Op-Ed: A Look at Religion and Homosexuality in Latin America

By Luke Morales

For seventeen years of my life I was a member of the Pentecostal faith—through my family members, my parents, and through multiple churches I was a part of. As a gay man growing up in the Pentecostal faith, I can attest to the church holding beliefs of strong opposition to both homosexuality and the rest of the LGBTQ+ community. In the several different churches that I’ve attended, this strong opposition seems to be fueled by two things: a person’s own prejudice regarding same-sex relations, and interpretations of the Bible—often representative of said prejudice.

It is important to highlight “interpretations” when discussing messages communicated by religious text—specifically, the Bible. We must note that the Bible’s words have been carried for thousands of years and translated hundreds of times, and despite the Bible being claimed by millions as the “Word of God,” we cannot ignore the simple fact that it was written by man for man. This is not to say that faith is pointless or imaginary: it is to point out that any one person can read the words of the Bible in any which way. It is not far-fetched for a person to question whether the Bible’s words are either biased or interpreted incorrectly, if even realistic to begin with.

Religious groups have a long history of attempting to impose beliefs on individuals of other groups. Take the persecution of the Jewish people at the hands of Christians during the Rhineland massacres, for example, or the modern-day persecution of Rohingya Muslims at the hands of Myanmar’s Buddhist majority (Pynes, 2019; Albert & Maizland, 2020). While religion is an important source of hope for some, bigotry can be deadly to many: look at the many countries where homosexuality is punishable by death, for example, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Somalia. Throughout the world, in what some call “the rainbow struggle,” there is a “global culture war steeped in religion and politics” (Grant, 2011, para. 5) when discussing the “issue” surrounding LGBTQ+ rights.

 What is the basis for being anti-LGBTQ+? In short, prejudice. Among religious groups, this prejudice is supported by interpretations of words on paper written thousands of years ago. In several Latin American and Caribbean countries, same-sex relations are criminalized. The prevalence of devout evangelical groups in the region have led to anti-gay activity, including large public marches which, in some cases, result in homophobic violence (Wilkinson, 2014). In addition, the belief that homosexuality is a “sickness” that needs “curing” remains widespread region-wide (Wilkinson, 2014). The ethics questioned when discussing religion versus the LGBTQ+ community shouldn’t be that of who should love whom, but instead should be that of one imposing a belief on another to override the fact of love.

Though there has been recent progress in the region, for example the legalization of same-sex marriage in Ecuador in 2019, the LGBTQ+ movement continues to face strong resistance. In some countries, according to Javier Corrales, professor at Amherst College, this opposition to progress has been successful (Corrales, 2019). For instance, in multiple Latin American countries, homophobic and transphobic groups have organized massive marches. In Brazil, they helped elect Jair Bolsonaro, who is considered the most openly homophobic politician in Latin America since the 1990s (Corrales, 2019). What sets these new groups apart from past homophobic and transphobic groups in Brazil is that they now have important political sponsors to aid in slowing the LGBTQ+ movement: evangelicals and Pentecostals.

A study published in 2012 analyzes attitudes toward homosexuality and same-sex civil unions in Brazil based on religious denomination. Though attitudes may have shifted in the years since this study due to the rise of the LGBTQ+ movement, the statistics involved are still valid when showing that the battle for equality and understanding is far from over. As mentioned earlier, there are countries which still criminalize same-sex relations, and many of them have legal authority to impose the death penalty on offenders. The 2012 study revealed a high disapproval of both male homosexuality (81%) and female homosexuality (78%) among the Brazilian population (Ogland & Verona, 2014). The study also identified and analyzed multiple groups of religious followers: devoted Catholics, nominal Catholics, devoted Pentecostals, nominal Pentecostals, devoted historical Protestants, nominal historical Protestants, and those with no religious affiliation (Ogland & Verona, 2014).

