Bread. April 2007
Some get married, others get raped
The state of play of gay issues is extremely uneven around the world.
Given the dominance of western media, we tend to hear more stories about
progress from Europe and America. A sampling of stories from March and
April 2007 reminds us that some gay and lesbian people, especially in
third world countries, continue to suffer horribly.
But let's start with the good news.
New Hampshire, USA
"It's a matter of conscience, of fairness and preventing discrimination," Governor John Lynch told reporters. The governor of the US state of New Hampshire was giving his reasons for being ready to sign a bill legalising civil unions for same-sex couples.
The bill is not yet on his desk to sign, though it is highly likely that one will emerge from the state's legislature in the weeks ahead. Debate has been in progress for some time and now that the Democrats have control of both chambers (since the 2006 election), advocates are confident of passage.
This would make New Hampshire the 4th state in the US to permit civil unions. The other three are Connecticut, New Jersey and Vermont. Massachusetts permits gay marriage, as does Canada to the north.
As reported in the New York Times,
Exactly how much support there is among voters for this move is not clear. Last December, a poll commissioned by a newspaper, the Concord Monitor, found that 55 percent of voters were against gay marriage, but more respondents favored same-sex civil unions (44 percent) than opposed it (40 percent). This study had a margin of error was 4 percentage points.
More recently, the University of New Hampshire in its poll found that 58 percent of respondents supported same-sex "civil marriage" -- a more loaded term for many than "civil union" -- compared with 37 percent opposed. It too had a similar margin of error.
As expected, the opposition raised the spectre of the Christian god's ire. A republican state senator, Robert Letourneau, said the law would "bring unintended consequences of biblical proportions."
Then there's the slippery slope argument. Just as enshrining racial equality in law soon led to the idea that schools should teach racial tolerance and respect, Letourneau warned, "It won't be long before schools will be required to teach alternative lifestyles." Why the former is today considered only reasonable (when it would have been considered outrageous just 50 years ago), but not the latter, he didn't say.
Further justifying his opposition, he added, "It's not about discrimination. It's about a minority of the population taking away something from the majority of the population that they don't want taken away from them." He didn't explain what would be taken away from heterosexuals.
Karen Testerman, executive director of Cornerstone Policy Research, a conservative group, preferred to warn that permitting gay unions would lead to promiscuity and health issues. The law, she said, "could promote the acceptance of a behavior that is jeopardizing the health of our children. Multiple partners when you're doing something unnatural -- it's just not good." She didn't explain how civil unions or marriage would lead to multiple partners.
Quietly, Mexico City implemented its civil unions law in March 2007. The very first gay couple to be joined in a civil union under the new law were a journalist, Antonio Medina and an economist, Jorge Cerpa. The couple had dated for four years before they were able to tie the knot legally.
During the ceremony, police had to block off the streets around the white wedding marquees. As the couple kissed, a string orchestra played the song Besame Mucho.
The Catholic Church in Mexico had objected vehemently to the city's new law, but to no avail.
In Italy however, Romani Prodi's government being weak and dependent on a variety of coalition partners, the Catholic Church's opposition could well frustrate a promised law to recognise domestic partnerships – a move that is in any case well short of civil unions or marriage. The proposed law would benefit unmarried opposite-sex couples as well as same-sex couples.
As reported by the BBC, (BBC Online, 29 March 2007, Italy bishops face gay rights row), there are about 500,000 unmarried but cohabiting Italian couples, missing out on social benefits, property or inheritance, a situation that is now at odds with many countries in Europe.
However a recent conference of Italian bishops issued a statement saying that legal recognition of unwed couples was "unacceptable as a principle and dangerous on a social and educational level". Legalising unions between people of the same sex, it added, was an even more serious problem.
This kind of intolerant exclusion "is something that happens in societies we criticise as Islamised," Giuliano Amato, the interior minister, said.
Despite the bishops' statement, recent polls show most of Italy's Catholics are in favour of changes to the law. Even so, the coalition government is not united on this and so things could well unravel.
Pace Amato, it is authoritarianism that is the chief enemy of liberty and equal rights, though very often, authoritarian-minded people operate from within religions since archaic texts from patriarchal days tend to be useful in buttressing and justifying authoritarian instincts. However, even ideologues who are anti-religious can be anti-gay too. They only need to romanticise their picture of the perfect society, and believe that the ends justify the means.
Thus, as reported by Doug Ireland, a well-known independent commentator, 2 young women were kidnapped last month, for the second time, by Nepal's maoist insurgents on suspicion that they had a lesbian relationship.
They were beaten and deprived of food. What's more -- their families too had used violence on them before and when that didn't turn them straight, they are alleged to have called in the maoists to lend their efforts.
Lesbians are not the maoists' only target. Male-to-female transgenders, known locally as "meti", are frequent targets of violence and persecution too.
Nepal is far from being the only third-world country that persecutes gay people. In Africa, the Economist magazine (12 April 2007) recently reminded us, Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe has called homosexuals "worse than dogs and pigs".
Even in South Africa, whose constitution officially bans discrimination on the ground of sexual orientation, lesbians are commonly targeted by homophobic men - and sometimes gang-raped.
In August 2006, a Ugandan newspaper, the Red Pepper, published the names and occupations of 45 alleged homosexual men. Many saw that as a witch hunt especially as, for years, President Yoweri Museveni's government has been routinely threatening and vilifying gay people.
The Anglican Church in Africa is usually at the forefront of homophobia. Their clergymen get little education in sexuality, the Economist said. "Some preach abstinence yet turn a blind eye to polygamous marriages, adultery and genital mutilation."
A rare exception, almost a voice in the wilderness, is Christopher Senyonjo, a retired Anglican bishop in Uganda. "He is one of only a small number of African Anglicans who challenge the conservatives. The hounding of homosexuals, he says, is the 'opposite of Christlike'."
What he has to say about the campaigns mounted by the churches in Singapore against the gay minority here would be most interesting.
© Yawning Bread