from homegrown activism.

This pride is not for Kenyans, it is for American nationals in Kenya and their State Department, through their embassy is doing what the White House did last month; hosting a pride for its nationals who are LGBTIQ to remind them that as a government, it respects them and accords them equal rights. Same thing the Kenyan embassy in the US would do for Kenyans in Washington during Jamuhuri day.

…Build bridges, cease fighting and constituting security think tanks in serv lists. Why didn’t we do that after four lesbians killed themselves this year? Why isn’t there a security think tank to address the near collapse of GALCK. Let us find ways of latching into actionable events and see how we can benefit our LGBTIQ constituents without unnecessarily embarrassing ourselves in spoils for fights.