Evangelicals Are Winning the Gay Marriage Fight—in Africa and Russia

Evangelical advocates, having failed here, are finding friendlier audiences all over the world.

TO GO WITH AFP STORY BY BEN SIMON Pastor Robert Kayanja -- one of Uganda's wealthiest and most prominent Evangelical pastors -- sings during a massive preach of the Born Again Church in Mbarara, western Uganda's largest town, on August 23, 2008. Since President Yoweri Museveni took power in 1986, the Born Again Church has grown exponentially. While Uganda has long been majority Christian, the recent past has seen huge defections from older churches to Pentecostalism. Some argue that shift has been helped by the first family's support. 
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Alex Seitz Wald
Jan. 23, 2014, 4 p.m.

WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 14: Jeremy Bernard attends the Newsweek & The Daily Beast 2012 Hero Summit at the United States Institute of Peace on November 14, 2012 in Washington, DC. 

WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 14: Jeremy Bernard attends the Newsweek & The Daily Beast 2012 Hero Summit at the United States Institute of Peace on November 14, 2012 in Washington, DC.  Getty Images

David Brock, of Media Matters for America. 

David Brock, of Media Matters for America.  ©2010 Richard A. Bloom

Guy Cecil of the Democratic Senetorial Campaign Committee. 

Guy Cecil of the Democratic Senetorial Campaign Committee.  National Journal

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Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I. ©2014 Richard A. Bloom

Steve Elmendorf, co-owner of Elmendorf/Ryan LLC. 

Steve Elmendorf, co-owner of Elmendorf/Ryan LLC.  National Journal

Deputy Secretary of the Air Force Eric Fanning. 

Deputy Secretary of the Air Force Eric Fanning.  National Journal

U.S. Tax Court Judge Joseph Gale. 

U.S. Tax Court Judge Joseph Gale.  National Journal

Chad Griffin, president of thee Human Rights Campaign. 

Chad Griffin, president of thee Human Rights Campaign.  ©2012 Richard A. Bloom

Steve Gunderson, former Congressman and president of the Association of Private Sector Colleges an Universities. 

Steve Gunderson, former Congressman and president of the Association of Private Sector Colleges an Universities.  National Journal

Mary Kay Henry is the president of the Service Employees Internatinoal Union, (SEIU). 

Mary Kay Henry is the president of the Service Employees Internatinoal Union, (SEIU).  ©2010 Chet Susslin

Fred Hochberg, chairman and president of the Export-Import Bank of the United States.  (Ex-Im Bank)

Fred Hochberg, chairman and president of the Export-Import Bank of the United States.  (Ex-Im Bank) © 2013 Liz Lynch

Chris Hughes, owner of The New Republic magazine. 

Chris Hughes, owner of The New Republic magazine.  Jason Gardner Photography

MIchael Kaiser, President of the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. 

MIchael Kaiser, President of the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.  National Journal

Judge Elaine Kaplan with the United States Court of Federal Claims.  

Judge Elaine Kaplan with the United States Court of Federal Claims.   National Journal

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Ken Mehlman, Global Head of Public Affairs at KKR. National Journal

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Tim MIller, executive director of the America Raising PAC. 

Tim MIller, executive director of the America Raising PAC.  National Journal

Rep. Mark Pocan, D- Wis. 

Rep. Mark Pocan, D- Wis.  ©2014 Richard A. Bloom

Bishop Gene Robinson 

Bishop Gene Robinson  National Journal

Hilary Rosen of SDK Knickerbocker. 

Hilary Rosen of SDK Knickerbocker.  ©2014 Richard A. Bloom

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Matt Thompson, is the editorial product manager for National Public Radio.  ©2014 Richard A. Bloom

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Randi Waingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers.  ©2009 Richard A. Bloom

Long be­fore Pres­id­ent Obama se­lec­ted three gay ath­letes to lead the Amer­ic­an del­eg­a­tion to the So­chi Olympics, long be­fore Pres­id­ent Vladi­mir Putin de­clared Rus­sia to be the world’s new “mor­al com­pass,” and long be­fore prac­tic­ally any­one in the West had even heard of that coun­try’s new “ho­mo­sexu­al pro­pa­ganda” law, one Amer­ic­an had thought deeply about it — be­cause he’d helped in­vent it. “My greatest suc­cess, in terms of my own per­son­al strategy, is Rus­sia,” Scott Lively says from his nat­ive Mas­sachu­setts, where he launched a quix­ot­ic bid for gov­ernor this year.

