Posted originally on Buzzfeed News on May 12, 2015, at 9:00 a.m. ET
DUBLIN — In less than two weeks, the Republic of Ireland could become the first country in the world to allow same-sex couples to marry thanks to a popular vote, boosting the marriage-equality movement, which has swept across western Europe.
The latest poll shows 78% of voters in favor of passing the amendment on May 22. That is a staggering number, considering that Irish voters only approved divorce in 1995, and with a margin of less than 1%. It also reflects how diminished the power of the Catholic Church has become over the past 20 years, thanks in large part to devastating sexual abuse scandals that have undermined its moral authority. Catholic bishops have come under fire from some conservative laypeople for not doing enough to stop the referendum, while a few priests have even come out in support of it.
After 20 years of fights in the U.S. and around the world, this is the first time LGBT rights activists have locked horns with conservatives in a battle for the direct support of an entire nation. Several eastern European countries have held referendums to bar same-sex couples from marrying, but Ireland is the first country to ask its electorate to vote on whether to establish marriage equality. A win would counter the criticism from conservatives that marriage equality has been imposed by elites over the will of the people. But a defeat could embolden a growing movement in eastern Europe that wants to enact constitutional bans against marriage rights for same-sex couples.
Paradoxically, the high poll numbers are making Yes campaigners even more nervous. Irish voters have a history of abandoning proposed constitutional changes in the final days of the campaign. And the shadow of California’s Proposition 8 — when voters rejected marriage equality in the state in 2008 after a win seemed likely — looms large.
“Look at how Prop 8 happened — Prop 8 was a slam dunk [for LGBT rights supporters] until the result came in and it turned out it wasn’t,” said Brian Sheehan, co-director of Yes Equality, the campaign group created to get out the Yes vote. The fact that pollsters comprehensively failed to predict the outcome of last week’s general election in the United Kingdom hasn’t boosted their confidence either.
Lampposts across Ireland are plastered with posters representing both sides. The No side says it's printed around 10,000 posters in pink and blue with pictures of babies alongside slogans like “children deserve a mother and father.” Brightly colored signs from the Yes campaign urge people to vote Yes for “a more equal Ireland” and “because marriage matters.” The version in Gaelic translates to “lend me your hand,” a phrase that can both mean asking for help and someone’s hand in marriage.
The Yes campaign has had the upper hand in the debate for months. Backed by every one of Ireland’s political parties, it has been running a bus tour to generate support for the referendum that was recently joined by Ireland’s head of government, Taoiseach Enda Kenny. The Yes campaign has also racked up an impressive list of endorsements from celebrities and athletes, including actors Colin Farrell and Chris O'Dowd, the musician Hozier, and the former captain of the country's rugby team Brian O'Driscoll. Yes Equality is also running a canvassing operation that hopes to knock on all 1.8 million doors in Ireland.
Until recently, the leaders of Ireland’s Catholic Church had done little more than pass a formal declaration in December opposing the referendum. The archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin, took a more forceful tone early last week, which he said was in response to criticism from the conservative Catholic press that he “had ‘confused’ the press" with his "attitude to the referendum and had given constant solace to the Yes campaign.” This was followed by a round of statements condemning the referendum from Ireland’s top bishop, Archbishop of Armagh Eamon Martin, and several other senior bishops in their dioceses over the weekend.
This is quite a reversal for an institution that long dominated family policy. Condoms were not widely available without a prescription in Ireland until 1985, so it was common for women to travel across the border to Northern Ireland — part of the U.K. — to purchase contraception. Sodomy wasn’t decriminalized until 1993, 26 years after it was legalized in England. Voters rejected a referendum to allow divorce in 1986, and it took almost another 10 years before it was finally approved by the narrowest of margins.
The No campaign has mostly been led by a small Catholic think tank, the Iona Institute, and an ad hoc group of conservative newspaper columnists and individuals with little political experience who’ve come together under the name Mothers and Fathers Matter. In addition to organizing the poster campaign, Mothers and Fathers Matter is a clearing house for spokespeople against the referendum for the debates that broadcasters are organizing almost daily.
The tactics of the No campaign — which is built around the argument that children will be harmed if same-sex couples are allowed to wed — look disturbingly familiar for American LGBT rights advocates, who are watching the Irish vote carefully. This is exactly the kind of messaging that ate away at support for marriage equality in the Proposition 8 campaign, and they believe it has the fingerprints of the conservative group that pulled off that upset victory, the National Organization for Marriage (NOM).
“When the other side filed [to name their group] as Mothers and Fathers Matter, that was an instant signal to me that their messaging is 100% from the playbook of NOM and the U.S.,” said Thalia Zepatos, director of research and messaging for Freedom to Marry, an organization established in 2003 to counter the wave of ballot measures in U.S. states to ban marriage equality. Like NOM, she said, Mothers and Fathers Matter was using a “drumbeat of fear-based messaging [about children by the No campaign that] brings the numbers lower and lower and lower.”
The Irish campaign “reminds me more of Prop 8 than any other campaign I’ve seen since then,” said Zepatos.
The No side denies that it is borrowing tactics from California, saying it's learned more from campaigns in eastern European countries like Slovenia in 2012 or Croatia in 2013, where referendums were passed curtailing partnership rights for same-sex couples.
