An LGBTQ advocate in India has challenged one of the nation’s bishops who claimed homosexuality is unnatural as he opposed marriage equality, an issue now pending in India’s legal system.
In September, Bishop Joshua Mar Ignathios of Mavelikkara, who is also vice-president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India, criticized attempts to legalize marriage equality, which are now being reviewed by the Delhi High Court. The Commune quoted the bishop as saying:
“‘Indian society and law do not recognize such a concept. Homosexuality is unnatural and the Church does not accept that which is against nature because we follow what God has taught us. . .The Catholic Church in India neither promotes nor propagates homosexuality. It is always for men and women and happy families. The Church believes in natural activities and it will always stand for that.'”
But Rachael Alphonso of Rainbow Catholics India challenged both the claim that homosexuality is unnatural and the claim that Indian society cannot accept equal marriage rights. Alphonso rightly pointed out that homosexuality is found in roughly 1,500 species of animals, while “there is neither any documented evidence of religion existing in Nature, nor consecrated male priesthood.”
Alphonso also responded to reported comments by Muhammad Arif, a Muslim cleric, who said homosexuality and marriage equality are imports to India from Western culture. She said:
“. . .Mr Arif stated that Indian culture supports only the tradition of marriage between man and woman, although ancient Indian scriptures have not just mentioned homosexuality, but the origins of some of the great mythical characters were attributed to same-sex unions. The Catholic Church, too, has insisted upon male-female marriage through a very painful document, ‘Humanae Vitae’. What these ‘religions of peace’ have failed to see is the suffering of those who were born with characteristics that challenge their rule. These religious leaders have failed to recognise that the reason our tradition only focussed on man and woman is because the rest of the SOGIs [Sexual Orientations & Gender Identities] had to live in hiding, love in hiding, and suffer in silence in a society that hated them for the characteristics they were born with.”
Alphonso wrote further that people need to set prejudice aside and consider marriage equality simply as “humans choosing to love whom they want, to peacefully exist in society, and be recognised as a couple” because doing so “can change our perception of the LGBTQ community.
The Delhi High Court is hearing a case which relies on the 1995 Hindu Marriage Act that allows for marriage between any two Hindus without specifying anything about the gender of the partners, will be heard later this month.
It is unfortunate that Bishop Ignathios has diverged from church teaching with his claim that being gay, bisexual, or lesbian is unnatural. Hopefully, he can learn a different model from Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Bombay, who is president of the bishops’ conference, and who is quite positive on LGBTQ issues.
For instance, Gracias advocated publicly for the decriminalization of homosexuality long before India’s Supreme Court struck down a colonial-era law banning same-gender relations. He then was the only religious leader in India who opposed an initiative to recriminalize LGBTQ people. In the past, he has urged his priests to be more sensitive in their language about LGBT people, spoke out for better pastoral care during the 2014 Synod on the Family, and said to LGBTQ Catholics in an interview with Bondings 2.0 that the church “embraces you, wants you, needs you.”
Most recently, the cardinal was instrumental in the launch of both Rainbow Catholics India and a hotline to help LGBTQ Catholics, in collaboration with Ruby Almedia, co-chair of the Global Network of Rainbow Catholics, and Wendel Rodericks the now-deceased fashion designer. It is a further positive step to see members of Rainbow Catholics India now challenge Indian church leaders who make erroneous statements about lesbian and gay people and push the false narrative that homosexuality is a Western import. Cardinal Gracias has given his episcopal peers a new model beyond prejudice. They would be wise to follow.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, October 12, 2020