Religious leaders around the world are uniting in protest of Uganda's harsh new anti-gay laws, with South African former Archbishop Desmond Tutu likening them to the situations in Nazi Germany and apartheid South Africa.
The editors of America magazine, a leading Catholic publication run by the Jesuit order, have added their voices to those condemning the criminalization of homosexuality in an open letter titled, "When the Law Is a Crime."
America Editor at Large The Rev. James Martin, S.J., told The Huffington Post in an email, "As Christians we are concerned with affronts to human dignity, which is at the absolute heart of our Christian beliefs. And as Catholics we look to the Catechism which enjoins Catholics to treat gays and lesbians with 'respect, sensitivity and compassion' and to avoid 'every sign of unjust discrimination.'"
The church’s vigorous support for traditional marriage, moreover, must be accompanied by advocacy for the human rights of gays and lesbians in equal measure. This is required by the church’s own teaching. Indeed, a growing number of Catholic leaders have offered unqualified support for the decriminalization of homosexuality. In December 2009, the delegation of the Holy See to the United Nations said the church opposes “all forms of violence” and “discriminatory penal legislation” against gay persons. That same month, according to a diplomatic cable published by WikiLeaks, Cardinal Antonelli Ennio, then-president of the Pontifical Council for the Family, said that Catholic bishops in Uganda “or anywhere should not support the criminalization of homosexuality.” Most recently, on Jan. 29, an editorial in The Southern Cross, the newspaper of the bishops of South Africa, Botswana and Swaziland, urged Catholics in Africa “to stand with the powerless” and “sound the alarm at the advance throughout Africa of draconian legislation aimed at criminalizing homosexuals.”
We add our voice to this swelling chorus. Pope Francis has described gay people as “socially wounded” because “they feel like the church has always condemned them.” Catholics must examine how we contribute, perhaps even inadvertently, to a culture of fear and shame. In a field hospital after battle, a basic responsibility of the caregivers is to “do no harm.” The church must oppose violence against gay persons and should strongly advocate for the decriminalization of homosexuality. No one should be subject to a criminal penalty simply for being gay. If laws like these do not constitute the “unjust discrimination” against gay people that the church rightly denounces, then what possibly could?