“We wouldn’t be taking too many more lessons from Prop 8 than from elsewhere,” said David Quinn, head of the Iona Institute and adviser to Mothers and Fathers Matter. Quinn, who also writes a regular column in the Irish Independent newspaper, is widely regarded as the savviest campaigner on the No side.
“Obviously the only way two men or two women can found a family is by violating a child’s right to have a mother and a father.”
But the No camp has gotten some input from veterans of the California campaign and other marriage fights abroad. Frank Schubert, the conservative political consultant credited with the Proposition 8 victory, told BuzzFeed News before an NOM rally in Washington earlier this month that he has sent private polling, focus-group work, and other messaging guidance to activists on the No side. NOM President Brian Brown also said he had “talked a lot” to Quinn periodically over the past few years, though they hadn’t communicated in over a year.
They’ve also sought advice from opponents of same-sex marriage in the U.K., Keith Mills, a spokesperson for Mothers and Fathers Matter, told BuzzFeed News last Tuesday. The next day, he said, the group was due to meet with a representative from La Manif Pour Tous, an organization formed in opposition to France’s 2013 marriage equality law that has established itself as an engine for movements opposed to marriage equality across Europe.
“We would take most succor from what happened in Slovenia,” Quinn said, referring to the 2012 referendum that reversed a law passed by parliament extending legal protections to same-sex couples. Opponents have also consulted the leaders of the 2013 campaign that blocked marriage equality in Croatia.
They hear the same advice from campaigners in every country, Quinn said. “The message that comes back all the time, loud and clear … [is] keep talking about the children.” Marriage is inherently bound up with the right to found a family, Quinn argued: “Obviously the only way two men or two women can found a family is by violating a child’s right to have a mother and a father.”
Yes campaigners call this argument a “red herring.” The Oireachtas, the Irish parliament. passed a law last month to expand adoption rights to same-sex couples; a Yes vote in this referendum would do nothing to change that, and they say it would leave existing law on surrogacy unchanged. The country's major children's charities have also endorsed a Yes vote.
Mills and Quinn both said the No campaign had not received any funding from international donors, however. Quinn said the Iona Institute's only substantial international funding has been €24,000 over the past few years from an Italian foundation headed by a former member of the European Parliament, Luca Volonté, who sits on the board of the conservative online campaign platform CitizenGo along with NOM’s Brian Brown. But none of that money has gone to the referendum campaign, Quinn said.
By contrast, the No campaign has been making an issue out of the millions of dollars that have been given to Ireland’s leading LGBT rights organization by the New York-based Atlantic Philanthropies. Atlantic was created by Irish-American billionaire Chuck Feeney in 1982 and has contributed to a range of sectors in Ireland and to LGBT rights causes around the globe. Though Yes Equality says all its funding has been raised from Irish citizens, the No side has been arguing that the vote will be a test of whether “American money [can] buy an Irish referendum.”
Marriage equality campaigners did consult the U.S.’s Freedom to Marry as they were thinking about formulating their campaign, however. Noel Whelan, strategic adviser to Yes Equality, said American advice was especially helpful in learning how to engage people outside the gay and lesbian community about the importance of marriage to same-sex couples.
That hasn’t “directly translated” into an Irish context, Sheehan said, in part because Ireland “never had a culture war” about LGBT rights the way the U.S. did. Most advances for LGBT rights — from decriminalizing sodomy in 1993 to establishing civil partnerships in 2010 — were made in single votes in Dublin and not in a series of state-by-state battles or judicial wins. And this unfolded as economic change transformed Ireland from a society dominated by the church to one that shifted more toward Europe and the U.S. during an economic revolution in the late 1990s.
“Ireland has been on such an extraordinary journey,” Sheehan said. “We want this campaign to be different than any other campaign.”
“I think this is a campaign that we can win, but this is a campaign that we can lose.”
Last week, Ireland’s first openly gay elected official, Sen. David Norris, appeared on one of the constant stream of broadcast debates, which are the primary battleground during Irish campaigns since direct advertising is banned. Norris, a well-known politician who ran for president in 2011, was a leader of the push to decriminalize sodomy in the 1980s.
“This is all about equality — equality and nothing else,” he began, recounting how voting to approve marriage equality would finish the work begun by repealing the sodomy law.
“We cannot win this on our own,” he said. “We are relying on the goodwill, the decency, and the sense of compassion from our heterosexual friends, families, and neighbors ... I want my participation in the Irish family to be recognized once and for all in the constitution.”
Tom Finnegan, an anti-abortion activist representing Mothers and Fathers Matter, countered that existing civil partnerships guaranteed equal rights to same-sex couples. “If we pass this referendum, it will be constitutionally impossible for any Oireachtas ever again to give preference in law for [a child to have] a mother and a father.”
Spokespeople for the Yes campaign spent a great deal of time rebutting these points in the first major round of debates held last week. From their point of view, every second they spend addressing these questions could potentially cost them votes. They believe the No campaign has an easier job than they do — voters don’t have to be against same-sex marriage to vote No; all they need to do is feel unsure to choose to stick with the status quo.
“All [the No campaigners] have to do is confuse,” Tiernan Brady, policy director for the Gay and Lesbian Equality Network, told BuzzFeed News at the Yes Equality headquarters last week. The consensus in the Yes campaign office was that their side had been drawn into a shouting match with their opponents in an important television debate the night before.