Lively, who is be­ing sued in U.S. fed­er­al court by a gay-rights group for al­leged crimes against hu­man­ity over his work fight­ing “the gay agenda” in Uganda, led a 50-city tour through the former So­viet Uni­on sev­er­al years ago to warn its cit­izens about the in­ter­na­tion­al gay con­spir­acy. His mes­sage and his pro­posed solu­tion — to crim­in­al­ize LGBT ad­vocacy — were re­ceived with open arms in town-hall meet­ings, loc­al le­gis­latures, and St. Peters­burg, which sent an open let­ter to the Rus­si­an people and later be­came one of the first cit­ies in the coun­try to out­law “ho­mo­sexu­al pro­pa­ganda,” pav­ing the way for the na­tion­al le­gis­la­tion.

“I was an al­co­hol­ic and a drug ad­dict un­til I got saved in 1986, and since that time my fo­cus has been to re­store a bib­lic­al fo­cus with re­gards to mar­riage and sexu­al­ity,” he says. Lively be­came a law­yer, au­thor, and ad­voc­ate in pur­suit of the cause, but he gave up on the United States al­most a dec­ade ago, when one of his cases (chal­len­ging an an­ti­discrim­in­a­tion law)failed. “I began shift­ing my em­phas­is, which is go­ing to the oth­er coun­tries in the world that are still cul­tur­ally con­ser­vat­ive to warn them about how the Left has ad­vanced its agenda in the U.S., Canada, and Europe — and to help put bar­ri­ers in place. And the goal is to build a con­sensus of mor­al coun­tries to ac­tu­ally roll back the left­ist agenda in my coun­try,” he ex­plains mat­ter-of-factly.

For Lively and the rest of a small but in­cred­ibly in­flu­en­tial band of Amer­ic­an act­iv­ists who spend their time cris­scross­ing the globe to meet with for­eign law­makers, de­liv­er speeches, make al­lies, cut checks, and oth­er­wise fo­ment a back­lash against the so-called in­ter­na­tion­al gay-rights agenda, this is noth­ing less than a war for the fate of hu­man civil­iz­a­tion.

And in a large part of the world, they’re win­ning. In the last month of 2013 alone, In­dia’s Su­preme Court re-crim­in­al­ized ho­mo­sexu­al­ity, Ni­ger­ia out­lawed LGBT ad­vocacy (gay sex was already pun­ish­able by up to 14 years in pris­on), and Uganda passed a watered-down ver­sion of its in­fam­ous “kill the gays” bill, which al­lows for life pris­on terms — if not the death pen­alty — for “ag­grav­ated ho­mo­sexu­al­ity.” Ho­mo­sexu­al re­la­tions are il­leg­al in at least 77 coun­tries; same-sex mar­riage is leg­al in only 16.

As the push for gay rights has made re­mark­able strides in the West, the story is very dif­fer­ent in much of the de­vel­op­ing world. Middle East­ern gov­ern­ments con­tin­ue to threaten gays with the death pen­alty. And while parts of Lat­in Amer­ica and East Asia have seen pro­gress, from East­ern Europe to Africa, In­dia to the Carib­bean, gays are los­ing, not gain­ing, rights. In al­most all of these coun­tries, Amer­ic­an vet­er­ans of the cul­ture wars have been work­ing be­hind the scenes. “When you scratch the sur­face on a lot of the back­slid­ing that’s go­ing on in a lot of coun­tries where it’s get­ting harder to be LGBT, you find a lot of Amer­ic­ans,” says Ty Cobb, dir­ect­or of glob­al en­gage­ment at the Hu­man Rights Cam­paign, which is just now ramp­ing up ef­forts to com­bat those ef­forts abroad.


