During a visit to the Vatican this week a United States’ envoy for the human rights of gays and lesbians has described the claim that western aid to Africa is given on condition that those countries approve of same-sex marriage as “completely false”.
The final document of last month’s Synod on the Family said it was “totally unacceptable” that international organisations “attach conditions to financial aid to poor countries with the introduction of laws establishing marriage between persons of the same sex”.
But Randy Berry, the first Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBTI people appointed by President Barack Obama this year, denied this was the case.
“It is not. Period. Full stop,” he said. “In the case of Uganda, for example, my government did suspend certain types of aid. That was the process of a very careful review about the types of assistance that would have gone into strengthening the mechanisms that would have allowed the state to prosecute people based on this awful law, which the Church also opposed.”
He added that it was done “to make sure that US taxpayer money was not used to fund legal structures that would prosecute people based on their identity” and “the notion that aid was given on the basis of civil unions is completely false”.
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On Tuesday Mr Berry met with officials from the Holy See’s Secretariat of State and Pontifical Council of Justice and Peace to discuss persecution of gay and transgendered people across the world. He also held meetings with government officials from Italy which has been accused of breaching the human rights of gay people as it offers no legal protection for the rights of same-sex couples.
Mr Berry stressed he had not come to the Vatican to pressure the Church to change its position on same-sex marriage rather to discuss violence and discrimination of gay people in parts of the world where homosexuality is illegal.
Later this month, Pope Francis is due to visit two countries where this is the case: Kenya and Uganda. The latter has instituted a law last year that could mean life imprisonment for homosexuality (an earlier proposal to punish with the death sentence had been scrapped).
Mr Berry, who is gay, said the Vatican and the United States are in agreement over the need to combat violence and discrimination while accepted there are “clearly differences” with the Church and the country over civil unions.
He pointed out that after travelling to 30 countries since taking up the post, Mr Berry said: “there is a significant global movement on the side of justice on this issue and I don’t think it is led from any one place.”
THE 'HAPPY GAY PRIEST'...
Mr Berry said it was not possible for countries and institutions to “live in a bubble” on the question of the rights for gay couples. He explained that Malta, a strongly Catholic country, which passed a law in 2014 recognising same-sex unions and adoption, had borrowed from similar legislation in Argentina in drafting its law.
During the synod Cardinal Robert Sarah, Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, which described gender ideology - including homosexual unions - as a threat to western civilisation.
When asked about these remarks Mr Berry said: “I’m not sure what gender ideology is supposed to mean. What we are talking about are issues of identity. I don’t think that respecting the integrity and dignity of a person based on their identity is necessarily a threat to anyone. I think the failure to do that is a threat to us all.”
He added: “The discussion is whether or not we have advanced as a people, whether we can respect the integrity and dignity of all individuals absent these aspects of identity.”