Nearby, Yes Equality co-director Brian Sheehan was talking on the phone: “I think they can taste a victory after last night.”
It is hard to gauge what impact these debates are having; the poll that found support at 78% was the first released since the formal campaign period began, and pollsters found that 9% of people said they made up their minds only in the past seven days. These voters were split evenly between Yes and No.
But this is so out of sync with the experience of past referendums — where support for an amendment would already be dropping two weeks before the vote — that the Yes supporters think they must just not be picking up what's actually going on in the electorate.
On a canvas the following evening in an upscale neighborhood in southern Dublin, volunteers for the Yes campaign routinely heard the arguments about parenting No campaigners had been making on television from people who said they were leaning against the referendum.
“We’re listening to the debate on the television and on the radio,” said one undecided voter. “Personally, I have problems around the whole surrogacy and the unintended consequences around things that haven’t happened yet.”
He’s exactly the kind of voter the Yes campaign is worried about. It fears more like him could begin having reservations now that the campaign is entering the key period when Irish voters typically decide their vote.
"I think this is a campaign that we can win, but this is a campaign that we can lose," said Kieran Rose, who founded the Gay and Lesbian Equality Network in 1988 to work on repealing the sodomy law and is now campaigning for marriage equality. "We're keenly aware of that."
May 15, 2015, at 1:12 p.m.
The Gay and Lesbian Equality Network was founded in 1988. A previous version of this article misstated the date.
Posted originally on Buzzfeed News on November 27, 2014, at 7:30 p.m. ET
RIGA, Latvia — In 1990, a new Latvian publication called MORE, which billed itself as "an independent erotic newspaper," published its first issue with a strong endorsement of LGBT rights on its front page.
Latvia was in the process of breaking free from the Soviet Union, and the article made the case for repealing the Baltic republic's Soviet-era law criminalizing homosexuality, known as Article 124, as part of "Latvia's path to Europe."
"There can be no free country that criminalizes sexual minorities," an activist who said he was from a group called the Latvian Association for Sexual Equality was approvingly quoted as saying. "This discriminatory article … only discredits Latvia in the eyes of the civilized world." The editorial, headlined "For Sexual Equality," ended with details of the organization's bank account should readers want to donate to its cause.
MORE became a sensation across the former Soviet Union. Never before in the USSR had there been a publication that dealt openly with sex. Its creator was Vladimir Linderman, who worked as a journalist and published a poetry magazine before the paper's launch. He was suddenly making serious money, but the cash was also attracting the attention of mafia bosses who demanded joint ownership of the enterprise. Linderman sold off the paper in the mid-'90s and went into politics. After Vladimir Putin came to power in Russia, Linderman moved to Moscow to become part of the leadership of one of the most stridently anti-Putin political movements, and spent six years dodging Russian police until he was ultimately deported back to Latvia.
That's why many Latvians found it ironic when Linderman, who is now 56, launched a campaign last December to collect signatures in support of a referendum on a Latvian version of Russia's "gay propaganda" ban. Kremlin allies throughout eastern Europe have pushed anti-LGBT legislation in the past couple years as part of their ideological battle with the West.
It was a shock to see Linderman acting as if he were the Kremlin's man in Riga. But Latvia is the logical next battleground in Russia's duel with the European Union. The country has the largest Russian-speaking population of any EU member state that was once part of the Communist world, and they get much of their news from television stations beamed across the country's long border with Russia.
The timing of Linderman's new campaign was also telling — he unveiled the effort just after an organization that runs EuroPride, a Europe-wide LGBT rights festival, announced it would hold its 2015 event in Latvia, when the Baltic state would assume the EU's rotating presidency. The decision to hold EuroPride as close to Moscow as possible was given a symbolic boost on Nov. 7, when Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkēvičs came out on Twitter, becoming the first openly gay official from a former Soviet country.
The story of Linderman's transformation from anti-Kremlin sexual radical to moralist crusader who many Latvians suspect of being a Kremlin agent isn't really about how Linderman changed his mind about homosexuality. During a two-and-a-half-hour interview with BuzzFeed News at a hotel in the Latvian capital, he suggested he actually didn't really have any strong feelings about homosexuality at all. Rather, his story is about how many people living in the former Soviet Union went from being desperate to escape Moscow's rule to yearning for its patronage. It is also a tale of how Putin used that desire to co-opt some of his most committed enemies and convince many living in the former Communist world that what once seemed so exciting about the West is now what is most terrifying about it.
"I dislike any ideology where I see signs of totalitarianism," Linderman said between cigarettes. MORE was his answer to Soviet repression, and his "gay propaganda" proposal is a response to what he sees as a "new totalitarianism" being pushed by liberal forces in the West.
"Sometimes, my biography confuses even me," Linderman said. "I was the father of the sexual revolution, and now I'm becoming the father of the sexual counterrevolution."
MORE began publishing in 1990, about a year before Latvia's government formally declared its independence from the Soviet Union. Parties favoring independence had already taken control of Latvia's government, and they fended off an attempted coup by forces loyal to Moscow before the USSR recognized Latvia's independence in September 1991, three months before the USSR itself dissolved.
MORE had a fair amount of gay coverage in its first few issues, but it wasn't a gay newspaper by any stretch. It was omnivorous in its coverage but exuberantly hetero in its aesthetic: A pair of women's legs sticking up into the air substituted for part of a letter in the paper's logo. A close-up photo of a vagina decorated the numeral on the top of page 2 just because. Half of page 3 was devoted to a picture of a naked woman splayed on her knees plunging her face into a man's crotch.
