Last edited: January 24, 2005

Honduran Evangelicals Working to Make Same-Sex Marriage Illegal

San Francisco Chronicle, January 23, 2005

By Reed Johnson, Los Angeles Times

Tegucigalpa, Honduras—From his fifth-floor office in the National Congress building, Jose Celin Discua has been watching what he regards as a surging tide of immorality sweeping the United States and other parts of the Western world.

The veteran congressman is determined to stop it from reaching Honduras, even if he has to rewrite the law of the land.

“In various countries of the world—Holland, Spain, various states of the United States—there is already (same-sex) marriage,” Discua said. “It is already coming, and it is already accepted.”

But not in this impoverished, crime-racked Central American nation of 6.8 million. In October, Discua sponsored a congressional motion to ban marriage and adoption by homosexuals. Strongly backed by the country’s swelling evangelical Christian movement, as well as the Roman Catholic Church, the motion passed unanimously.

If the measure passes a second legislative vote, as required by federal law, the Constitution will be amended to read that marriage only between a man and a woman is legally valid. In effect, Honduras would implement nationwide what 11 U.S. states voted for in ballot measures in November and what President Bush says he hopes to enact across the United States: a comprehensive ban on gay marriage.

“We hope that next year they will ratify it, in which we recognize that the state of matrimony is between a man and a woman,” said the Rev. Oswaldo Canales, president of the Evangelical Fraternity of Honduras, which represents 98 percent of the country’s estimated 2 million evangelicals.

Marriage rights aren’t a high priority for Honduran gay rights activists, but the proposed constitutional ban has mobilized them against what they see as another attempt to relegate gay and lesbian Hondurans to second-class citizenship. The activists say they’re fed up with job discrimination, police brutality, hate crimes and the stereotyping of them as prostitutes, junkies and delinquents.

They place some of the blame for the issue on the United States. With national elections coming up, gay activists say Honduran conservatives are taking a cue from their counterparts to the north and trying to rally support with the gay-marriage issue.

In Honduras, the debate over gay rights has been heating up since Aug. 27, when the country’s minister for the interior and justice, minister of health, and human rights commissioner granted legal status to three gay and lesbian rights organizations, allowing them to officially represent gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transvestites and act on their behalf.

It didn’t take long for a backlash to begin. On Sept. 22, the National Congress recommended that President Ricardo Maduro suspend this legal recognition, which one legislator characterized as an attack on the family and public order. In November, representatives of about 80 evangelical churches filed a petition demanding that the government rescind its recognition of the three groups.

Attorney Paulette Patino, who represents the evangelicals, says her clients are not homophobic but object to the idea that homosexuality is a normal form of sexuality. As she and Canales see it, a small minority of gay Hondurans are trying to impose their will on the rest of the country.

Honduras’ gay community, like those of most Central American countries, is small and politically weak by U.S. or European standards. Though homosexuality is not illegal, only about 5,000 people belong to the country’s eight or so gay rights organizations. There are no identifiably “gay” neighborhoods in Tegucigalpa, a city of more than 1 million, said Edgardo Javier Medina, 43, of the gay rights group Kukulkan.

Despite the attention that’s been showered on the issue, Medina and other activists say obtaining marriage and adoption rights is less urgent for gays in Honduras than passing legislation against workplace discrimination or curbing police brutality against homosexuals.

“Our priority now is the right to live,” Medina said.

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