Kenyan Catholic leaders have offered mixed reactions to a ruling by their nation’s supreme court which upheld the right of LGBTQ+ people to form associations.
The February ruling ended a nine-year legal battle over whether LGBTQ+ advocacy groups can register as non-governmental organizations (NGO). The ruling asserted that banning the association of queer people is unconstitutional.
Archbishop Anthony Muheria of Nyeri argued that the ruling was dangerous because it could normalize LGBTQ+ people in Kenyan society, which currently outlaws same-gender sexual activity. According to The Tablet, Muheria said:
“Acts of homosexuality can never be acceptable. They are evil, therefore, if this association is to spread, popularise and bring about more and more people into this kind of actions and behaviour, we call it out as an evil behaviour and must be addressed as such.”
Other Christian denominations also issued statements against the court’s decision, which will allow the National Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission to register as an NGO following several appeals stemming from the original 2012 court case. The Kenya Christian Professionals Forum (KCPF) argued that the ruling would lead to the gradual acceptance of LGBTQ+ people, according to ACI Africa:
“KCPF is deeply concerned by the recent Supreme Court Judgment. The judgment opens the way to the gradual dismantling of our legal, moral, and cultural prohibitions against homosexual behavior.”
Muheria and the KCPF’s condemnation of the court’s decision was not shared by all church leaders in Kenya. Fr. Ambrose Kimutai, a diocesan priest in Kericho, supported the court’s decision, according to Tuko, which reported:
“The cleric said he supported the Supreme Court decision and encouraged people to love and respect the LGBTQ community…‘They didn’t go to court because they wanted to be allowed to marry or get married, they went to court because they wanted to be allowed to have an association and the NGO board had refused to register them.’”
Kimutai argued that the decision was consistent with church and gospel teaching, countering both Catholic and Anglican critics of the court’s decision.
The court’s decision ensures that LGBTQ+ people can create government-recognized NGOs, but it does not mean that homosexuality is legal in the country. Same-gender intimacy is still a crime punishable by up to fourteen years in prison.
Notably, Kenya’s law which criminalizes same-gender intimacy contradicts Pope Francis’ call for the decriminalization of homosexuality worldwide. In 2019, Cardinal John Njue and Bishop Alfred Rotich were both outspoken supporters of continued criminalization of same-gender intimacy when the Kenyan Supreme Court considered the matter. Still, several priests and religious brothers have offered support for the LGBTQ+ community.
According to Reuters, LGBTQ-negative rhetoric from religious leaders is causing increased violence against queer people:
“LGBTQ+ Kenyans say they are living in fear after [the] ruling triggered an outpouring of abuse and death threats…Kenyan rights campaigners said some religious and political leaders are whipping up a homophobic backlash to the court ruling, which has led to calls for tougher laws against gay sex and a surge of abuse against sexual minorities.”
Hate crimes against LGBTQ+ peoples are a significant human rights challenge in Kenya, especially in the nation’s coastal regions.
Archbishop Muheria’s comments directly counter the approach of Pope Francis, who has repeatedly advocated for the human dignity of LGBTQ+ people under the law. The archbishop’s comments also endanger queer Kenyans, who are already profoundly marginalized.
In contrast, Fr. Kimutai’s empathetic response to the law and reminder that Christians are called to love the marginalized is an important step. To further glorify God, the church must profess solidarity with LGBTQ+ people, especially in those areas where their existence is still treated as a criminal act.
—Andru Zodrow (he/him), New Ways Ministry, March 21, 2023