European Forum

of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Christian Groups

Situation of Lesbians and Gays in the Churches of Europe

Overall Situation of Lesbians and Gays in the Churches of Europe and the case history of Spain - the speech of Enric Vilà during the Euro Pride 2011 in Rome.

Introduction

LGBT Christians in Europe offer variety of colours of Church denominations, all under the rainbow symbol. From the green western predominant Anglican Church to mid-eastern red orthodox Church. From northern blue protestant state churches of Scandinavian countries, mid centre Lutheran churches (violet) till the yellow mid –south predominant Roman Catholic Church. And combination of different colours in countries which share several denominations.

That’s what we have learnt from the European Forum of LGBT Christian Groups an umbrella organization of 44 associations from 23 countries representing around 5000 people throughout Europe, an alliance rainbow alliance depicted in Noe’s passage. All associations are like stars shine at different intensity of light under this blue horizon symbolized in our European flag. And this various stars travel at different speed in a continent where common agreements are got under the diversity and consensus premises. European Forum tries to represent a Christian symphony of lights in a lay society.
Whenever talking about situation of LGBT people in churches we have to consider and distinguish between Christian denominations have stated policies towards lesbians and gays.

  • Whether to allow known, sexually active homosexuals to: become and remain church members with full rights, be considered for ordination, hold other positions of responsibility. 
  • Whether to allow known celibate homosexuals to: become and remain church members with full rights, be considered for ordination, hold other positions of responsibility. 
  • Whether to provide a formal religious ceremony for committed gay and lesbian couples. These are variously called ―union, ―civil union, ―commitment or ―marriage ceremonies, depending upon the laws of the individual state. 
  • Whether to have an active study program to reduce homophobia within the denomination.

Because of lack of time I cannot specify every single one, but we have to consider that: There is no consensus within Christianity about the nature of homosexuality, what Bible passages that discuss same-sex sexual behaviour actually mean, or what policies to enforce about gay and lesbian members, candidates for ordination, commitment rituals or study programs.

The core reason for this lack of consensus is related to how an individual faith group defines truth. The main criteria are:

  1. What the six or so ―bible passages about same-sex sexual behaviour mean, according to historical interpretations.
  2. The policy that the faith group has taken towards homosexuality and homosexuals in the past.
  3. The individual members' personal experience.
  4. The findings of scientific research into homosexuality.

Conservative faith groups tend to give criteria 1 & 2 much more weight than 3 & 4. Religious liberals and progressive Christians tend to stress 3 & 4 in comparison to 1 & 2. The response of Christian faith groups to homosexuality thus cover a wide range. An individual faith group's stance, can be predicted, based on upon their position in the liberal - fundamentalist continuum: More liberal denominations and Christians tend to view homosexuality as a civil rights matter; they generally believe it is fixed, unchosen, normal, natural, and morally neutral sexual orientation for a minority of adults. More conservative denominations and Christians tend to view homosexuality as a profound evil; they generally believe it is changeable, chosen, abnormal, unnatural and immoral behaviour, regardless of the nature of the relationship.

Strategically I give a quick travel and focus on four big Christian Churches in Europe: Anglican, Orthodox, Protestant and Roman Catholic.

Anglican Church - green

Is the strongest church in Great Britain and also very strong in former Commonwealth Countries.

The Anglican Church world wide is divided over the subject of homosexuality. The threat of conservative Anglican parishes and priests to leave the Anglican Church altogether has never ceased ever since. Some have actually left the church but that is a clear minority so far.

In the Anglican Church in Great Britain there are also many controversial debates and discussions about the subject of same sex blessings and the ordination of lesbian and gay priests taken place in different Lambeth conferences each decade.

For the advanced steps achieved this church denomination is green, the symbol of hope. Members of this church play an active role in European Forum, coming of a civil lay tradition of mature society where they individuals are active activists in the fight against discrimination and the defences of LGBT rights which have given models of participation and democracy to Forum, NGO building in the structures.

Orthodox Churches - red

In countries like Russia, Romania, Moldova, Serbia, Montenegro and all former USSR influenced satellite countries or southern Mediterranean as Greece where the Orthodox Churches are dominant LGBT people in church have a hard time. They are not allowed to go to Eucharist. They are not allowed to work in church, neither paid nor as volunteers. Lack of liberty.

However, there are many lesbians and gays employed by the Orthodox Church, but they all do not live openly. Otherwise they would lose their jobs. Lesbians and gays are seen as perverts and sinful against God’s law. Like the first Christians in history they live hidden in the catacombs.

