URGING the House of Lords on Friday to support marriage equality, Lord Fowler addressed Christian concerns about gay marriage by saying:
An opinion poll in this country suggested that many Christians in Britain believed that they were a persecuted minority. I can only say that if anyone wants to see a persecuted minority they should look at the plight of gay, lesbian and transgender people around the world. As you travel you go to countries where homosexuality is a criminal offence and where people who are suspected of being homosexual are persecuted and even forced to leave their family homes.
You can go to countries where the most popular political cause is to toughen up the laws against homosexuality rather than to modify them. Action of that kind has been taken in Russia, while in Kampala a Private Member’s Bill promised capital punishment – now generously reduced to long imprisonment – for aggravated homosexuality and a penalty of imprisonment for those who suspected that someone was homosexual but failed to report it. You may feel that that kind of Bill would be thrown out. Not at all; the common view is that it will be passed.
Lord Fowler told fellow peers that they should support equal marriage because:
Parliament should value people equally in the law, and that enabling same-sex couples to marry removes the current inequity.
The Tory peer reflected on his experiences at visiting HIV and AIDS programmes in the Ukraine and Russia and his shock at the:
Widespread intolerance and prejudice towards gay and lesbian people.
Lord Fowler also argued that as the democratically elected House of Commons has already voted in favour the bill in a free vote, the unelected House of Lords should not prevent the bill from being passed into law.
I do not think that one Act passed by this Parliament or one action will suddenly bring the walls of discrimination crashing down. There are certainly actions that will help – not least, if I may say so to the Bishops’ Bench, ensuring that the churches in sub-Saharan Africa, including the Anglican Church, take a stand against what is happening there.
And he pointed out:
In some parts of the world what Parliament does may have some persuasive influence – probably not in Russia and Ukraine but quite possibly in the countries of sub-Saharan Africa. It can have influence for this reason: the criminal laws against homosexuality were introduced into those African countries by British Governments in the days of the Empire. We were the authors; we set out what the standards should be. It remains the case that 42 out of 54 Commonwealth countries criminalise same-sex relations. We should remember that it was as late as 1967 when the law here was changed. Until then people could be imprisoned.
Even here, not all the antipathy to gays has been removed – not by a long chalk – but unquestionably the law has played its part in improving the position. The Bill, which will be debated later, is not only right but could have an important persuasive effect both in this country and abroad, and will set out our belief in equal and fair treatment.
As for the later debate, we should also remember, just as we remembered on the position of the press, that the Bill for equal marriage was passed overwhelmingly in the other place on a free vote, by 400 votes to 175: a majority of over two to one.
On October 25 last year, Lord Fowler told the House that the spread of AIDS was largely due to persecution of gay people:
One hundred and seventy million people are living under conditions where they are at the risk of persecution on account of their sexual orientation, and 76 countries criminalise consensual, adult, same-sex relations, among them 42 of the 54 countries of the Commonwealth.
I want to concentrate for one moment on some of the consequences that that discrimination can have. As perhaps one or two Members of the House know, I seek to work and help in the HIV/AIDS area and will just remind the House of the position there. Some politicians talk, optimistically, about a cure, but the fact is that almost two million people a year die from AIDS. For every person put on treatment, two new people are infected. Hundreds of thousands of people do not get the treatment they need, or come to it too late for it to be fully effective.
Consider what effect discrimination can have in that context. If there is the threat of criminal sanction, people do not come forward for testing, let alone for treatment. The result is that HIV spreads. Health providers are obviously less likely to offer their services if they can be accused of aiding a crime. The laws are often used by the police to prohibit HIV prevention activity. That is a disastrous position. I must add that it is by no means restricted to developing countries.
Meanwhile, it is reported here that death threats against Caleb Orozco, the gay rights campaigner attempting to overturn colonial era laws that criminalise homosexuality in Belize, have escalated during a four-day courtroom hearing, his lawyer has claimed.
The high-profile challenge to the Caribbean state’s colonial-era “anti-buggery” legislation has stirred up resentment of the gay community, according to Lisa Shoman.
There has been a visible increase of threats and violence against Mr Orozco and against all homosexuals in Belize.
Commenting on the legal challenge in the Caribbean country, Robin Phillips, spokesman for Christian Voice, said:
From our perspective in the West, Section 53 of the Belize Criminal Code seems unnecessary and even harsh, and I certainly do not advocate putting homosexuals in jail. However, the government of Belize believes that laws criminalizing unnatural acts function as effective “gatekeepers” by keeping at bay measures such as gay marriage, gay adoption, etc.
Given the trajectory of how things have gone in Britain after the laws prohibiting sodomy were removed from the statute books, it’s hard not to have some sympathy with this position. The collateral effects of the gay rights agenda, in terms of the erosion of liberty and the public threats, were only possible once homosexuality became legalized in Britain. The rulers in Belize are not stupid and are aware of this dangerous trajectory.
According to this blog, Belize’s main churches have formally joined the court case, opposing decriminalisation. Bishop Phillip Wright, head of the Anglican community in Belize, said he did not see homosexual behaviour “as consistent with the witness of scripture”. However he deplored intimidation.
In an interview with Channel 5, a local Catholic priest, Ian Taylor, took a different approach, declaring:
Globally it has been determined by states that violence against homosexuals is highest within the homosexual communities itself. First of all the victim syndrome that they tend to portray is actually within the community itself – they are aggressive against each other, and less from those who are considered heterosexual.