When compared to their nominal counterparts, devoted Catholics are significantly more likely to hold judgment against homosexuality and are also more likely to oppose same-sex civil unions (Ogland & Verona, 2014). Both devoted followers of historical Protestant denominations and Pentecostal faiths expressed strong disapproval of homosexuality and strong opposition to same-sex civil unions when compared to nominal Catholics (Ogland & Verona, 2014). The study’s findings reveal that those with no religious affiliation are significantly less likely to disapprove of homosexuality and oppose same-sex civil unions when compared to devoted Catholics, devoted historical Protestants, and devoted Pentecostals (Ogland & Verona, 2014). In other words, the common thread tying together many of these anti-LGBTQ+ groups is religion. 

The movement for LGBTQ+ equality and rights is a “global culture war steeped in religion and politics” (Grant, 2011, para. 5). Religious groups represent strong opposition to the LGBTQ+ population in Brazil and in the rest of Latin America fighting for equality. If morality is the item in question, its focus should not be on a person loving another person. Rather, morality should be questioned when justifying the oppression and persecution of another person based on the perceptions of what a book says to believe.

In a 2019 interview, though partially taken out of context, Pope Francis endorsed providing same-sex couples with protections in unions, but only in reference to the civil sphere, not within the church (Winfield, 2021). In March of 2021, the Vatican issued a formal statement to whether Catholic clergy have the authority to bless same-sex unions: “[T]he blessing of homosexual unions cannot be considered licit… in fact, ‘there are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage and family’” (Vatican, 2021). The statement was disheartening to members of the LGBTQ+ community.

The problem I’m getting at is not religion itself: rather, it’s the use of religion as a tool for hatred against a group for no valid reason. Though I still practice religion in my own way, I have separated myself from the Pentecostal church because of the abuse of biblical text. There will never be proper justification for discriminating against or trying to “convert” the LGBTQ+ community, just as there is none for discrimination on the basis of race, class, age, or disability. The Pope’s endorsement of same-sex union protections shows what progress within the church may have looked like, but the Vatican’s blatant homophobia in its new document shows just how far we have yet to go.

Luke Morales (he/him/his) is a sophomore from Bucks County, PA pursuing a major in Enlish writing, a minor in Portuguese, and a certificate in Latin American Studies. When writing nonfiction, Luke likes to write about things relating to literature, equality, and current events. In his free time, he loves to read, write, play videogames, and watch a ton of TV. 


References

Albert, E., Maizland, M. (2020). The Rohingya crisis. Council on Foreign Relations. https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/rohingya-crisis

Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. (2021, March 15). Responsum of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to a dubium regarding the blessing of the unions of persons of the same sex, 15.03.2021. La Santa Sede. https://press.vatican.va/content/salastampa/en/bollettino/pubblico/2021/...

Corrales, J. (2019). The expansion of LGBT rights in Latin America and the backlash. In M. J. Bosia, S. M. McEvoy, & M. Rahman (Eds.), The Oxford handbook of global LGBT and sexual diversity politics (pp. 185-200). Oxford University Press. https://www.oxfordhandbooks.com/view/10.1093/oxfordhb/9780190673741.001....

Grant, K. D. (2011). The rainbow struggle: A primer for the global gay rights battle. The World. https://www.pri.org/stories/2011-10-03/rainbow-struggle-primer-global-ga...

Ogland, C. P., Verona, A. P. (2014). Religion and the rainbow struggle: Does religion factor into attitudes toward homosexuality and same-sex civil unions in Brazil? Journal of homosexuality61(9), pp. 1334-1349. https://doi.org/10.1080/00918369.2014.926767

Pynes, S. (2019). Explaining the 1096 massacres in the context of the First Crusade [Master’s thesis, University of Central Florida]. STARS. https://stars.library.ucf.edu/honorstheses/607

Wilkinson, A. (2014). Who the rainbow tide leaves out. NACLA report on the Americas47(4), pp. 30-32. https://doi.org/10.1080/10714839.2014.11721810

Winfield, N. (2021, March. 15). Vatican bars gay union blessing, says God ‘can’t bless sin. AP News. https://apnews.com/article/vatican-decree-same-sex-unions-cannot-bless-s...

 

 

 

 

 

 

About Author(s)