As they’ve lost battle after battle in the U.S., con­ser­vat­ive act­iv­ists have found re­spons­ive audi­ences abroad, eager part­ners, and a way to re­make them­selves. For some like Lively, whose views would be com­pletely un­ac­cept­able in the United States — in his book, The Pink Swastika, he ex­plains the Holo­caust by al­leging that most seni­or Nazis were gay — it’s thrill­ing. “It was really bizarre,” Lively says, re­min­is­cing about the glow­ing re­cep­tion he re­ceived on his first tour of Rus­sia al­most a dec­ade ago.

Main­stream Amer­ic­an con­ser­vat­ive groups keep their dis­tance from Lively and his com­pat­ri­ots, hav­ing aban­doned their sup­port for crim­in­al­iz­ing gay re­la­tions after the Su­preme Court’s 2003 de­cision strik­ing down Tex­an sod­omy laws. “There’s the very con­ser­vat­ive groups that are fight­ing the gay-rights agenda in this coun­try, and then there’s the farther right groups that are fight­ing the agenda else­where,” says War­ren Throck­mor­ton, a pro­fess­or at the evan­gel­ic­al Grove City Col­lege in Pennsylvania, who has writ­ten crit­ic­ally of the in­ter­na­tion­al agenda.

But even these far-right groups are hardly as fringe as, say, the West­boro Baptist Church. In his tri­al, Lively has en­joyed leg­al rep­res­ent­a­tion from the Liberty Coun­sel, a group af­fil­i­ated with Liberty Uni­versity, foun­ded by Jerry Fal­well. “This law­suit against Rev. Scott Lively is a gross at­tempt to use a vague in­ter­na­tion­al law to si­lence, and even­tu­ally crim­in­al­ize, speech by U.S. cit­izens on ho­mo­sexu­al­ity and mor­al is­sues,” said Math­ew Staver, the Liberty Coun­sel’s founder and chair­man. Right-wing sites like Ac­cur­acy in the Me­dia and WND have pub­lished Lively’s columns, and the Amer­ic­an Fam­ily As­so­ci­ation’s Bry­an Fisc­her has cited his work.

Graph­ic: Views of Ho­mo­sexu­al­ity Dif­fer Greatly By Re­gion

And Lively is hardly alone. “It’s not ne­ces­sar­ily that he’s more ex­treme; he’s just more ob­vi­ous about it,” says Pam Spees, a law­yer for the New York-based Cen­ter for Con­sti­tu­tion­al Rights, which brought the case against Lively on be­half of a Ugandan LGBT group. At least a half-dozen Amer­ic­an or­gan­iz­a­tions spe­cial­ize in in­ter­na­tion­al LGBT is­sues, de­fend­ing sod­omy laws abroad or ad­voc­at­ing for the crim­in­al­iz­a­tion of gay ad­vocacy. Even some do­mest­ic groups also dabble in in­ter­na­tion­al work. Bri­an Brown, the pres­id­ent of the Na­tion­al Or­gan­iz­a­tion for Mar­riage, the most prom­in­ent group fight­ing same-sex mar­riage in the U.S., spoke this sum­mer to the com­mit­tee in the Rus­si­an Duma re­spons­ible for the gay-pro­pa­ganda law, just days after it passed the full par­lia­ment. “I think that this vis­it, the in­vit­a­tion to vis­it Rus­sia, will en­able the de­vel­op­ment of this move­ment around the world,” he told the law­makers. He came to sup­port an anti-LGBT ad­op­tion law, which passed five days later.One of the biggest groups in this space is the Al­li­ance De­fend­ing Free­dom. From its base in Ari­zona, ADF says it works in 31 coun­tries, with an an­nu­al budget of $30 mil­lion and a staff of 44 law­yers and 2,200 al­lied at­tor­neys.

