Monday, December 22, 2008

Vatican: Decriminalize Homosexuality, But Don't Grant Gays Equal Civil Rights

The National Catholic Reporter is carrying a report from Religion News Service that the Catholic Church now officially favors the portions of the "Declaration on Human Rights, Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity," currently before the U.N. General Assembly, that call for all nations to remove criminal penalties for homosexual behavior.

This at least pits Catholicism against those nations whose laws make homosexuality a crime, including the the 56-member Organization of the Islamic Conference.

The article reports that "The non-binding declaration, which was sponsored by France and backed by the 27-member European Union, received 66 votes in the 192-member UN General Assembly on Thursday. Aside from the Holy See, opponents included China, Russia, the United States," as well as the Muslim nations.

However, the Vatican remains opposed to gay people having equal civil rights, especially any move to equate same-sex unions with marriage. It even opposes the declaration's use of the terms "sexual orientation" and "gender identity," on the grounds that the terms have "no established meaning in international law."

This, of course, ignores several decades of agreement among psychologists that the terms have quite specific meaning as phenomena experienced on several continents. The basic thrust of the declaration is to have international law recognize realities which psychology has recognized already, and to adopt psychology's verdict that homosexual orientation is not a pathology that needs to be cured.

Support for decriminalizing homosexuality is certainly enlightened and welcome. However, by continuing to treat same-sex orientation as a defect that warrants lesser treatment under civil law, the church is sanctioning transferring the bigotry from criminal law to the arena of civil rights.

Meanwhile, the possibility raised here multiple times--of treating all couples equally under civil law and leaving the definition and application of marriage to the churches, for their own members--is still something the Vatican never considers.

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