The newspaper's mix of porn and satire opened up the conversation about sex in the Russian-speaking world in much the same way Playboy did in the U.S. in the 1950s, but its significance was arguably more profound. The phrase "there's no sex in the Soviet Union" had been a running joke on both sides of the Iron Curtain for several years before it fell, and there was some truth to it, at least in publishing. MORE was a joyful middle-finger to all the social strictures of the Communist years, liberating in the way it might have been to wave a giant dildo in the face of Lenin. (The editors came pretty close to doing exactly that in the very first issue, placing an image of a veiny rubber phallus alongside an excerpt from a Lenin biography with a caption that began, "Have they understood that MARXISM is more real and more serious than they thought, that you can't rag on it?")
But as much fun as Linderman seemed to be having, he quickly soured on Latvia's rush toward Europe. Just months after gaining independence, Latvia's new government stripped citizenship from hundreds of thousands of Russian people whose families had moved to Latvia after it was absorbed by Stalin during World War II — including Linderman. The move left about one-third of Latvia's population of 2.6 million without citizenship. Russians like Linderman saw this as discrimination, pure and simple.
"For Latvians, it is very important that they are the owners of this territory — the masters — and the others are guests," Linderman said. "The majority of the Russian-speaking population here, we believe we are owners as well. We feel we have the same rights as Latvians."
Disenfranchisement wasn't Linderman's only disappointment with what Latvia was becoming. "Maybe I had some illusions about Western life for some years," Linderman said, but when capitalism arrived he found it too crass and felt it was up to him to preserve "artistic life" in Latvia.
"When it all started here, the process of dividing all the property and money gathered here during Soviet times … it was very unpleasant and non-artistic," Linderman said. "I believed that the new capitalistic system would be more creative, [but] over the whole history of Latvian independence for 20 years, I have seen no sign of creative activity, not in government, nor in social life, nor in arts and sciences. Many people say, 'If you, Linderman, leave Latvia, then life here is dead completely.'"
As Latvia laid the groundwork to join the European Union and NATO in the '90s, Linderman fought to drag it back toward Russia. He became a leader in the Latvian branch of a new political movement that had started in Moscow called the National Bolshevik Party. The name is confusing, because the Nazbols — as movement members were nicknamed — weren't really pining for communism, but rather a Russian-led empire that harkened back to both the USSR and the "Russian World" dreamt of under the tsars. They affected a Nazi-inspired fascist drag, directly modeling the movement's flag on the banner of Hitler's Third Reich, but with a hammer and sickle at its center instead of a swastika. Its leader, a writer named Eduard Limonov, affected a kind of casual punk militarism, a posture most infamously captured in a BBC documentary that showed him firing a few rounds from a machine gun into the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo during a 1992 visit to see the Russian-backed Serbian warlord Radovan Karadžić.
Joining the Nazbols "was my reaction to the Russophobia and nationalism here in Latvia," Linderman said.
Linderman also related to the Nazbols' aesthetic. Limonov spoke about the movement as an extension of his literary life — a sort of conceptual art project — at least at first. Like Linderman, Limonov first made his name in large part by using sex to shock Soviet sensibilities, but went even further, including writing graphically about having sex with men in the autobiographical novel that established his reputation, 1979's It's Me, Eddie. In one famous scene the eponymous narrator is pulled out of the drunken despair that had seized him while living in exile in a New York flophouse when he has sex with a stranger in the middle of the night.
"I must be the only Russian poet who had ever been smart enough to fuck a black man in a New York vacant lot," the eponymous narrator of It's Me, Eddie muses after the encounter. "For the first time in several months I was in a situation that I liked, utterly and completely... At that moment I was really a woman, capricious, demanding, and probably seductive, because I remember myself playfully wiggling my butt as I leaned on my hands in the sand."
Linderman was a leader of the Latvian branch of the Nazbol party in the late '90s and wrote for Limonov's newspaper, which was called Limonka (twisting Limonov's name into a Russian term for "hand grenade"). The paper was banned in Latvia and Linderman wrote under the name Abel, borrowing a name used by a famous Soviet spy who was captured after spending years working throughout the U.S. and Europe.
The Latvian Nazbols became more militant as the decade wore on, culminating in November 2000, when three members barricaded themselves inside the bell tower of the Church of St. Peter, which looms over Riga's historic center. One of the triggers for the protest was the trial of a former Latvian KGB officer named Mikhail Fartbukh — accused of sending 31 Latvian families to Siberia a year after the Soviet Union took control of the country in 1940 — who they cast as a martyr for Latvia's Russians.
Latvian authorities moved aggressively to shut the Nazbols down. The three who seized the church were charged with terrorism and sentenced to 15 years in jail. They came after Linderman a few years later, charging him with possessing weapons and plotting to overthrow the Latvian government. But Linderman was in Russia before the police came for him, heading to Moscow to join the Nazbol central committee. By the time he arrived, the main threat to the movement was another former KGB agent: Vladimir Putin.
When Putin became president of Russia on the last day of 1999, he represented no particular ideology, but was brought in as a firm hand that would restore order following the chaos seen under the increasingly ailing Boris Yeltsin. He immediately set about consolidating power, turning on the oligarchs who brought him to power, arresting political opponents, and crushing separatist movements with a famous promise to "waste the terrorists in their shithouses."