More-main­stream groups like the Amer­ic­an Cen­ter for Law and Justice, foun­ded by tel­ev­an­gel­ist Pat Robertson as a counter to the Amer­ic­an Civil Liber­ties Uni­on, have set up of­fices in Africa and East­ern Europe that, among oth­er ef­forts, com­bat LGBT equal­ity. And the Fam­ily Re­search Coun­cil spent $25,000 lob­by­ing Con­gress “to re­move sweep­ing and in­ac­cur­ate as­ser­tions that ho­mo­sexu­al con­duct is in­ter­na­tion­ally re­cog­nized as a fun­da­ment­al hu­man right” in a bi­par­tis­an res­ol­u­tion con­demning Uganda’s an­ti­gay law. FRC made it clear it does not sup­port the law or the death pen­alty for gays, but in a ra­dio mes­sage (later de­leted from the web­site), FRC Pres­id­ent Tony Per­kins cri­ti­cized Pres­id­ent Obama’s con­dem­na­tion of Uganda’s le­gis­la­tion. “Mr. Pres­id­ent, as long as you char­ac­ter­ize ef­forts to up­hold mor­al con­duct that pro­tects oth­ers and in par­tic­u­lar the most vul­ner­able, as at­tack­ing people, ci­vil­ity will con­tin­ue to evade us,” said Per­kins, who did not an­swer re­quests to com­ment for this story.

In places where dis­crim­in­a­tion and some­times vi­ol­ence against gays is not just tol­er­ated, but cel­eb­rated, audi­ences have lapped up the Amer­ic­ans’ mes­sages, and the Amer­ic­ans are eager to dish it out — along with the cash raised from their con­greg­a­tions back home.


One hun­dred years ago, there were only about 10 mil­lion Chris­ti­ans in Africa. Today, there are 500 mil­lion.

For years, evan­gel­ic­al mis­sion­ar­ies have been deeply in­ves­ted in Uganda — even more so since Pres­id­ent Yoweri Musev­eni de­clared the coun­try to be in the ser­vice of God and the first lady star­ted wor­ship­ing at the evan­gel­ic­al church run by Robert Kay­anja, who com­pares ho­mo­sexu­al­ity to murder. “Whatever you see here is the fruit of Amer­ic­an labor,” Kay­anja tells Ro­ger Ross Wil­li­ams in the film­maker’s new doc­u­ment­ary, God Loves Uganda, as they sit in a well-ap­poin­ted church built with Amer­ic­an money. (Kay­anja is one of the richest men in Uganda.)

Kapya Ka­oma is an Anglic­an priest from Zam­bia, and when he star­ted at­tend­ing evan­gel­ic­al con­fer­ences and vis­it­ing Chris­ti­an book­stores across Africa as part of his Ph.D. dis­ser­ta­tion re­search, he found something sur­pris­ing. “Their lan­guage soun­ded more like they were Amer­ic­an, not like Afric­an Chris­tian­ity,” Ka­oma says. “You go to Zam­bia, you go to Zi­m­b­ab­we, you go to Uganda, Ni­ger­ia.”¦ Wherever you go, where con­ser­vat­ives are win­ning, they’re us­ing the same talk­ing points that are used in Amer­ica.”

Dav­id Ba­hati, the par­lia­ment­ari­an who au­thored Uganda’s in­fam­ous anti-ho­mo­sexu­al­ity law, told The New York Times he got the idea for the bill from con­ver­sa­tions with mem­bers of the Fel­low­ship — a power­ful Ar­ling­ton, Va.-based group that puts on the Na­tion­al Pray­er Break­fast and owns the C Street house where sev­er­al mem­bers of Con­gress live (the or­gan­iz­a­tion has since dis­tanced it­self from Ba­hati).

Lively has been deeply in­volved in Uganda as well, and an LGBT-rights group there is su­ing him un­der the U.S. Ali­en Tort Stat­ute, which al­lows for­eign vic­tims of hu­man-rights ab­uses to seek com­pens­a­tion in U.S. courts. Dur­ing the de­bate over the bill, a Ugandan tabloid outed 100 gay Ugandans, with a ban­ner that read “HANG THEM.” A few weeks after Dav­id Kato, known as “Uganda’s first openly gay man,” won a de­fam­a­tion law­suit against the pa­per, he was killed in his home. Kay­anja’s rival, pas­tor Mar­tin Ssempa, once gave the ed­it­or of a loc­al magazine a copy of Lively’s book about gay Nazis, ac­cord­ing to a U.S. dip­lo­mat­ic cable pub­lished by WikiLeaks.

