By Tim Wyatt
A coalition of faith leaders from across the globe have signed a declaration affirming their conviction that LGBTQ+ people are loved by God equally.
The document, whose production was funded by the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, also calls for a ban on any efforts to change or suppress someone’s sexual or gender identity (often known as conversion therapy), and for countries that still criminalise LGBTQ+ people and their relationships to reform their laws urgently.
The Global Interfaith Commission on LGBT+ Lives, organised by the leading British Christian activist Jayne Ozanne, has been signed so far by 370 individuals, representing many different faiths and more than 30 nations.
Among the high-profile figures to endorse the declaration are Desmond Tutu, the Archbishop emeritus of Cape Town, and an icon of the anti-apartheid movement, as well as the heads of the Anglican Churches in Wales, Scotland, Sweden, the Philippines and Canada.
Paul Bayes, the Bishop of Liverpool, one of the leading senior voices in the Church of England calling for a more welcoming stance towards gay people, has also thrown his weight behind the compact.
“I’m proud to be involved in this,” he told a media briefing last week. “Of course there is diversity within faith communities over blessing or withholding blessing for LGBTI couples and LGBTI practice.
“But everyone in the Church of England is committed to standing against homophobia and standing against the marginalisation and oppression of LGBTI people,” Bishop Bayes said.
As well as demanding a ban on so-called conversion therapy and the criminalisation of LGBTQ+ people, the declaration also expresses regret over the role of religious teaching in perpetuating oppression of the gay community.
“We ask for forgiveness from those whose lives have been damaged and destroyed on the pretext of religious teaching,” the document states.
“We affirm that all human beings of all sexual orientations, gender identities and gender expressions are a precious part of creation and are part of the natural order.”
Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner, until recently the senior rabbi for Reform Judaism in Britain, said it was vital faith leaders owned up to how their traditions had harmed people.
“This is important for religious leaders specifically because we have often incited hatred against LGBT people and therefore we are responsible for holding our hands up and saying, ‘We were wrong’.”
The former president of Ireland, Mary McAleese, said: “This is the people of God, stepping out of the bunker and holding hands together. We’re not going to let the future be dominated any longer by historically embedded attitudes which dragged with them a heck of a lot of evil, old baggage.”
Representatives from other faiths, including Islam, Buddhism and Sikhism, have also backed the initiative, which is being launched later today at an online conference, followed by a celebration at Westminster Abbey, with a small number of guests due to Covid-19 restrictions.
Among the other dignitaries speaking are Ms McAleese, Crispon Blunt MP and James Duddridge, the minister for Africa in the British government.
Ms Ozanne said she wanted people of faith around the world to sign the declaration “so that we can give a clear message to all countries that religious teaching does not tolerate prejudice and should never be used to endorse discrimination”.
Despite the Foreign Office’s funding and hosting of the project, the government is yet to act on its promise to ban conversion therapy — a pledge first made in 2018 and reiterated by Boris Johnson earlier this year.
Ms Ozanne said she had been assured legislation was in the pipeline and hoped her project would emphasise the support such a ban would find among some faith leaders.
She had earlier spearheaded a move in the Church of England’s ruling General Synod which condemned conversion therapy in 2017.
All major therapy and counselling bodies in the UK, as well as the NHS, have publicly stated conversion therapy is unethical and potentially harmful, but despite first announcing plans to make it unlawful in 2018, the government has yet to offer any details or timeline on how it will implement a ban.