Campaigners: protesters outside Canterbury Cathedral during the Primates Meeting in JanuaryCredit: PA
Campaigners: protesters outside Canterbury Cathedral during the Primates Meeting in January
AMID a rise in homophobic violence and prosecutions it is time for the Anglican Communion to use its extensive influence to help to end the criminalisation of gay people, the authors of a new report write.
Tracing the origins of criminalisation to British imperialism, and delineating the “significant influence” of Anglican Churches in more than half of the 77 countries in which “consensual same-sex intimacy” is a crime, they call on the Communion to build on a “growing movement” within it to end penal sanctions.
Under current laws,145 million and 40 million women are living as “unapprehended felons”, the authors estimate. Criminalisation “exacerbates HIV prevalence and mortality rates, legitimises mob violence and so-called corrective rape, and allows for a myriad of other forms of discrimination, in schools, workplaces, and all public spaces.” Such laws are “theocratic in nature, urged by churches, devised and maintained by religiosity . . . and supported by an ill-educated public”.
Published by the Institute of Public Affairs at the London School of Economics, the report, Anglicans and Sexuality: A way forward?, argues that “by its failure to condemn criminalisation and its consequences, some argue that the Anglican Communion is now complicit in these human rights violations.” It concludes with a recommendation that an independent commission be established to investigate criminalisation further, and how the Anglican Communion can help to end it.
While highlighting a rise in prosecutions in countries including Nigeria, the report argues that it would be inaccurate to speak of “a battle between North and South”, given the diversity of belief in both regions. It notes, for example, that the secretary general of the Anglican Communion, the Rt Revd Dr Josiah Idowu-Fearon, has spoken of making others in the Church of Nigeria “very angry” by speaking out against criminalisation (News, 5 February). One Jamaican activist told the researchers that the Anglican Church in his country had been “outstanding” in its response to HIV patients.
The authors highlight the part played by the Church of England in the passage of the Sexual Offences Act 1967 (which decriminalised private homosexual acts between men aged over 21, following the recommendations of the Wolfenden report in 1957), and point to recent statements by the Archbishop of Canterbury opposing criminalisation. They note, too, the Primates’ communiqué, issued in January, which rejected criminalisation (News, 22 January), but they express concern about the slow pace of change.
Among the 48 people interviewed by the authors was the Bishop of Salisbury, the Rt Revd Nicholas Holtam. The report quotes his suggestion that the public stance of some Primates in Africa may be “to do with funding and whether there’s conservative money that flows in behind, and I’ve got some evidence of that . . . There are certainly people working in each of those provinces who are either English or North American, who are the thought police and controllers. I think there’s been an extraordinary amount of interference in the fairly recent past.”
Noting that “the accusation of ‘cultural imperialism’ . . .seems to haunt the debate,” the report suggests that the independent commission should be located in both the global North and global South. Commissioners should be “respected by a broad section of Anglicans”, and church funding, while welcome, must not be seen to dominate “and therefore jeopardise its independence”. It envisages that the commission could report within four years: in time for the 2020 Lambeth Conference.
The commission should be firmly focused on the issue of decriminalisation, the authors conclude.
On Monday, one of the authors, Dr Kevin Childs, said that he regarded decriminalisation and same-sex marriage as “two entirely different issues. I think that the marriage issue is something which is about people’s consciences, but criminalisation is like criminalising anything that should not be criminalised: like persecuting people because of their religious beliefs or ethnicity. It is just not something that we believe in collectively as a global community.” It was, he said, a “moral absolute”.
The commission would, he suggested, “force people to explain why it is they agree with criminalisation. Often that does not get explained.” Anglican leaders in countries with sanctions had “huge influence, and could change people’s minds if they could be persuaded to”.
Read the report here:
"The C of E should condemn anti-gay laws as a matter of justice" Read a call by Jonathan Cooper, a human-rights lawyer and the chief executive of the Human Dignity Trust, in Church Times, in 2013