Lively dis­misses the suit against him as “frivol­ous” and the no­tion that he, a white Amer­ic­an, is re­spons­ible for a Ugandan law “ra­cist.” Still, the case is mov­ing for­ward; in a 79-page de­cision last Au­gust, U.S. Dis­trict Court Judge Mi­chael Pon­sor ruled that the plaintiffs had provided “de­tailed fac­tu­al al­leg­a­tions sup­port­ing” the claim that Lively “bears in­di­vidu­al li­ab­il­ity for aid­ing and abet­ting the com­mis­sion of a crime against hu­man­ity.”

Spees says she hopes the de­cision will set a pre­ced­ent to hold oth­ers ac­count­able. “It’s not just someone go­ing in and spout­ing off about their ideas and what the Bible is. It’s someone who has a very clear agenda of how to strip away ba­sic rights,” she ex­plains. “And if he was do­ing it do­mest­ic­ally, he would be sub­ject to civil claims.”


Amer­ic­an so­cial con­ser­vat­ives are also heav­ily in­volved in one of the most high-pro­file cases in the world, de­fend­ing the right of Bel­ize’s gov­ern­ment to pre­serve its sod­omy laws. The tiny Anglo­phone coun­try car­ries out­size im­port­ance be­cause both sides see it as a means to top­pling laws in the rest of the Carib­bean (one of the most re­press­ive re­gions on the plan­et for LGBT people) and oth­er former Brit­ish colon­ies. Eighty per­cent of the coun­tries in the 53 Com­mon­wealth of Na­tions out­law gay sex, and be­cause their leg­al sys­tems and crim­in­al codes are all sim­il­ar, re­form in one could set a pre­ced­ent else­where. The leg­al sys­tems of tiny Carib­bean na­tions are un­usu­ally in­ter­twined, and 12 mem­bers of the Carib­bean Com­munity share a com­mon court of last re­sort in the Carib­bean Court of Justice.

“The single-biggest thing people need to un­der­stand is the link between tak­ing down sod­omy laws and same-sex mar­riage,” says Brad­ley Ab­ramson, seni­or coun­sel at the con­ser­vat­ive ADF. “It’s a door­way to same-sex mar­riage. If they can knock down sod­omy laws, it’s a very short step — inches — to same-sex mar­riage.”

On the oth­er side of that fight is Caleb Orozco, the founder of the main LGBT group in Bel­ize. He’s su­ing to over­turn the sod­omy laws and has faced so many threats that his law­yers worry he will be as­sas­sin­ated be­fore the case can go to tri­al. No one else has been will­ing to come for­ward, and just a few weeks ago a gay man got beaten up at a party and had his ear bit­ten off. When the man went to the po­lice sta­tion, blood­ied and dazed, they laughed at him, Orozco says. “You won’t see loc­al evan­gel­ic­als do­ing this, but it is evan­gel­ic­al Amer­ic­ans fund­ing this stuff,” he says over the phone from Bel­ize. “They’ve chosen small coun­tries with weak hu­man-rights in­vest­ment to gal­van­ize sup­port. They’ve been do­ing it very stra­tegic­ally.”


In 2011, Pew sur­veyed more than 2,200 evan­gel­ic­al lead­ers from around the world gathered at a con­fer­ence in Cape Town, South Africa, and found a wide gulf between the de­veloped and de­vel­op­ing world when it comes to op­tim­ism about their faith. Most lead­ers from the Glob­al North said evan­gel­ic­als were los­ing in­flu­ence in their home coun­tries — Amer­ic­ans were par­tic­u­larly bear­ish: 82 per­cent said their in­flu­ence was wan­ing — while 58 per­cent of lead­ers from the Glob­al South said they were gain­ing strength, and al­most three-quar­ters pre­dicted they’d be even stronger in five years.

