Africa’s anti-gay laws

Where there is injustice, we must expect the Catholic Church to stand with the powerless. Therefore the Church should sound the alarm at the advance throughout Africa of draconian legislation aimed at criminalising homosexuals.

"It would require a very peculiar reading of the Gospel to locate Jesus anywhere else but at the side of the marginalised and vulnerable. "

“It would require a very peculiar reading of the Gospel to locate Jesus anywhere else but at the side of the marginalised and vulnerable. “

Recently the Ugandan and Nigerian parliaments both passed severe anti-gay legislation. Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni has vetoed it; Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan signed it into law. Other countries, such as Cameroon and Tanzania, are proposing to pass similar legislation.

These laws are not intended to render same-sex acts illegal — they already are, and punishable, in most African countries — but to persecute people on the basis of their sexual orientation.

Such laws are not only unjust, but they also have the potential to tear at the fabric of society if they are misused to facilitate false denunciations for gain, advancement or vengeance, much as what Christians are exposed to in Pakistan under that country’s intolerable blasphemy law.

There is a deep-seated sense of homophobia running throughout Africa, and beyond (Russia, for example, recently also passed anti-gay laws). African leaders routinely engage in populist homophobic rhetoric, often putting forward the fiction that homosexuality is “un-African”.

In some cases, such as Nigeria’s, homophobic sentiments and laws are deployed for political profit by embattled leaders.

Even in South Africa, where homosexuality and same-sex marriages are legal, homophobic bigotry finds expression in violent attacks on homosexuals and in “corrective” rape, both of men and women. Often these crimes are unreported or ignored by the police.

The effects of homophobia are also seen in the inordinately high rate of suicides among homosexuals, especially teenagers.

Homophobia is largely premised on a false notion that homosexuality is chosen and curable. This month, Spanish Cardinal-elect Fernando Sebastián Aguilar, retired bishop of Pamplona, made the astonishing claim that homosexuality is a “defect” comparable to his condition of high blood pressure.

In Africa, homophobic perceptions are encouraged by fundamentalist Christian groups, generally imported from the United States, which are said to agitate for anti-gay legislation, and by the proponents of the Islamic sharia law.

Their position is in conflict with Catholic teachings. The Church cannot sponsor the criminalisation of matters of private morality, and much less the advocacy of human rights. Prejudice and the persecution of homosexuals are in defiance of Catholic doctrine.

Even as it emphatically rejects homosexual carnal acts, the Catechism of the Catholic Church declares that “every sign of unjust discrimination in their [homosexuals’] regard should be avoided”. The Catechism further demands that homosexuals “must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity” (2358).

Jailing homosexuals for being gay and insisting on their human rights, or even for having sex, self-evidently is a sign of “unjust discrimination” that lacks in respect and compassion.

While the Church’s teachings prevent her from standing with homosexuals on many issues, especially same-sex marriage, she has an obligation, mandated by Christ, to be in solidarity with all those who are unjustly marginalised and persecuted.

Alas, the Church has been silent, in some cases even quietly complicit, in the discourse on new homophobic laws. This absence of intervention for justice may well be interpreted, wrongly or not, as approval of injustice, in line with the maxim Qui tacet, consentire videtur (Silence gives consent).

Instead, the Church should present herself as compassionate and courageous in standing with the those living in fear.

African bishops especially ought to speak out, as loudly as they do on same-sex marriage, against the discriminatory legislation and violence directed at homosexuals, many of whom are fellow Catholics.

Where is the prophetic voice of the Church in condemning the general homophobia in society?

It would require a very peculiar reading of the Gospel to locate Jesus anywhere else but at the side of the marginalised and vulnerable. The Church must be seen to be standing with Jesus and those who face unjust persecution, even if — especially if — it does not condone the lifestyles of those at risk.

That would be true Christian witness.

  • eugene

    It would certainly be enlightening for your readers if you would publish the letter of congratulations and support by the Conference of Nigerian Bishops for the legislation passed by Goodluck Jonathan.

  • eugene

    President of Nigerian Bishops’ Conference once again honors his position: Church cannot bow to those who “nurture pathological hatred for her judgments”

    Weeks after bravely supporting the Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act, 2013, signed into law by his nation’s president, the President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria (CBCN), Abp. Ignatius Kaigama, of Jos, once again shows himself to be one of the most assertive bishops alive, merely by defending what the Church has always defended:
    If the sentiments expressed in the southern cross article mirror those of the Conference of South African Bishops,then I’m afraid the Catholic church in Africa has a huge problem.It’s either the Nigerian Bishops are right in their stance supporting the bill or the South African Bishops who may be against it.(or it may just be an editor whose spiritual orientation is a little off)

  • Joe O’Leary

    The Nigerian Bishops have clearly broken with the teaching of the Catholic Church on this subject.

  • Joe O’Leary

    The Vatican have republished this article:

  • Claire Allen

    Agreed Joe – our catechism clearly states what the teachings of the church are on this matter

  • gaby r.

    Very heartening to see this public stance taken by the South African Bishops against persecution and intolerance in Africa, where anti-gay hate is boiling over. So relieved and moved to see the Church, even and especially in this instance, remain on the side of love.

    America magazine (leading Catholic Jesuit publication) has also republished the article:

  • Pingback: In rare public split, Catholic bishops differ sharply on anti-gay laws | Toledo Faith & Values()

  • Lawrence

    It is really funny to see the comments in this field. We have no apologies for what the Government has done. I want to bring the attention of this writer to certain facts. That homosexuality is already illegal is not an excuse to be complacent to the manouverings from Europe and United States of America. Yes, it is illegal but it also needs the force of law to re-emphasise what we hold dear as our value system. If ideologies are given the force of law in the Western world to ensure their enforceability, why not in Africa?
    Nigeria is not South Africa. We love the people but civil regulation is needed to ensure stability, just like all other acts that depict weakness in the human person. We all have a duty to pursue the good of the human person created in the image and likeness of God. The issue is that people should be assisted to overcome these problems which we cannot deny are with us. But to glorify them and make them seem normal, is an attempt at transvaluation of values. We must be careful. In Africa, we are aware that people have challenges, and we are ready to help them face it and fight it off. But we WILL NOT ACCEPT forcing down our throats certain acts being paraded as positive values from the West. Laws have been twisted in the past by enforcers, but they have not been repealed. This Law is to be followed carefully and the Nigerian Legal system is capable of handling the situation. We know ourselves better than you do. So leave us alone. You can grant them asylum when they come to your place. As Christians, we welcome and help them overcome the challenge, but as citizens, the Law is clear to ensure stability and we will no compromise on that.

  • Dr Rosemary Eileen McHugh

    For many years, the Catholic Church itself has been strongly anti-homosexual, so it is not surprising to me, as a Catholic physician, to find that the Africans are anti-homosexual because of the many years Africa has had of Catholic missionaries from other parts of the world. Other Christian missionaries have contributed to this as well. The Catholic Catechism of Joseph Ratzinger originated in 1994. Many Catholic priests, bishops, cardinals are gay and it has been sad that the church’s preaching for so many years has been anti-gay. There needs to be an honest look at the world and at the lives of real people and the need to reassess the church’s understanding of human sexuality in all its forms.

  • Günther Simmermacher

    The broad consensus of activists puts the blame at the door of US evangelical fundamentalist:

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