This churches is symbolized by the red colour, the symbol of danger as many of their members are in still in danger nowadays. Many of them come from former USSR dominant red flag influence.

For this European Forum members and others to include has been developed the Agape Fund. About 22.000 EUR to sponsor 36 scholarships throughout the ten year period of 2001-2011 to participants coming from Russian Federation, Poland till Serbia, Moldova, and Czech till Armenia, Kirghizstan Ukraine till 12 different countries.

Protestant Churches - Blue/violet

Protestant Churches are for instance the: Lutheran, the Reformed, Presbyterian, and the United Churches.

These churches are dominant mainly in the North and mid-West European countries.

Relatively spoken, these Churches take a rather liberal stand when it comes to LGBT issues in their churches. But it is difficult to generalize their positions.

In opposite to the Catholic Church they do not have a central leadership that decides for instance about the Lutheran or Reformed profile world wide. Decisions and attitudes depend on regional and/or national synods, bishop councils and even single bishops.

The Lutheran Churches, which are dominant in the Scandinavian countries and still also mark the socio political climate in Scandinavia, became rather open to LGBT questions during the last 20 years.

In the reformed Churches in Europe the situation varies from the very open positions in the Netherlands where some of the reformed denominations have allowed same sex partnership blessings already at the beginning of the nineties, to the rather liberal positions in Germany and the German speaking Switzerland, to the more conservative Calvinist Reformed Church in France and the French speaking reformed Church in Switzerland.

I would depict this group as ―heaven / blue society together with violet predominant situation of this society meaning the progressive steps in favour of women’s liberation have taken place in the activism of this churches. This has had great influence in European Forum as the progressive active role of the women in our European Forum making advance equality in gender parity and creating safe-space areas in the Forum. That’s why we have co-presidency, preconference of men and women, etc.

Roman Catholic Church – yellow

Roman Catholic Church is mainly dominant in mid and Southern-eastern countries in Europe.

The official position of the Catholic Church about any subject is decided by the Vatican. Therefore, there are no big differences between the different countries.

Homosexuality is seen as sin, and homosexuals should live in celibacy or should be cured from their misled orientation through prayer, counselling and/or therapy.

Openly living LGBT are not allowed to receive Eucharist or work in church, neither paid nor on a voluntary basis. It is official policy of the Vatican that lesbians and gays, who register their same sex partnership, lose their jobs whenever the Catholic Church finds out about it. Same sex partnership blessings are also not allowed in church.

However, some catholic priests do it anyway. But they do it unofficially and at their own risk. One Italian priest was withdrawn from his parish after he had blessed a gay couple in a service.

In Catholic dominated countries like Spain, Italy, Malta, Poland or Austria many priests express anti gay positions in public and use their authority in the media to do so.

But not all catholic countries have developed at the same speed. The influence of lay societies have an important role and effects are still on LGBT movement in the country. The identity of the church is considerable in resistant societies as Poland (bastion of anticommunism, home of the former Pope) and for instance Malta (being an island catholic identity independent from British). Italy because of its neighbourhood with the Vatican as the last fortress in Europe. The cases of Portugal and Spain are clearly escaping from identity of the countries societies with their church: ― Atlantic’s influence‖.

An exception seems to be the Catholic Church in Belgium. LGBT people report very positively about Catholic parishes and also about the Church leadership. But also there the bishops officially disapprove of the sexual aspect of same sex relationships. In many cases lesbians and gays report positive experiences with parishes, Catholic grassroots organizations, and even with some Catholic priests who are very supportive, welcome open LGBT for Eucharist and even do same sex partnership blessings — of course unofficially, in Belgium just as much as in other European countries. The same applies for Spain.

I’d depict the situation as yellow considering the influence of the colour Vatican Flag.

In the way yellow countries have developed blue lay societies influential laws‖ approved have turned into mixed yellow/blue= which is green like Belgium and Spain. Atlantic influence is also reaching Portugal.

Orange societies are caught in the middle of Orthodox and catholic which portraits Whenever is in between red and yellow fundamentalisms.

Conclusions

After this short overview about the situation of LGBT issues in four big Christian Churches in Europe one can only underline that many positive and hopeful developments in European Churches have happened. \

More churches are open to ordain lesbian and gay ministers, employ LGBT people, and approve of same sex partnership blessings in church services. But not all these positive developments happened at official church leadership levels, though.

They differ from: Grassroots organizations, single parishes and some priests came much further than for instance the official conservative positions in the Catholic and Orthodox Churches.