Gay people weren't a target in Putin's early years. That came only in 2012, after mass opposition protests made Putin worry he could actually lose power. Recasting himself as a champion of Russian values, Putin could discredit the very idea of Western values as a pretense designed to promote the rights of "pederasts" and "perverts."
But the Nazbols were on Putin's radar from day one. The National Bolshevik Party wasn't formally ruled to be an illegal extremist group until 2007, but Limonov was arrested in 2001 on charges that he was plotting to invade Kazakhstan based on an article he had written, and served two years in a labor camp. Linderman, meanwhile, landed in Moscow's Lefortovo Prison — the infamous mothership of KGB interrogation under Soviet rule — a few months after he arrived in Moscow in 2003, but then he got lucky. Russian security police arrested him on the charges he was facing in Latvia, but a good lawyer and "friends among the politicians" prevented him from being extradited and he was released after a few weeks, he said.
Linderman did not say what he was doing during the six years he spent in Moscow, but much of that time was devoted to fighting Latvia's attempts to extradite him. In 2008 he was finally sent back to Latvia and spent four months in jail until a court acquitted him of the charges. He was released and set to rebuilding his life in a country where he still could not vote. Latvia was now formally part of the European Union, which it had joined in 2004 while Linderman was out of the country.
Linderman quickly re-established himself as one of the most controversial non-citizen activists in Latvia. He founded a political party dedicated to dismantling a pillar of the country's post-Soviet identity — the law establishing Latvian as the country's only official language. In 2011, he helped gather enough signatures to force a referendum on making Russian an official language as well. When the referendum was held in 2012, voters rejected it 75% to 25%, a margin so large that it would have still lost substantially even if all of the roughly 280,000 remaining non-citizens had been allowed to cast a ballot in favor of the referendum.
When Linderman started gathering signatures for a referendum to ban gay propaganda in December of 2013, his critics saw it as an indirect attack on Latvia's European identity after his direct attack had failed. LGBT rights activists speculated that the whole effort was being funded directly by the Kremlin.
"I'm not a big fan of conspiracy theories, but it seems quite clear that this money might come from our very tiny and completely non-ambitious neighboring country that we share a border with," said Kaspars Zalitis of the Latvian LGBT group Mozaika. "This law is a direct copy of the Russian law."
Linderman denies he gets any support from Moscow and said the campaign for the referendum has raised and spent less than €7,000. In fact, he said he wished his critics' allegations were true. "I would really welcome the attempt from the Russian part to intervene somehow in local events," Linderman said.
If Linderman has any quarrel with Putin now, it is that the Russian president isn't as fervently committed to expanding Russian influence as Linderman would like.
"Nowadays everything has changed," said Linderman, borrowing a formulation that Limonov has used now that he has found himself in uncomfortable agreement with Putin on matters like Russia's fueling unrest in Ukraine: "It is not me who moved towards the Kremlin. The Kremlin moved towards me."
Linderman maintains that his anti-LGBT crusade is primarily motivated by a genuine concern about what he calls a "gender revolution taking place in the Western world." But he allows that he launched it with another goal as well: to convince ethnic Latvians that they should unite with Russians to fight against so-called foreign values.
"It was very important for us to convey the idea to Latvian society ... in this particular field it would be impossible for them to defend their traditional values without the help of Russian society," Linderman said.
Some of his supporters also hope the referendum could force Latvia to rethink its membership in the European Union. "This is, of course, a confrontation not [just] with the EU itself, but first and foremost with the Latvian government which doesn't really think about the marching orders they get from Brussels," said Ruslan Pankratov, a member of Latvia's parliament and Riga city councilman. Pankratov is a member of the Harmony Party, the center-left party that is led by the country's highest-ranking ethnic Russian politician, Riga Mayor Nils Ušakovs. (Ušakovs himself has kept his distance from the referendum, dismissing it as "an attempt to draw attention.") If Linderman were to succeed in getting his proposal for the "gay propaganda" ban on the ballot, Pankratov said, "This referendum can be a turning point for Linderman, uniting Russians and Latvians."
For the moment, however, the perception that Linderman is using this referendum primarily to win sympathy for Russians seems to be weighing down his chances of it ever coming to a vote. Anti-Russian sentiment has hardened following Russia's invasion of Ukrainian territory in early 2014, as some fear that Russia might try to foment separatist movements among Latvia's Russian population. It hasn't helped that Linderman is suspected of having links to Russian separatist movements in Ukraine. Earlier this month, police raided his apartment, alleging that he was recruiting Latvian residents to go and fight with Russian-backed forces in Ukraine. The one party that had endorsed the gay propaganda ban — the right-wing Russian Union — was voted out of parliament in elections held on Oct. 4.
As of October, Linderman said the campaign had collected only about one-third of the signatures needed before year's end to qualify for the ballot. "I can't boast that we've advanced too far," Linderman said.
Even some social conservatives gathering signatures for the referendum say he has done more harm than good.
If Linderman was so enthusiastic about this kind of referendum, he should have "asked us or someone with a Latvian family name" to sponsor it, said Yelena Kornatova, of the organization Dzimta, which describes itself as a "parental social movement." "Theoretically speaking this could be an issue on which Christian and Democrats, Latvians and Russian-speakers could be united on," but Linderman destroyed hope of that alliance by putting his name on the referendum, she said. "We still blame him for that."
