In the run-up to the 2014 Winter Olympic Games being held in Sochi, and indeed now during the games, Sport sadly has not been the main topic of conversation. Instead Western liberals have been focusing on a recent national Russian internal modification of Administrative offences which was recently passed. It has been rather alarming how much misinformation has been spread about this change in the law and the lack of a balanced commentary on it.
This amendment to the law has been portrayed by western media across the political spectrum as tantamount to criminalising homosexuality and giving license to mobs to assault and kill homosexuals. It is true that violent vigilante attacks against those who suffer from same-sex attraction have increased in Russia in recent years. This is well documented and quite disturbing. Generally even conservative arms of western media – who are normally more sympathetic to such socially conservative laws – have uncritically accepted this analysis as well, I suspect out of a blind anti-Russian prejudice that endures more than twenty years after the collapse of The Soviet Union. The image of those who challenge this view is that of a minority of crackpot religious fundamentalists, like the infamous Westboro Baptist Church.
So how should a faithful Catholic react to this new law? Outright condemnation? Full unquestioning support? I am assuming at this stage that the reader knows and understands Catholic teaching regarding the importance of upholding conjugal Marriage in public life. I also assume that the reader is aware of Church teaching on homosexuality within the broader context of her teaching about sexuality. If not, it is described in the Catechism of the Catholic Church as follows:
Chastity and homosexuality
2357 Homosexuality refers to relations between men or between women who experience an exclusive or predominant sexual attraction toward persons of the same-sex. It has taken a great variety of forms through the centuries and in different cultures. Its psychological genesis remains largely unexplained. Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.” They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.
2358 The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.
2359 Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection.
Consider first that it is a law that is firmly supported by our Russian Orthodox brethren on the ground who have a similar, if not identical, understanding of homosexuality to our own.
Second, it is necessary to cut through the media’s spin and look at the facts:
Fact#1 The law prohibits the dissemination or promotion of “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relationships” to minors. It does not criminalise homosexual acts between adults, nor their promotion to adults.
There is a word in English for when an adult encourages a minor to engage in a sexual relationship – paedophilia. If it is between two minors it is known as statutory rape. Between a human and an animal, it is called bestiality. There are even darker recesses of deviant sexual activity which I will not sully this blog by naming or describing, suffice to say that there are lines of common decency which some people have little difficulty in trespassing. I don’t believe any parent would ever want such things promoted to their children by anyone.
The wording of the law is often misunderstood, but it is quite clear. In Russia one is prohibited from promoting to children as the norm anything other than the nuclear family, that is to say that sexual relations belong solely within a family context between a married mother and father. It is phrased like this in line with the wording of various Russian judicial rulings, and is quite deliberate. Indeed, it’s apparent vagueness is its strength. There are so many deviations from this in the modern world that to criminalise them all by name would inevitably lead to the distribution of strange and disturbing material that slips through the legal cracks. Consider the problem Great Britain has with recreational drugs – only the listed drugs are illegal so chemists are constantly tweaking the drugs’ to make them technically legal. It is simply impractical to name them individually, so it is better to have a broadly framed law which will not allow dangerous material to be promoted because of legislators’ omissions.
Fact#2 This law does not legalise the assault or killing of homosexuals.
There have been shocking and disturbing videos posted on the internet of so-called “gay-baiting”. This is where a homosexual person is tricked into publicly exposing himself, under the pretence of a date with another homosexual, to a violent mob which proceeds to attack or humiliate their victim for being homosexual. This unequivocally and absolutely disgusting and wrong. Furthermore, it is still illegal in Russia. It is the duty of the police to enforce the law and protect citizens without preference or exception. Anything less is a grave failure and a dereliction of duty. Such criminals must be arrested, prosecuted and imprisoned.
However, militant homosexuals who violate the law in Russia by publicly orchestrating agitation aimed at promoting their disordered behaviour (classically termed “the sin of Sodom”) in full view of children, should not be shocked when the reaction among ordinary people is one of revulsion. It is right and proper that the police should enforce the law and maintain public order by arresting these militant activists. In any situation if one resists arrest then one should expect the police to use force in response. The police must exercise restraint, but it is not inherently unreasonable that they use proportionate and reasonable force. This applies to all, including what the BBC describes as “LGBTQ campaigners”. (Aside from anything else and on a less serious note, this incessantly ballooning acronym for minority sexual groups is getting longer, how long will it be until every letter in the alphabet is included?)
Finally, a crucial point must be made. Part of CCC2358 is often twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools, namely the part which reads:
“They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.” Militant homosexuals and some Catholics erroneously interpret this as mandating an equal treatment of homosexual couples with married spouses. Note the word “unjust”. Unjust discrimination is violently attacking a homosexual, or in some other way failing to treat them as people who are loved by Almighty God. Just discrimination (read “distinction” – discrimination has too many negative connotations) is preventing the brainwashing of a nation’s children with a dangerous and immoral ideology, by recognising homosexuality as lacking the essential characteristics necessary for marriage, as being intrinsically disordered and as harmful to individuals and society as a whole if acted upon.
So what should the Catholic verdict be on this?
I believe that this law is just and that its enforcement should be supported by faithful Catholics, but that we must also condemn all actions which do not respect the inherent dignity of every human person, which is not forfeited by having same-sex attractions. Mr. Putin, enforce this law. Protect the innocence of the children of Russia and promote the common good. But do not forget to also enforce with the same rigour the laws which protect all your citizens, including homosexuals, from attack or unjust treatment.
And for goodness’ sake, try to enjoy the fine winter sports like curling or ice hockey on display in Sochi.