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Resist Western pressure on gay rights, Ukrainian religious leaders urge

23 June 2023


A KyivPride flag in the Boston Pride Parade, in the United States, earlier this month

A KyivPride flag in the Boston Pride Parade, in the United States, earlier this month

RELIGIOUS leaders in Ukraine have urged President Zelensky’s government not to yield to Western pressure to grant family status to same-sex unions. They warned that the move could compromise efforts to sustain their country’s wartime population.

While Ukrainian forces press on with a long-awaited counter-offensive to recapture Russian-occupied territories, Russia this week responded with fresh missile and drone attacks on Kyiv and other cities.

“Ukraine is fighting at great cost for its sovereignty, and for the right of the Ukrainian people to determine independently their fundamental values and principles of domestic policy,” the All-Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organisations (UCCRO) said in a statement.

“We understand that international institutions and foreign partners, using our country’s vulnerable and difficult situation, may try to force Ukraine to make legislative changes and abandon its family foundations. Ukraine lives, however, in a continental legal system where fundamental life principles are determined by our own constitution and laws.”

The Council was responding to a ruling in early June by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) that a gay couple had suffered discrimination by being refused marriage at register offices in Ukraine. The country’s 1996 constitution defines marriage, under article 51, as depending on “the free consent of a woman and a man”.

UCCRO said that European courts had no power to change a country’s legislation or “constitutional foundations”, and that equating “same-sex cohabitation” with marriage and family would be “extremely dangerous” in the “demographic crisis” brought about by Russia’s invasion. Since February last year, Ukraine’s permanent population had fallen from 43 million to 29 million, causing a “lack of human resources” for post-war reconstruction.

The ECHR ruling said that Ukraine had violated anti-discrimination clauses in the 1950 European Convention on Human Rights by denying the couple, Andrii Maimulakhin and Andrii Markiv, the right to marry, and could not legitimately use “the protection of the traditional family” as a justification.

In its statement, however, UCCRO said that relationship rights such as inheritance and hospital visiting were already protected under Ukrainian law, and did not require “the adoption of fundamentally new, ideologically motivated legislation”.

It went on to say that Ukrainians had “demonstrated their respect for universal religious and family values not with empty words, but with sacrificial deeds”, and viewed “every family and child” as “a treasure to be protected in conditions of war. . .

“As much as supporters of gender ideology would like to use the ECHR decision and external influences to rewrite Ukraine’s constitution and destroy the value of the family, only the people of Ukraine have the sovereign right to decide such issues,” the Council said. Its 16 members include Orthodox Churches, as well as Roman and Greek Catholic, Baptist, Adventist, Evangelical, Pentecostal, Lutheran, Reformed, Armenian Apostolic, Jewish, and Muslim leaders.

“The Ukrainian state cannot ignore demographic problems and cannot agree to such external pressure. . . We must preserve our nation and provide the best conditions of upbringing for Ukrainian children, including orphans, in the bosom of a loving family where both father and mother are present.”

A survey by Kyiv’s International Sociology Institute this year found that support for same-sex civil partnerships had increased during the 16-month war, owing in part to legal issues around dead and injured servicemen; 56 per cent accepted them, and one quarter were opposed.

Although Pride marches have been impeded by far-right groups, and were referred to by Russia’s Patriarch Kirill to justify the invasion, President Zelensky responded positively to a 2022 petition on same-sex unions; a relevant draft law is currently being considered in the Verkhovna Rada parliament.

In its statement, UCCRO called on President Zelensky and “every government official and parliamentarian” to “stay on the side of the Ukrainian people” by opposing the new legislation.

Several city councils have also urged the Bill’s withdrawal. Leaders in Khmelnytskyi, western Ukraine, branded same-sex relationships “contrary to God’s law, traditional values and morals”.

In July last year, UCCRO condemned Ukraine’s ratification of the Council of Europe’s 2011 Istanbul Convention on “preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence”. It warned that the 81-point document risked “implanting gender ideology”, especially in schools.

Bishop Vitaliy Kryvytskyi, who chairs the Roman Catholic Church’s church-state commission, said that the Convention’s ratification had followed “backroom conversations” with foreign embassies, with little public discussion, and that Ukrainian leaders had been told that “our further European integration depended on it”.

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