Archbishop of Canterbury lectures on human rights and religious faith to WCC

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, delivered a lecture yesterday on human rights and religious faith at the World Council of Churches Ecumenical Centre in Geneva.

In the lecture, Dr Williams said laws against sexual minorities were equivalent to racism, and warned that legal regulation of consensual sexual conduct “can be both unworkable and open to appalling abuse – intimidation and blackmail.”

“The existence of laws discriminating against sexual minorities as such can have no justification in societies that are serious about law itself.”

“Such laws reflect a refusal to recognize that minorities belong, and they are indeed comparable to racial discrimination.”

Concern for protection of sexual minorities from violence and intimidation did not imply approval of homosexual behaviour on moral grounds. “Religion and culture have their own arguments on these matters,” he said.

“But a culture that argues about such things is a culture that is able to find a language in common. Criminalize a minority and there is no chance of such a language in common or of any properly civil or civic discussion.”

A panel of the U.N. rights body meeting in Geneva on Wednesday will consider taking action aimed at halting persecution of gays and lesbians around the world. A report prepared for the gathering by the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay says homosexuals and bisexuals face execution in at least five countries and 76 nations have laws criminalizing gay sex. They also accounted disproportionately for torture cases in jails around the globe, says the report.

In a statement in advance of the panel, Pakistan said the 57-nation Organization for Islamic Cooperation (OIC) opposed the convening of the panel and would not accept any recommendations that it might issue. The Pakistani statement said “abnormal sexual behaviour” was an outcome of personal behaviour and preferences “having nothing to do with fundamental human rights.” In the statement, Pakistan rejected any such discussion, saying the Islamic Saudi-based OIC group opposed “the consideration of these controversial notions in the context of human rights at international fora.”

The Daily Mail report of Dr Williams’ lecture focuses almost entirely on same-sex marriage, not something that was the focus of the lecture itself.

The Mail believes Dr Rowan Williams “put his weight behind other leading clergy who have launched a powerful campaign to prevent David Cameron from going ahead with his plan to allow the full rights of marriage to same-sex couples,” declaring the law has no right to legalise same-sex marriage which would amount to forcing unwanted change on the rest of the nation.

The Mail chose to quote Dr Williams saying: ‘If it is said that a failure to legalise assisted suicide – or same-sex marriage – perpetuates stigma or marginalisation for some people, the reply must be, I believe, that issues like stigma and marginalisation have to be addressed at the level of culture rather than law.’

The paper admits that the Archbishop has long been a personal supporter of gay rights and his lecture yesterday insisted Christians must accept that gay equality laws are here to stay. But the paper says he has also listened to the concerns of traditional Christian believers by refusing to allow Jeffrey John to be appointed as a bishop.


  1. toni brown says

    I really think the archbishop is contradicting himself, and his support for prejudical attitudes within the church (be it him trying to hold the C of E together) detracts from his credibility, when speaking in the public arena. If he set an example an addressed the bigotry that exists within the chuch , then I feel the flow on effect would be far greater within the public arena. At present, all he is doing is expecting that people treat GLBTI people in secular society with respect, whilst he encourages evangelism, converting members of secular society, to a religion which discriminates. I can’t see why he bothers saying anything!

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