New Internationalist

Rainbow Warriors

Issue 367

RICHARD NIXON, that eminent historian, in 1972 delivered to his closest collaborators the following crash course on the decadence of Greece and Rome: ‘You know what happened to the Greeks? Homosexuality destroyed them! Aristotle was a homo, we all know that. So was Socrates. You know what happened to the Romans? The last six Roman emperors were fags.’

In 1513, a few centuries before this magisterial lesson, Vasco Nunez de Balboa threw 50 Indians to a pack of dogs, which disembowelled them, ‘because the only thing they need to be women are teats and they can give birth’. In Panama, as in many other parts of America, homosexuality was allowed – until the conquistadors burst in. That night in 1513, Balboa initiated in the Americas the punishment of the ‘unspeakable sin of sodomy’.

Those were the times of the Holy Inquisition. In Spain the Inquisition lasted three-and-a-half centuries. The heresy of difference, in all of its forms, was punished by torture or death in many places in Europe and America. Many homosexuals, men and women, were burned alive. The pyre reduced them to nothing but ash ‘so there would remain no memory of them’.

All that’s far behind us, one would assume. But the smoke still rises.

Rather than ask forgiveness, the Catholic Church repeats its ancient curses. Recently the Holy Inquisition, which is now called the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, launched from the Vatican a global campaign against homosexual marriage – ‘a gravely immoral act that goes against the plan of God and natural law.’

Immediately the high functionaries of the Church echoed the voice of their commander. In Uruguay, Archbishop Nicolas Cotugno declared that ‘homosexuality is a contagious disease’ and recommended the isolation of all carriers, comparing homosexual marriage to the union of men and animals.

The Church has been preoccupied with sexuality for centuries. From the High Pontiff to the last parish priest there is no man of the cloth who is not a sex expert. Yet as all have taken the vow of chastity it is hard to understand how they can reach such complete knowledge. One is tempted to ask the celestial sexologists a question or two: If heterosexual marriage is a ‘natural law’, why don’t you marry? And if homosexuals are violators of ‘God’s plan’, why did God make them that way?

Another specialist in Good and Evil, President George W Bush, stands with the Vatican in condemning homosexual marriage and opposes adoption by couples that don’t constitute a ‘normal marriage’ between a man and a woman.

The President, who is not a Catholic, has made this papal crusade his own. It isn’t the first time Bush and the Pope have discovered they are birds of a feather. Both enjoy direct communications with the On High, albeit on different telephones. On certain occasions, like the war against Iraq, they receive contradictory orders. On others they form a common front. They have been, and remain, united on such sacred matters as the promotion of sexual abstinence among youth and the battle against abortion and the use of contraceptives, and are in harmony on this with fundamentalist Islamists too: puritans united will never be defeated.

The Cross and the Sword are raised high as in old times. And with good reason: in the last few months, homophobia has come under serious attack. Everywhere, that which the Pope calls ‘deviant behaviour’ and ‘the legalization of evil’ is spreading.

Earlier this summer the US Supreme Court handed down an historic sentence striking down as unconstitutional a Texas law that criminalized homosexuality. The ruling effectively voids similar laws in 12 other states.

Meanwhile in New Hampshire, the Episcopal Church elected a bishop who is openly gay. Homosexual marriages are now permitted in Belgium, Denmark, Holland and Sweden, the Canadian provinces of Ontario and British Columbia, and the US state of Massachusetts. Versions of legal marriage exist in Britain, Croatia, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Hungary, Norway, and certain regions of Spain. And in the city of Buenos Aires, for the first time in Latin American history, the union of couples of the same sex is now celebrated. All of these acts of liberty, and of mental health, are not gifts: they are victories in the persistent battle of gays and lesbians against discrimination and violence.

Among all the pleasures worthy of hell, homosexual love is still the most ferociously repressed

Among all the pleasures worthy of hell, homosexual love is still the most ferociously repressed. In more than 70 countries homosexual relations are illegal. In many, the punishment is prison. In some, whipping or the death penalty. In others, paramilitary squads and sick fanatics perform their purification ceremonies: they sweep the streets torturing, mutilating and murdering those who, merely by existing, constitute a public scandal.

Gays and lesbians are damned on earth and in heaven. Five years ago Malaysia’s Prime Minister proclaimed them a threat to national security. But the door is locked in the Great Beyond as well. As I heard the mother of a young lesbian say: ‘What hurts me most is that we won’t be together in paradise.’

But all of these scorned men and women, these rare souls, are generating some of the best news history has ever seen. Armed with the rainbow banner, a symbol of human diversity, they are overturning one of the most sinister heresies of the past. The walls of intolerance are beginning to fall.

As Milton Nascimento sings : ‘Any way of loving is worth it, any way of loving is worth loving.’ (‘Cualquier manera de amor vale la pena, cualquier manera de amor vale amar.’)

Eduardo Galeano, one of Latin America’s foremost writers, lives in Montevideo, Uruguay. © IPS Columnist Service.

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