However, most of the positive developments in the churches happened in reaction to earlier decisions in the different national socio political decisions of development of same-sex-partnership registration or same sex marriage laws in many West European countries, or like the process of the national adoptions of the EU anti-discrimination law from 1997 and its directive against discrimination at the work place in 2000.

The situation in the Churches of Europe is far away from satisfying when it comes to attitudes, same sex blessings, ordination and employment of lesbians and gays in church. It is still a long way to go until Christians in all the European Churches can live openly gay in their very churches.

So sometimes is greater difference inside conservative/liberal followers inside denominations than comparing denominations among themselves on the grassroots level of practices not in the

The European Forum developed five strategic lines: European Forum strategy of improve the Forum’s organizational work; deepen the LGBT theological dimension within the Forum; support Forum’s work for freedom, justice and human rights; increase the visible voice within international Christian organizations and churches; increase Forum’s influence/acceptance in society as a Christian LGBT voice.

European Forum strategically worked for ecumenism making alliances with the World Council of Churches, being the last experience dialogue in Jamaica Conference recently. And be a voice talking with lay society through the ILGA-EUROPE organization in the defence of LGBT rights. Since 1997 when we became members.
European Forum helps those people living under danger of Orthodox and Roman Catholic influence.
Step by step, with God’s support we want to make the churches a home for all people who are searching for God, and for a Christian community which accepts people the way they are.

Case history of Spain

D-Day: The same sex couples marriage law in Spain was legalized June 30th in 2005:

In 2004, the Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE), led by José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, was presented to the general election with a program that included a commitment to ‘allow marriage between same sex and the exercise of those rights entails.
After the Socialist victory in elections and government formation, and after much debate, on June 30th, 2005 the law was passed amending the civil code and allow marriage between same sex (and as a result of this, other joint adoption rights, inheritance and pension). The law was published on July 2nd, 2005, and marriage between same sex was officially legal in Spain on July 3rd, 2005.

Spain was the third country in the world after the Netherlands and Belgium, to enact laws allowing marriage between same sex couples.

D-issue: Discussions, debates, demonstrations, difficulties, doubts:

A survey by the Sociological Research Centre in June 2004 indicated that 66% of Spanish supporters of the marriage between same sex. Despite this support of 66% of Spanish gay marriage, the process of this law was accompanied by social mobilization against, but also in favour of the measure, which brought thousands of people throughout Spain.
While supporters of the law believe that truth equality can only be achieved if all couples share the same legal form, ―marriage‖, opponents argue that the term ‘marriage’ should be reserved for the union of a man and a woman. The Catholic Church in particular largely opposed to this law, considering it an attack on the institution of marriage. Other associations also expressed concern about the possibility that homosexuals could adopt children, the most difficult point. After approval, the Popular Party appealed against the law in the Constitutional Court, that remains unresolved in 2011. The Popular Party accused Zapatero to divide society with this law.

On June 18th, 2005 (during the parliamentary process of law), a mass demonstration in Madrid by the Family Forum, as well as other associations (including some Catholic) brought together hundreds of thousands of people to oppose same-sex marriages under the theme ‘Family Matters, children right to have a mother and a father‖. 18 bishops demonstrate there, ―a scene never seen before against the sin‖. Spanish bishops said the Government had devalued the meaning of marriage. The Vatican expressed its absolute rejection of the new law and Cardinal López Trujillo called for conscientious objection of Catholic officials at the time of processing such marriages, although this could cost them their jobs. But when law was passed the pride day concentrated most people ever.

Democratic Decision results (2005-2011):

According to the National Statistics Institute (INE), until the end of 2009 it held 16,060 marriages between same sex: 1,275 in 2005, 4,574 in 2006, 3,250 in 2007, 3,549 in 2008 and 3,412 in 2009.

Territorial autonomous regions which celebrated more marriages between same sex in 2009 were: Catalonia, with 895 couples (3.24% of all marriages in the community), Madrid, 547 (2.77%), Andalusia 455 (1.35%), País Valencià, 427 (2.34%) and Canary Islands, 224 (3.70%).

On July 25th, 2007 BBVA Foundation released its Social portrait of the Spanish Report, which reflects that 60% of the Spanish accept marriage between same sex persons. Support was widespread among young people between 15 and 34 years (75%), people with higher education (71%), non-affiliated to a religion (75.5%), and those who identify with the left and the centre-left (71.9%). However, only 44% are in favour of the adoption by homosexual couples, compared with 42% oppose. A 2011 survey conducted in Spain revealed that 56% of citizens are in favor of the unions between same sex are called ‘marriage’ and that they can adopt children. Even the adoption trends in favour are also increasing.

