The bishops of Los Angeles, speaking from “One Light, One Peace, One World”, the 116th annual meeting of the convention of the diocese in Riverside, condemned as “draconian” recent anti-gay legislation approved by the Nigerian Senate.
“Our commitment to our baptismal promise to respect the dignity of every human being demands that we speak out today on this important issue and we urge others to join us,” according to the statement.
Bishop J. Jon Bruno introduced the statement during his annual address to the convention, delivered on Dec. 3.
International human rights groups, including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission have also condemned the measure.
The Rev. Susan Russell, an associate priest at All Saints Church in Pasadena and a former president of Integrity USA, heralded the statement. “I am so proud of my bishops … for their strong words,” she said in a Dec. 4 statement.
The Nigerian Senate passed the measure Nov. 29, despite warnings that passage of the legislation — which would make gay marriage a crime punishable by 14 years in prison — might jeopardize HIV/AIDS prevention and education funding from Western nations.
The measure must also be passed by Nigeria’s House of Representatives and signed by President Goodluck Jonathan before becoming law.
Under the legislation any person attending or participating in gay clubs, societies and organizations directly or indirectly could be subject to a ten-year prison sentence.
The Los Angeles bishops urged Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams and other faith leaders “to speak out and stand against this act of legislated homophobia. And we urge the Nigerian president and the presidents of the Senate and the House of Assembly to guarantee safety and protection for all human rights defenders and all individuals irrespective of their sex, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, or religion.”
The bishops also noted that the legislation will “set back HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment efforts in Nigeria (and) it will would place a wide range of people at risk of criminal sanctions, including human rights defenders and anyone else — including friends, families and colleagues — who stands up for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender people in Nigeria.
“Individuals could face imprisonment based on nothing more than their actual or assumed sexual orientation or gender identity, or stemming from allegations about their relationship status or consensual sexual conduct.”
On Dec. 6, President Barack Obama issued a presidential memorandum in which he expressed concern about “the violence and discrimination targeting LGBT persons around the world, whether it is passing laws that criminalize LGBT status, beating citizens simply for joining peaceful LGBT pride celebrations, or killing men, women, and children for their perceived sexual orientation.”
“I am directing all agencies engaged abroad to ensure that U.S. diplomacy and foreign assistance promote and protect the human rights of LGBT persons,” the president wrote.