Latvia's newly out foreign minister, Edgars Rinkēvičs, wouldn't comment directly on Linderman's initiative. But in an interview with BuzzFeed News, Rinkēvičs said there is a "Russian propaganda and information war which is actually launched by Russia … [trying] to play out that there is a clash of values and civilizations," and LGBT rights is just one facet of it. Even if Linderman's proposal fails — which it seems likely to do — he doesn't see this coming to an end anytime soon.
"You can call it an ideological battle for the 21st century," Rinkēvičs said.
Susie Armitage contributed to the reporting of this article.
Posted originally on Buzzfeed News on October 17, 2014, at 2:47 p.m. ET
A top cardinal told BuzzFeed News on Friday that the worldwide meeting of church leaders coming to a close in Rome seemed to have been designed to "weaken the church's teaching and practice" with the apparent blessing of Pope Francis.
Cardinal Raymond Burke, an American who heads the Vatican's highest court of canon law, made the remarks in a phone interview from the Vatican, where a two-week Extraordinary Synod on the Family will conclude this weekend. An interim report of the discussions released on Monday, called the Relatio, produced a widespread backlash among conservative bishops who said it suggested a radical change to the church's teaching on questions like divorce and homosexuality, and Burke has been among the most publicly critical of the bishops picked by Pope Francis to lead the discussion.
If Pope Francis had selected certain cardinals to steer the meeting to advance his personal views on matters like divorce and the treatment of LGBT people, Burke said, he would not be observing his mandate as the leader of the Catholic Church.
"According to my understanding of the church's teaching and discipline, no, it wouldn't be correct," Burke said, saying the pope had "done a lot of harm" by not stating "openly what his position is." Burke said the Pope had given the impression that he endorses some of the most controversial parts of the Relatio, especially on questions of divorce, because of a German cardinal who gave an important speech suggesting a path to allowing people who had divorced and remarried to receive communion, Cardinal Walter Kasper, to open the synod's discussion.
"The pope, more than anyone else as the pastor of the universal church, is bound to serve the truth," Burke said. "The pope is not free to change the church's teachings with regard to the immorality of homosexual acts or the insolubility of marriage or any other doctrine of the faith."
Burke has publicly clashed with the pope since Francis took office in 2013, and he has come to represent the sidelining of culture warriors elevated by Joseph Ratzinger as Pope Benedict and as the top doctrinal official under Pope John Paul II. Burke, who caused controversy while bishop of St. Louis by saying Catholics who voted for politicians supportive of abortion rights should not receive communion, went on Catholic television in 2013 to rebut remarks Pope Francis made to an interviewer that the church had become "obsessed" with abortion and sexuality to the exclusion of other issues, saying, "We can never talk enough about that as long as in our society innocent and defenseless human life is being attacked in the most savage way," Burke said. While Francis famously responded to a question about homosexuality in 2013 by asking, "Who am I to judge?" Burke described homosexual "acts" as "always and everywhere wrong [and] evil" during an interview last week.
In the interview with BuzzFeed News, Burke confirmed publicly for the first time the rumors that he had been told Francis intended to demote him from the church's chief guardian of canon law to a minor post as patron to the Sovereign Military Order of Malta.
"I very much have enjoyed and have been happy to give this service, so it is a disappointment to leave it," Burke said, explaining that he hadn't yet received a formal notice of transfer. "On the other hand, in the church as priests, we always have to be ready to accept whatever assignment we're given. And so I trust, by accepting this assignment, I trust that God will bless me, and that's what's in the end most important."
When the pope first took office, his pivot away from an emphasis on questions of sexuality were more a matter of personal tone rather than changes in church policy or personnel. There were rumors that he was trying to oust the man chosen by Pope Benedict to head the church's office responsible for doctrine, Gerhard Müller, but last winter he instead elevated him from archbishop to cardinal. When word that Burke was on his way out began circulating last month, it signaled that Francis would take major steps to reshape the church. It coincided with the selection of a new archbishop of Chicago, Blase Cupich, whom Catholic progressives celebrated for positions like breaking with the American church hierarchy when it withheld its support for President Obama's health reform law over questions of abortion and contraception.
Internal discontent among conservatives inside church leadership began to simmer over in the weeks leading up to the synod. Just before it began, Burke, Müller, and other senior cardinals published a book in several languages attacking the ideas laid out by Cardinal Walter Kasper on allowing those who had divorced and remarried to receive communion in a speech heartily praised by Pope Francis. It broke into open revolt at the midpoint of the synod, following publication of a document presented as a summary of discussions but that conservatives said misrepresented the debate by including passages on "welcoming homosexual persons" and discussing some of Kasper's proposal on divorce. The backlash appeared to have been especially strong from the English-speaking world, which includes a large number of African and American bishops; in an apparent attempt to mollify anglophone conservatives, the Vatican released a new translation of the report that changed the phrase "welcoming homosexual persons" to "providing for homosexual persons" and made other small changes, while leaving the versions in all other languages unchanged.
The report is now being revised with feedback from small-group discussions held this week, and a final version is scheduled to be voted on on Saturday. Burke said he hoped that the committee writing the new report will produce a "worthy document," but said his "trust is a little bit shaken" by the language in the interim draft he said lacks "a good foundation either in the sacred scriptures or in the church's perennial teachings."