How could be possible? The P-issue: A process, people’s engagement, parliament

A process:

Franco dictatorship (1939-1975). 1975: Spain becomes a parliamentarian democracy

During the 1980’s, first demand on couples and prehistorically idea to open marriage discussion.

During the 1990's, development of registrations of partnership laws and same-sex unions. Some autonomies have adopted their own laws on unmarried couples, which allowed couples formed by same-sex partners to register their union and get some administrative benefits. The first law Catalonia was adopted in 1998, which, however, did not allow joint adoption to homosexual couples. Others followed. By then, Spanish law allowed single persons to adopt children. Thus, a homosexual couple could make de facto adoption, but the partner that was not the legal parent had no rights if the relationship ends or the legal parent died.

During the 2000’s, marriage becomes strategically the priority, the project for the LGBT movement as the symbol of equal citizenship. Freedom of choice as a concrete expression of equality. The person’s dignity associated to fundamental rights. Updating the meaning of marriage was the debate.

People’s engagement issue:

Play role of LGBT activists important in this issue, NGOs: a very active LGBT movement during all periods specially active and trained during aids challenge period when in the beginning of 90’s was at its highest peak. That put the question of ill partners during the illness. Aids was a challenge for all of them and the factor increased demands. Marriage was seen as the summit of all rights. Let’s us dream! (and dream came true this time). This issue should contribute to the fight against homophobia and the achievement of rainbow society. Christians associations as ACGIL were together and parallel movements were made in the same direction.

Prides demonstrations and parades increased pedestrians one year after the other and visibility of the movement in the streets was seen as. That opened minds in society. References in other countries make visible possibilities. Coming out examples helped many people to change minds.

Partners alliances: like Parents associations defending rights, strategic alliances were developed by the LGBT movement. Social networking worked well, social movements and International alliances as references in the process of liberation European Forum and ILGA EUROPE/ILGA are international communities of activists who helped.

Press power: Media was a key partner among other allies. During transition period to democracy played an important role and LGBT was treated in equal opportunities as feminist movement, trades, etc.

Poets: prestigious people who have been references to society were in favour of this last ―romantic revolution‖. Cinema artists, theatre, musicians, etc who

Pope: opposes to him as a symbol, stimulates objection.

Political parties at parliament, the power’s opportunity to approve the project:

Openness to marriage is seen as a democratization step of society, considering from where we come from. It extends rights to all citizens. It’s an affirmation of being late to democratic access. The violation of rights during dictatorship made politicians more sensitive to people excluded from freedom. It’s the memory of dictatorship. Specially to PSOE.

The opposition to any kind of recognition for couples from Popular Party (PP) resulted in obtaining the maximum possibilities when opposition came into power. It drove to a radicalization of demands and marriage was seen as more efficient demand of all of them.

The parliamentarian majority process did the rest. They voted according to the new portrait of society for full rights of LGBT people.

Conclusions:

  • Official Marriage for same-sex couples is not longer a pain in Spain despite all difficulties but still many people suffer the consequences of a homophobia 
  • From homophobia law to antidiscrimination laws, from legal homosexuality marriages to illegal homophobia is the journey in 30 years. 
  • But there are still important challenges in society like education, work and religion issues. 
  • The role of ACGIL is still needed as dialogue with roman catholic church bishops and hierarchy is low profile and the advance on the movement depends on free network Christian activists and witnesses in all kinds of organizations and liberal priests who actually celebrate blessings for couples in or outside churches. 
  • The risk now is to have come out from the closet and sit passively on the sofa and fall asleep in a decaying movement.
  • There are now symptoms of lack of volunteers and projects. 
  • Be careful: sometimes dreams can come true!!! With all the consequences !!!!

Documentation

EUROPEAN COMISSION - Directorate General Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities and coordinated by Directorate General, Discrimination in the EU in 2009.Fieldwork May-June 2009. Report, Special Eurobarometer 317 / Wave 71.2. , November 2009. 

EUROPEAN FORUM OF LESBIAN AND GAY CHRISTIAN GROUPS, Let Our Voices Be Heard! Christian Lesbians in Europe Telling their Stories, Randi O.Solberg (Editor) , Esuberanza, 2007 

David PATERNOTTE, Sociologie politique comparée de l’ouverture du Mariage civil aux couples de Même sexe en Belgique, en France et en Espagne: des spécificités nationales aux convergences transnationales, Université libre de Bruxelles-Faculté des Sciences sociales, politiques et économiques-Département de Science politique, 2008-2009. 

Randi O. SOLBERG,  Imagine there's a heaven, 25.6.2005.