Archbishop of Canterbury Links Anti-Gay Laws to Racism

Rowan Williams: Protection of Sexual Minorities From Violence Is Not Endorsement of Homosexuality

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, spiritual head of the global Anglican Communion, voiced support Tuesday for the U.N. Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in a call for nations to respect the human rights of gay individuals in countries where they are often targeted for violence, also suggesting that anti-gay legislation is akin to racial discrimination. 

Williams states in the text of a lecture prepared for the Geneva-based World Council of Churches (WCC), which meets this week, that laws specifically targeting gays and lesbians were equivalent to racial discrimination.

"Many societies would now recognize that legal interference with some sorts of consensual sexual conduct can be both unworkable and open to appalling abuse (intimidation and blackmail)," Williams wrote.

"The existence of laws discriminating against sexual minorities as such can have no justification in societies that are serious about law itself," the text of the lecture reads. "Such laws reflect a refusal to recognize that minorities belong, and they are indeed comparable to racial discrimination."

Williams also emphasized that concern for protection of gays and lesbians from violence and intimidation did not imply approval of homosexual behavior on moral grounds.

"This concern for protection from violence and intimidation can be held without prejudging any moral question; religion and culture have their own arguments on these matters," he wrote. "But a culture that argues about such things is a culture that is able to find a language in common. Criminalize a minority and there is no chance of such a language in common or of any properly civil or civic discussion."

Reports coming from multiple countries in the Middle East and Africa describe egregious violations of human rights of people accused of being homosexual. In most Muslim countries the existence of homosexuality is not openly acknowledged and gay individuals can be sentenced to prison or corporal punishment, and even capital punishment in some cases. The same is the case in African countries that are not mostly Muslim, like Cameroon, which is 40 percent Christian. Uganda, which is 85 percent Christian, only recently considered the death penalty for homosexuals.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, said in a recent report that homosexuals and bisexuals face execution in at least five countries and 76 nations had laws criminalizing gay sex, Reuters reported. They also accounted disproportionately for torture cases in jails around the globe.

A panel of the U.N. rights body will consider action in Geneva Wednesday aimed at halting violence against gays and lesbians around the world, despite fierce condemnation from Muslim and some African countries, Reuters reported.

The pressure from UNHRC to cease such human rights violations caused protests from certain Muslim countries. Earlier this month, a U.N. delegate from Libya's newly formed government told a human rights panel that gays and other groups threaten "reproduction of the human race," drawing a stern rebuke from leaders of the international body, reported Fox News.

The UNHRC was also reportedly criticized by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).

Most African Christian churches remain sharply opposed to homosexuality, while the global Anglican Communion is in turmoil over the issue. Traditionalists are strongly opposed to the ordination of gay clergy and the blessing of same-sex relationships, whereas liberals have been urging tolerance and change. 

The U.N. put out its first global report pertaining to violations of human rights of individuals based on their religious identity in 2011.

"In all regions, people experience violence and discrimination because of their sexual orientation or gender identity," the report reads. "In many cases, even the perception of homosexuality or transgender identity puts people at risk. Violations include – but are not limited to – killings, rape and physical attacks, torture, arbitrary detention, the denial of rights to assembly, expression and information, and discrimination in employment, health and education."