But there seems to be little middle ground between Pope Francis' worldview and Burke's. Francis was president of the Argentinian bishops conference when that country passed a marriage equality bill in 2010 and reportedly tried to convince his colleagues to support a civil union proposal instead. He lost the internal battle and gave voice to the hard-line consensus that the law was "sent by the devil." The fight over the bill left the church appearing out of step with the beliefs of many in Argentina, a country where 76% identify as Catholic but only 38.2% went to church in 2005, per the most recent data available from the Association of Religious Data Archives. While Francis has shown no sign he supports overhauling the church's teachings that homosexuality is sinful, he seems to have taken from this experience a desire to downplay conflicts over sexuality in order to broaden the church's message.
But, Burke said, the church must always call a "person who's involved in sinful acts … to conversion in a loving way, but obviously, like a father or mother in a family, in a firm way for the person's own good." There cannot be "a difference between doctrine and practice" on questions like homosexuality or anything else, Burke said.
"The church doesn't exclude anyone who's of goodwill even if the person is suffering from same-sex attraction or even acting on that attraction," said Burke. "If people don't accept the church's teaching on these matters then they're not thinking with the church and they need to examine themselves on that and correct their thinking or leave the church if they absolutely can't accept. They're certainly not free to change the teaching of the church to suit their own ideas."
At the request of several readers, BuzzFeed News has printed a transcript of the section of the interview wherein Cardinal Burke talks about leaving the Signatura.
BuzzFeed News: I should ask you about the reports that you're being removed from the Signatura. What message is that sending? Do you think you are being removed in part because of how outspoken you have been on these issues?
Cardinal Burke: The difficulty — I know about all the reports, obviously. I've not received an official transfer yet. Obviously, these matters depend on official acts. I mean, I can be told that I'm going to be transferred to a new position but until I have a letter of transfer in my hand it's difficult for me to speak about it. I'm not free to comment on why I think this may be going to happen.
BFN: Have you been told that you will be transferred?
BFN: You're obviously a very well-respected person. That must be disappointing.
CB: Well, I have to say, the area in which I work is an area for which I'm prepared and I've tried to give very good service. I very much have enjoyed and have been happy to give this service, so it is a disappointment to leave it.
On the other hand, in the church as priests, we always have to be ready to accept whatever assignment we're given. And so I trust that by accepting this assignment, I trust that God will bless me, and that's what's in the end most important. And even though I would have liked to have continued to work in the Apostolic Signatura, I'll give myself to whatever is the new work that I'm assigned to...
BFN: And that is as the chancellor to the Order of Malta, is that right?
CB: It's called the patron of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, that's right.
October 17, 2014, at 6:02 p.m.
Cardinal Raymond Burke is being removed from the position as the chief of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura. An earlier version of this post mischaracterized that position in one instance.
Posted originally on Buzzfeed News on July 28, 2014, at 10:36 a.m. ET
ROME — On a hot Friday in late June, the walls of a 15th-century marble palace in a secluded corner of the Vatican were lit up with the face of Breitbart News Chairman Steve Bannon.
"We believe — strongly — that there is a global tea party movement," declared Bannon, who took over the American conservative new media empire after the death of its founder, Andrew Breitbart, in 2012. Speaking via Skype to a conference on Catholic responses to poverty, he said, "You're seeing a global reaction to centralized government, whether that government is in Beijing or that government is in Washington, D.C., or that government is in Brussels… On the social conservative side, we're the voice of the anti-abortion movement, the voice of the traditional marriage movement."
Events across the Atlantic do look familiar to American eyes: an uprising against long-established parties in Brussels amid economic stagnation. But these elements have been around a long time in European politics. What is new — and what feels so American — is represented by the group Bannon was addressing: Europe is getting its own version of the religious right.
"There is an unprecedented anger because the average citizen [sees] what is being done in their name without their consent," said Benjamin Harnwell, who founded the group that organized the conference, called the Human Dignity Institute. Harnwell is a former aide to a longtime Eurosceptic member of the European Parliament, who founded the organization in 2008 to promote the "Christian voice" in European politics. It is one of many new groups that have sprouted on the continent in recent years with missions they describe as "promoting life," "traditional family," and "religious liberty" in response to the advance of laws to recognize same-sex marriage and abortion rights. Some are technically secular organizations, but their strength, their leaders concede, largely comes from churchgoers.
The analogy with the tea party isn't perfect for these groups, and some bristle at the comparison because they aren't uniformly conservative on other issues. Harnwell prefers "silent majority," but said he draws inspiration from the tea party movement because they also see their battle in part as a fight with a political establishment that has long ignored them.
These groups are still learning to work together, but after years on the political margins in much of Europe, they have suddenly begun flexing political muscles that progressives — and maybe social conservatives themselves — never knew they had. They have made themselves a force to be reckoned with in Brussels by learning key lessons from American conservatives, such as how to organize online and use initiative drives. European progressives, who long thought debates over sexual rights had mostly been settled in their favor, were blindsided.
"A bomb with a long fuse has been lit," said Sylvie Guillaume, a French MEP supportive of abortion rights and LGBT rights, who recently stepped down as vice chair of the largest center-left bloc in the European Union's parliament. "We don't know what's going to happen."
