Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard has reportedly given her word to religious groups that they will have the “freedom” under a new rights bill to discriminate against gay people and other people deemed sinners.
Under current laws, faith-based organizations, which include schools and hospitals, can refuse to employ those they view as sinners, if they see that it “is necessary to avoid injury to the religious sensitivities of adherents of that religion.”
Australian Christian Lobby managing director Jim Wallace, who has met with Gillard several times, said she assured him that “she has no intention of restricting freedom of religion” in terms of religious groups’ legal right to discriminate in employing or dismissing staff.
The Prime Minster said through a spokesperson: “We don’t comment on discussions with stakeholders.”
Gillard pulled out from attending a Christian Lobby conference last year after Wallace suggested smoking was healthier than an LGBT lifestyle.
The Catholic Church is one of Australia’s largest private employers. They receive government funding, but because they have religious status, they are allowed to vet the sexual orientation of potential employees in ways that would be illegal for non-religious groups.
The Labor government, which stands for representing progressive values, has been criticized for protecting religious freedom in such a way.
Sweden lifts gender-reassignment sterilization
Sweden has ended a law that made sterilization compulsory for people undergoing gender-reassignment surgery in order for the state to recognize their gender identity.
The law dates back to 1972, and a majority in Swedish parliament wanted it to be repealed a year ago, but a small conservative party blocked the move.
A ruling made last year said the law did not allow civil liberties, as protected by the Swedish constitution, and was discriminatory as it only targeted transgender people.
The ban was ended Jan. 10 by the Stockholm administrative court after the end of an appeal period.
Many had argued that the law broke Article 3 of the European Union Charter of Fundamental Rights, which protects “the right to respect for [everyone’s] physical and mental integrity.”
More than 75,000 people signed an AllOut.org petition calling on the country to reverse the ban, which the organization said is the largest-ever online movement to protect trans human rights.
The Swedish Christian Democrat party then abandoned its support for the rule and cleared the way for repeal.
Women strip, protest Vatican marriage stance
Four women went topless in St. Peter’s Square to protest the Vatican’s opposition to gay marriage.
Police quickly took the women away Jan. 13, and the pope appeared not to have been disturbed as he delivered his traditional prayer from his studio window overlooking the piazza.
On their bare backs, the women had painted slogans “In Gay We Trust” and “Shut Up.” One of them, Inna Shevchenko, said, “Today we are here to protest against homophobia.”
The demonstration coincided with a march in Paris that was expected to draw hundreds of thousands of people to protest the French president’s plan to legalize gay marriage.
French Catholic bishops and other religious leaders have strongly opposed the proposal, and the Vatican has backed them.
Gay-marriage protest converges on Eiffel Tower
Holding aloft ancient flags and young children, hundreds of thousands of people converged Jan. 13 on the Eiffel Tower to protest the French president’s plan to legalize gay marriage and thus allow same-sex couples to adopt and conceive children.
The opposition to President Francois Hollande’s plan has underscored divisions among the secular-but-Catholic French, especially more traditional rural areas versus urban enclaves. But while polls show the majority of French residents still support legalizing gay marriage, that backing gets more lukewarm when children come into play.
The protest march started at three points across Paris, filling boulevards throughout the city as demonstrators walked 3 miles to the grounds of France’s most recognizable monument. Paris police estimated the crowd at 340,000, making it one of the largest demonstrations in Paris since an education protest in 1984.
Public opposition spearheaded by religious leaders has chipped away at the popularity of Hollande’s plan in recent months. About 52 percent of French favor legalizing gay marriage, according to a survey released Jan. 13, down from as high as 65 percent in August.
French civil unions, allowed since 1999, are at least as popular among heterosexuals as among gay and lesbian couples. But that law has no provisions for adoption or assisted reproduction, which are at the heart of the latest debate.
Support for gay marriage, and especially adoption by same-sex couples, has been particularly tenuous outside Paris, and people from hundreds of miles from the French capital marched beneath regional flags with emblems dating back to the Middle Ages, chanting “Daddy, Mommy.”
If the French parliament approves the plan, France would become the 12th country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage, and the biggest so far in terms of economic and diplomatic influence.
Lesbian couple forced to flee Indonesia
Although same-sex marriage is not legal in Indonesia, a lesbian couple managed to obtain a marriage license by pretending that one of them was male.
Angga Sucipto, 21, and Ninies Ramiliyutias, 40, got married last January at the Sei Beduk Religious Affairs Office, in Riau Islands, by pretending Sucipto was male. They obtained a marriage license and were unchallenged throughout the process, as officials saw no reason to be suspicious.
“The administrative requirements for the marriage were complete, so there was no way we could forbid them from getting married,” said the head of the office, Budi Dharmawan.
The report suggests that the couple’s marriage went undetected by locals until Sucipto’s lack of interaction with neighbors started to raise suspicions.
A neighbor of the couple, Ricard Butar-Butar, said officials raided their house and discovered Sucipto was a female.
The whereabouts of both women remain unknown, as they fled together after the raid, he said.
The head of the Sei Beduk Religious Affairs Office said it planned to increase the frequency of marriage counseling to prevent similar cases in the future.
Vatican criticizes court ruling on gays’ children
The Vatican has insisted that children should grow up with a father and a mother after Italy’s high court granted custody of a child to his gay mother.
In its decision Jan. 11, the Court of Cassation said there was no “scientific certainty or experience-based data” to support the father’s claims that the child’s development was being damaged by living with his mother and her female partner. Such an argument was “mere prejudice,” the court said.
On Jan. 12, bioethicist Adriano Pessina wrote in the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano that the court merely confirmed typical Italian custody rulings by conferring custody to the mother. But he echoed the pope’s recent insistence that no one has a “right” to a child and that children should be raised by a mother and father.
Thousands of French lesbians travel to Belgium for artificial insemination
Thousands of French lesbian couples are believed to have traveled to Belgium in order to conceive babies through artificial insemination, which is not available in their home country.
Around 2,000 babies conceived in Belgium through artificial insemination are believed to be born each year to French lesbian couples, who are not eligible for the procedure in France.
Professor Michel Dubois at the University Hospital of Liege said, “We have seen a sharp increase in demand over the past three years. The word is getting around in France, our patients are passing the message along.”
The ruling French Socialist government was recently reported to have dropped medically assisted reproduction for lesbian couples from the country’s upcoming bill to legalize marriage equality.
Belgium allowed gay civil marriage in 2003, and allows artificial insemination for all “regardless of civil status or sexual orientation.”
— compiled by Larry Nichols