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Will the Pope's New Gay Marriage Policy help Ugandan Judges and Ghana's Parliamentarians

Ugandan Judges and Ghanaian Parliamentarians can you hear the Pope

By Melanie Nathan, December 18, 2023.

According to AP news, Pope Francis has formally approved allowing priests to bless same-sex couples, with a new document explaining a radical change in Vatican policy by insisting that people seeking God’s love and mercy shouldn’t be subject to “an exhaustive moral analysis” to receive it.

The document from the Vatican’s doctrine office elaborates on a letter Francis sent to two conservative cardinals that was published in October. In that preliminary response, Francis suggested such blessings could be offered under some circumstances if they didn’t confuse the ritual with the sacrament of marriage.

The new document repeats that condition and elaborates on it, reaffirming that marriage is a lifelong sacrament between a man and a woman. And it stresses that blessings in question must be non-liturgical in nature and should not be conferred at the same time as a civil union, using set rituals or even with the clothing and gestures that belong in a wedding.

While what the Pope says cannot be used to impact law, or the interpretation thereof, in either Uganda or Ghana, or in any country, it can be heard as an endorsement of the right for SAME-SEX relationships to not be criminalized. That LGBTQI+ people are not abominations.

The ongoing dicta in the over 30 African countries that criminalize LGBTQI+ people, is based extensively on Christian teachings, as is the Sharia law aspects based on Islamic teachings.

The Pope coming out with a directive that Priests can bless same-sex relationships - without sacrament- is a critical blow to those politicians and parliamentarians touting harsher criminalizing laws and punitive measures against LGBTQI+ relationships, at this time, as well as a blow to existing criminalizing penal codes and all the violence that these laws license.

While the Pope's statement fails to treat LGBTQI+ and same-sex relationships as equal to that of heterosexuals, this reflection of tolerance and to some degree acceptance, is a very clear statement that Catholicism has now determined to treat LGBTQI+ people with love instead of hate, with tolerance instead of criminalization, and places countries such as Uganda and Ghana at direct odds with the Catholic Church.

Uganda passed the Anti-Homosexuality Act 2023, (AHA 2023) in March of this year. It was signed into law by President Museveni, espousing its validity based on Christian values and calling on all African politicians to lead the world in getting rid of homosexuality. This genocidal dicta flies in the face of the Pope's understanding and new Catholic policy. This also places the Catholic Church in flagrant disagreement with American Evangelical preachers who have been the main proponents and instigators of heightened anti-gay climates in African and other countries.

Today the Ugandan Constitutional Court heard a challenge to the AHA 2023 by a coalition of activists. Judges tend to be acutely aware of societal popularity on their rulings. In Uganda over 90%  of the populace and 99% of parliamentarians believe gays should suffer long prison terms for homosexuality and some should be subject to the death penalty for so called "aggravated" homosexuality.

Over 84% of Ugandans identify as Christian, with over 39% of the total population belonging to the Catholic Church in Uganda. Over 14% practice Islam.

Important to note is the viciously violent and anti-gay climate in Uganda at this time where gays are being hunted, detained, tortured and subjected to mob violence. The vast majority of Ugandans and Catholics in that country believe that homosexuality is an abomination and that unless it is eradicated, society will be hurt by it. It has been widely spread that gays recruit and groom children. From what the Pope has now established, it is going to be extremely interesting to see if the 13,000,000 million people who comprise Catholic in Uganda can suddenly jump into tolerance mode, after being so extremely opposed to same-sex relations.

I have a sense that the Pope's new stance may impact the ruling in the current Constitutional Court case, not because he has any power over the constitution or ruling per se, but because the timing of this may serve to help the judges of the Constitutional Court ease into a much feared objectivity, where a ruling could authenticallty go against the populace. Whereas the judges may have previously feared handing down a judgement in favor of the activists, the Pope may have provided license.

Over 71% of people in Ghana are Christian, with Catholicism down from 15% to 10% in the 2021 census. At the time of writing this Ghana's Parliament is debating the final touches to their Promotion of Proper Human Sexual Rights and Family Values Bill of 2021 which makes it an offense punishable up to ten years, simply to "hold out" as being LGBT. Unlike Uganda, Ghana is seeing some pushback domestically from the Catholic Church. Cardinal PETER TURKSON, seen as a leading candidate for Pope, spoke out to NPR's Emmanuel Akinwotu reports, noting that "LGBT gay people may not be criminalized because they've committed no crime. To criminalize anybody, you need to be able to identify their crime." The Cardinal is aware though that Parliament seeks to make this form of identity as a crime.

"These comments by Cardinal Peter Turkson in Ghana have reverberated around the country. He told the BBC's "HARDtalk" program that while he was still against gay marriage, homosexuality should not be criminalized."

The value of this and what the Pope has now stated as policy could perhaps provide an opening for Parliamentarians to a better understanding, especially if the American Evangelical influence on the Parliament is challenged in this way by the Pope himself. However it may be way too little way too late.

Africa is so deeply influenced by the American Evangelical highly financed and well mobilized push to use the continent in its quest to get rid of homosexuals that it will take a lot more than the Pope merely making a statement asserting new policy. Let us also face the fact that the Catholic Bishops in Africa have participated in the persecution of LGBTQI+ people by calling for harsher anti-LGBTQI criminalizing laws in the past, participating in exorcisms and reparative therpaies, etc. For this reason and more, the Pope ought to establish robust programing in the Church in these countries to counter the Evangelical extremism and remedy the deeply rooted hate of LGBTQI+ and the life or death harm it is still bringing to LGBTQI+ people.

Melanie Nathan

Human Rights Law

Country Conditions Expert Witness for LGBTQI+ Asylum Seekers from Uganda, Ghana and other African 

African Human Rights Coalition

Executive Director


pronouns: she / her / hers



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