It’s hardly that Amer­ic­ans in­ven­ted ho­mo­pho­bia in the de­vel­op­ing world. In Ni­ger­ia, for in­stance, 98 per­cent of those sur­veyed by Pew dis­ap­prove of ho­mo­sexu­al­ity; that fig­ure stands at 99 per­cent in Kenya. Life was nev­er easy for gay people in these places, re­gard­less of wheth­er the Amer­ic­ans had come to town.

But the Amer­ic­ans of­fer a ra­tionale for crack­ing down by tap­ping in­to a deep na­tion­al­ist­ic nerve that may not have been ex­posed nat­ur­ally. Much of the de­vel­op­ing world sees ho­mo­sexu­al­ity as a for­eign prob­lem — a West­ern prob­lem — and its le­git­im­iz­a­tion as an in­si­di­ous form of cul­tur­al neo-im­per­i­al­ism. Cit­izens in these coun­tries look around and see no gay people, be­cause laws and cul­tur­al norms keep gays hid­den, so their only ex­pos­ure to ho­mo­sexu­al­ity is of­ten from abroad. “Afric­ans res­on­ate with the de­nun­ci­ation of ho­mo­sexu­al­ity as a post­co­lo­ni­al plot; their ho­mo­pho­bia is as much an ex­pres­sion of res­ist­ance to the West as a state­ment about hu­man sexu­al­ity,” Ka­oma wrote in a re­port for Polit­ic­al Re­search As­so­ci­ates, a lib­er­al Mas­sachu­setts-based group that has been at the fore­front of track­ing Amer­ic­an con­ser­vat­ives’ work on LGBT is­sues abroad.

It’s not hard to see why they be­lieve this. The first gay-pride event in Kenya was held at the U.S. Em­bassy in Nairobi, as the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion has made the ad­vance­ment of LGBT rights “cent­ral … to the real­iz­a­tion of our for­eign policy goals,” an em­bassy spokes­man said. When Obama pro­moted gay rights dur­ing a vis­it to Seneg­al last year, Afric­an lead­ers lined up in op­pos­i­tion. “Those who be­lieve in oth­er things, that is their busi­ness. We be­lieve in God,” re­spon­ded Kenyan Deputy Pres­id­ent Wil­li­am Ruto. The Cath­ol­ic arch­bish­op of Nairobi said Obama should “for­get and for­get and for­get” about de­crim­in­al­iz­ing ho­mo­sexu­al­ity on the con­tin­ent, scoff­ing at the no­tion that Amer­ic­ans should “be­come our teach­ers to tell us where to go.”

The Amer­ic­an act­iv­ists work­ing abroad play dir­ectly in­to these fears, com­ing from a place where so many in­sti­tu­tions — the me­dia, gov­ern­ment, aca­demia, Hol­ly­wood — have, as they see it, been co-op­ted by the ho­mo­sexu­al agenda. “The only chal­lenge was con­vin­cing them that that it could hap­pen in their coun­try,” Lively says.

The threat is not that gay couples will have sex with each oth­er and get mar­ried; it’s that they’ll mar­gin­al­ize Chris­tian­ity, fun­da­ment­ally dis­rupt the so­cial or­der, and — most im­port­ant — re­cruit your chil­dren. “European ho­mo­sexu­als are re­cruit­ing in Africa,” Pres­id­ent Musev­eni has said.

This all comes lit­er­ally out of Lively’s play­book. “Had it not been for that ar­gu­ment [about re­cruit­ing chil­dren], it was not go­ing to come up,” Ka­oma says. “They’re do­ing these laws be­cause they want to pro­tect their chil­dren from the in­ter­na­tion­al gay agenda.”

