Little support by African churches for gay rights

Published: December 5, 2012

In many African countries church organizations show little understanding for calls for greater rights for homosexuals, a stance which also influences political decisions. Malawi is a case in point.

"We have organized protests against homosexual rights", Father Raphael Adebayo from the Catholic church of Saint Agnes in the Nigerian city Lagos told DW. Together with other Christian denominations the Catholic community in Nigeria has actively demonstrated against homosexuality.

Father Adebayo was not prepared to elaborate on whether the Christian groups are going even further and attempting to put pressure on politicians to tighten laws on homosexuality.
An african lesbian couple (faces not shown). EPA/DAI KUROKAWA Many African gays and lesbians prefer to remain anonymous

But he left his own feelings in no doubt: "It is impossible for the Church to support something that does not please God. It is clear that homosexuality is an abomination," the churchman stated emphatically.

"Protecting national customs"

All religions practiced in Nigeria, from Christianity and Islam to traditional African religions, reject same-sex relationships, says Jagaba Adams Jagaba. He’s a Member of Parliament and chairs the Committee against Drugs, Narcotics and Financial Crimes. Because of this taboo in Nigerian society, parliament has approved a law "in order to protect national customs." People living in a homosexual relationship or who campaign for the rights of gays and lesbians may face prison sentences of up to ten years. President Goodluck Jonathan has yet to decide whether to approve the act.

The negative attitude of many churches towards homosexuality does not surprise Markus Gutfleisch, head of the German ecumenical working group "Homosexuals and Church (HuK)."

"The Catholic Church has often intervened, for example in Europe and North America, whenever a government has presented a draft law that would give homosexuals greater rights", Gutfleisch told DW. His working group finds it perfectly acceptable that churches should express their opinion about social topics. But their conservative views should not lead to human rights being violated, he warns.

Church opposition in Malawi

This dilemma also faces the Malawian government. In November this year, several local media outlets quoted the country’s justice minister as saying that laws banning homosexual activities would not be enforced any longer, pending a debate in parliament.
An Amnesty International poster is seen in the foreground as a homosexual rights activist Biggie works on a computer at FARUG (Freedom and Roam Uganda) office in an undisclosed location on the outskirts of Kampala, Uganda’s capital, 30 July 2010. FARUG, Uganda’s lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex human rights group, has been working to push for the full equal rights of the sexual minorities and recognition of the same sex relationship in Uganda since its establishment in 2003. In October 2009, Ugandan parliamentarian David Bahati introduced a bill titled ‘Anti-Homosexuality Bill’ which if passed would increase and expand the penalties for already-illegal ‘homosexual acts’ to life imprisonment, or in some cases, the death penalty. EPA/DAI KUROKAWA Human rights organizations oppose the anti-homosexuality bill in Uganda

This prompted a negative response from the Malawian Council of Churches, which is made up of several different denominations. In the opinion of Ian, a gay man from the Malawian town of Blanka, the Council "believes that gays are not human beings and should not be allowed to be free."

Since the churches’ outcry, the government seems to have back-tracked on its plan. Ian and others can only speculate whether this is a result of church pressure: "We don’t know if it is still on the agenda. We can only wait and see."

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