Speaking recently at the United Nation's launch of its "Free & Equal" campaign to promote fair treatment of LGBT persons, former archbishop and South African anti-apartheid activist Desmond Tutu declared that the issue was so close to his heart that he "would refuse to go to a homophobic heaven" and instead choose "the other place."
The 1984 Nobel Peace Prize laureate and former head of the South African Anglican Church and South African Council of Churches made the remarks last Friday, July 26, during the press event in his home country, where same-sex marriage is legal but where views remain antagonistic toward homosexuals.
Calling for greater protections for lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender persons, Archbishop Emeritus Tutu, 81, said, "I would refuse to go to a homophobic heaven. No, I would say sorry, I mean I would much rather go to the other place."
He added, "I would not worship a God who is homophobic and that is how deeply I feel about this."
Tutu went on to compare his advocacy for LGBT persons to his fight against apartheid, saying, "I am as passionate about this campaign as I ever was about apartheid. For me, it is at the same level." A video recording of Tutu's partial remarks can be viewed on YouTube.
The United Nation's "Free & Equal" campaign has been described by the global body as a year-long effort led by the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and certain partners to focus "on the need for both legal reforms and public education to counter homophobia and transphobia."
Although more than 76 countries consider same-sex relationships a crime, with 38 African countries included, same-sex marriage has been legal in South Africa since 2006. However, South Africa has "some of the worst cases of homophobic violence," reportedly said Navi Pillay, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights. Last month in South Africa, a lesbian was found dead and said to have been sexually attacked with a toilet brush.
Pillay told reporters that the U.N. would advocate for freedoms for gays and lesbians in countries where same-sex relationships are not legally recognized.
"I constantly hear governments tell me, 'but this is our culture, our tradition and we can't change it'... So we have lots of work to do," said the U.N. commissioner.
Religious convictions and traditional customs remain among the commonly cited reasons from African governments that refuse to decriminalize same-sex sexual acts, which were recently noted by Kenya's leadership amid a visit by U.S. President Barack Obama last month.
"No one should have any worry about Kenya's stand as a God-fearing nation. President Obama is a powerful man but we trust in God as it is written in the Bible that cursed is the man who puts trust in another man," said Kenya Deputy President William Ruto. He went on to say that Kenya would not accept "alien mannerisms" that are opposed to African culture.
"Those who believe in other things, that is their business," added Ruto. Kenyans, he said, believe in God.
The United States and the United Kingdom had previously suggested that relations with African countries would be adversely affected if their governments remained antagonistic toward gays and lesbians within their borders.