LGBT ad­voc­ates see these fears as es­pe­cially iron­ic be­cause the laws in all the Com­mon­wealth coun­tries, in­clud­ing Uganda and In­dia, are rel­ics of Brit­ish co­lo­ni­al “anti-bug­gery” rules. “We really still need to find a way to have a con­ver­sa­tion about ba­sic rights that doesn’t bring in all the bag­gage of co­lo­ni­al­ism, eco­nom­ic im­per­i­al­ism, cul­tur­al im­per­i­al­ism,” lamen­ted Mark Brom­ley, chair­man of the Coun­cil for Glob­al Equal­ity, an LGBT group based in Wash­ing­ton.

That’s part of the reas­on In­dia’s re­cent Su­preme Court rul­ing that a sod­omy law is con­sti­tu­tion­al was such a set­back. “It’s im­port­ant for us in the great­er dia­logue to say this isn’t just a North Amer­ic­an, West­ern European thing,” Brom­ley says.


In Rus­sia, Putin’s proudly ho­mo­phobic, hy­per-mas­cu­line pos­ture is a way to con­front the West and fo­ment na­tion­al­ist­ic fer­vor. The coun­try de­crim­in­al­ized ho­mo­sexu­al­ity in 1993 and saw some gains on smal­ler is­sues such as the leg­al­iz­a­tion of blood dona­tions from gay men and the right to change one’s leg­al gender. But, be­gin­ning in 2006, as Rus­sia ex­per­i­enced a re­viv­al of the Or­tho­dox Church, which had been per­se­cuted un­der So­viet rule, a dozen or so re­gions passed laws ban­ning “pro­pa­ganda” of “non­tra­di­tion­al sexu­al re­la­tions” to minors. The laws are of­ten writ­ten so broadly they make it very dif­fi­cult to dis­cuss or ad­voc­ate for gay rights.

Things have only got­ten worse for LGBT Rus­si­ans since then: Mo­scow’s city coun­cil passed a 100-year ban against gay-pride parades in 2012; TV per­son­al­ity Ant­on Kra­sovsky was fired in 2013 after com­ing out as gay; and the par­lia­ment ap­proved a na­tion­al ver­sion of the pro­pa­ganda law, which had been over­whelm­ingly re­jec­ted as re­cently as 2009. When gay Rus­si­ans have tried to demon­strate in re­cent years, they’ve been sub­ject to vi­ol­ence from an­ti­gay mobs and even the po­lice, who of­ten ar­rest LGBT act­iv­ists and leave vi­ol­ent coun­ter­pro­test­ers alone. Putin’s gov­ern­ment has en­cour­aged the crack­down, find­ing that strident so­cial con­ser­vat­ism is use­ful in unit­ing his base and build­ing power in­ter­na­tion­ally. “He’s say­ing es­sen­tially that to be pro Rus­sia is to be anti-LGB­TQ, and to be pro-LGB­TQ is to be pro-West­ern and anti-Rus­sia,” says Cole Parke, who stud­ies LGB­TQ rights in Rus­sia for Polit­ic­al Re­search As­so­ci­ates.

Nowhere was this more evid­ent than in the on­go­ing proxy fight between East and West in Ukraine, a coun­try split between join­ing the European Uni­on and main­tain­ing ties with Rus­sia. Pro-Rus­si­an act­iv­ists hyped fears of the mor­al de­cay if Kiev joined the West, and as mass protests roiled the cap­it­al, omin­ous bill­boards ap­peared warn­ing that “as­so­ci­ation with the EU means same-sex mar­riage.”

The chair of the Duma’s for­eign af­fairs com­mit­tee tweeted that close­ness with the EU would mean “pride parades will be held in­stead of Vic­tory Day parades” in the streets of Kiev. And pro-Rus­si­an demon­strat­ors marched with ban­ners say­ing, “Ho­mo­sexu­al­ity is a threat to na­tion­al se­cur­ity.”

Mean­while, in nearby Latvia, Lively joined with a loc­al mega-church lead­er, a Seattle-based pas­tor, and a Rus­si­an-lan­guage me­dia own­er to found a group called Watch­men on the Walls, which has been act­ive around post-So­viet East­ern Europe and be­lieves “there is a war between Chris­ti­ans and ho­mo­sexu­als.” “Putin is try­ing to build a non­a­ligned move­ment that can be proudly ho­mo­phobic, as op­posed to mildly ho­mo­phobic at the U.N.,” ex­plains Brom­ley, noth­ing that Rus­sia’s veto power on the Se­cur­ity Coun­cil cir­cum­scribes hope for pro­gress at the in­ter­na­tion­al body.


Hav­ing been largely driv­en out of North Amer­ica, Europe, Aus­tralia, and parts of Lat­in Amer­ica, Amer­ic­an so­cial con­ser­vat­ives will forge al­li­ances wherever they can, even when they ad­mit those ties are less than ideal. From Putin to Robert Mugabe in Zi­m­b­ab­we (where the ACLJ opened an of­fice that op­posed the ad­di­tion of an LGBT equal­ity pro­vi­sion in a new con­sti­tu­tion), the Amer­ic­ans have thrown their lot in with who­ever will work with them. “At the United Na­tions, we find our al­lies where we can get them. We don’t sup­port what Is­lam­ic coun­tries are do­ing to Chris­ti­ans, but at the same time, they sup­port us on the mar­riage is­sue, they sup­port us on the life is­sue,” says Ab­ramson of ADF.

Crit­ics joke about a “Baptist-Burkha al­li­ance,” but it’s proven to be tre­mend­ously ef­fect­ive in de­feat­ing in­ter­na­tion­al de­clar­a­tions to sup­port abor­tion and gay rights. Aus­tin Ruse, the head of the Cath­ol­ic Fam­ily and Hu­man Rights In­sti­tute, which works mostly at the U.N. and op­poses the crim­in­al­iz­a­tion of ho­mo­sexu­al­ity, even as it fights same-sex mar­riage, agrees. “On sexu­al iden­tity, our co­ali­tion is really huge,” he says, point­ing to between 80 and 100 coun­tries as al­lies, de­pend­ing on the spe­cif­ic is­sue. The big ques­tion, Ruse ad­ded, is what China does. Beijing has largely ab­stained from in­ter­na­tion­al de­bates on sexu­al iden­tity. It tol­er­ates LGBT so­cial groups do­mest­ic­ally as long as they’re not too polit­ic­al, but if it re­verses its policy, that could change the game in a big way.

The same goes for ma­jor Chris­ti­an de­nom­in­a­tions, where Amer­ic­an con­ser­vat­ives of­ten align with con­ser­vat­ives in Africa and else­where on key so­cial-policy votes against their fel­low Amer­ic­ans. After Gene Robin­son was elec­ted the first openly gay bish­op in the Epis­copal Church in 2003, at least 30 con­greg­a­tions switched their al­le­gi­ance to the arch­bish­op of Kenya to avoid be­ing as­so­ci­ated with the U.S. church.

Amer­ic­an so­cial con­ser­vat­ives real­ize that as­so­ci­at­ing with these coun­tries looks bad, but they in­sist they “hate the sin and love the sin­ner,” as the say­ing goes. “We really are not mon­sters,” Ruse says. “We really do not want to harm any­one.” In­deed, they all dis­tanced them­selves from Uganda’s an­ti­gay bill when it in­cluded the death pen­alty. Lively, per­haps the most ex­treme of the bunch, calls even the life-in-pris­on ver­sion overly dra­coni­an and says it’s his “biggest fail­ure.”

But for LGBT-rights ad­voc­ates, that’s not enough. Even if the U.S. con­ser­vat­ives don’t sup­port laws that harm gays, they say, LGBT people are be­ing harmed in places where the Amer­ic­ans work. “The blood of Afric­an gays in places like Uganda and oth­er parts of the world is on the hands of the U.S. ex­treme Right,” Ka­oma says. “When you lie to people, when you tell Ugandans that ‘there is a well-fin­anced group that is com­ing after your chil­dren — de­fend your­self against this move­ment,’ they will take the law in­to their own hands and you don’t know what they’ll do.”

COR­REC­TION: An earli­er ver­sion of this art­icle in­cor­rectly called Lively’s court case a war-crimes tri­al. A gay-rights group is su­ing him for al­leged crimes against hu­man­ity.


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