One month before Bannon addressed the Human Dignity Institute, elections for the European Parliament sent a shockwave through the political establishment in Brussels. Far-right parties calling for an end to the European Union doubled their numbers to hold around 20% of seats. Parties like France's National Front and Britain's UKIP won pluralities in their countries.
Some of these parties ran on explicitly anti-LGBT platforms, particularly in Eastern Europe. (Hungary's ultranationalist Jobbik Party, for example, printed posters featuring a blond woman with a Hungarian flag standing opposite drag Eurovision champion Conchita Wurst with an EU flag, along with the caption: "You Choose!") For the most part, though, issues dear to social conservatives were a side issue in elections driven heavily by economic frustration. Some on the far right even support LGBT rights, most notably Geert Wilders of the Dutch Party for Freedom, who has tried to recruit LGBT voters for his anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant platform.
Social conservatives made themselves a force months before the election. In December, the European Parliament took up a resolution known as the Estrela Report that called on member states to provide comprehensive sex education in schools, ensure access to safe abortions, and take other steps that its supporters consider basic to safeguarding sexual health and rights. The resolution would have had no practical impact — the EU's own rules bar it from regulating such issues — and its supporters considered it consistent with previously adopted resolutions. The vote was expected to be perfectly routine.
Then, as if someone had thrown a switch, emails started pouring into MEPs' offices calling for the resolution to be rejected weeks before the final vote on Dec. 10. After an acrimonious floor debate, the center-right bloc helped defeat the Estrela Report by a small margin in favor of a conservative alternative that essentially said the EU has no business talking about these issues. The result stunned progressives, who couldn't recall another time that the parliament had rejected language supportive of reproductive rights.
In a sense, someone had indeed thrown a switch. A few months earlier, a new online petition platform called CitizenGo sent out its first action alert. CitizenGo was conceived of as a kind of MoveOn.org for conservatives. It was based in Spain, but it had aspirations to be a global platform and now has staff working in eight languages, with plans to add Chinese and Arabic. It has an organizer in the U.S., too, named Gregory Mertz, who works out of the Washington offices of the National Organization for Marriage — Mertz actually wrote some of CitizenGo's Esterla Report petitions. In the weeks leading up to the Estrela vote, several petitions appeared on CitizenGo, garnering 40,000 signatures here, 50,000 there.
These kinds of campaigns are so common in the U.S. that they are little more than background noise. But they were new in Brussels, especially in the hands of conservatives. Grassroots mobilization on sexual rights hadn't been common on either side, and progressive advocacy groups had won many important victories relying heavily on an elite lobbying strategy.
MEPs had no idea what hit them and many of them folded, said Neil Datta, of the European Parliamentary Forum for Population and Development, which promotes reproductive rights.
"If you have a big cannon, the first [time] you shoot it, everyone runs away scared," Datta said.
CitizenGo's founder, Ignacio Arsuaga, had spent more than a decade adapting online organizing techniques from U.S. to Spanish politics before launching the group. He had been drawn into internet advocacy while studying at Fordham Law School in New York in the late 1990s. He had been "amazed" by MoveOn.org, he said in a phone interview from Spain, and he began signing petitions by groups such as the Christian Coalition, Americans United for Life, and other organizations that were "defending the rights of religious people — specifically Catholics — to express our faith in the public sphere."
"That's real democracy — that's what I lived in the U.S.," Arsuaga said. "Spanish citizens aren't used to participating. They're used to voting to every four years, and that's it."
To change this, he created an organization called HazteOír (a name that means "make yourself heard") in 2001. It ran some campaigns throughout the early 2000s, often under separately branded sites, but it was the group's mobilization against a 2010 bill to liberalize abortion laws passed by Spain's socialist government that made the group a beacon to conservatives around the world. It helped get hundreds of thousands of protesters on the streets of Madrid and kept up the drumbeat through the 2011 elections when the conservative party Partido Popular won control. Its efforts appear to have paid off. In December 2013, the cabinet approved legislation that opponents say would give Spain the most restrictive abortion laws of any democracy in the world, and it seems to be on track for final approval by the parliament this summer.
Arsuaga has steadily been working to build a broader movement. His group hosted the 2012 World Congress of Families in Madrid, a global summit of social conservative leaders organized by an institute in Rockford, Ill. It bussed supporters across the border to France in 2013 when a new organization, La Manif Pour Tous (Protest for All), organized large protests against a marriage equality law reminiscent of Spain's anti-abortion protests.
The protests organized by these two groups were a turning point for conservatives throughout Europe, said Luca Volontè, a former Italian MP who now runs a social conservative foundation in Rome and sits on CitizenGo's board. They showed that a progressive victory was not inevitable. And, in their aftermath, conservatives have won victories, especially in Eastern Europe — in recent months, Croatia and Slovakia both enacted marriage equality bans in their constitutions.
"So many people in Europe are standing up, because this ideology appears and [is] felt, really, as totalitarian," Volontè said, referring to advances for marriage equality.
La Manif Pour Tous is now following the same path as HazteOír, continuing the fight against marriage equality in France even though it became law in May 2013 and reorganizing itself as a permanent, international organization. The group launched a "Europe for Family" campaign in the lead-up to the EU elections in May, and 230 French candidates signed its pledge opposing marriage equality, trans rights, and sex education.
Twenty-three signatories won won seats in those elections, 11 of them members of the far-right National Front.
The suddenness with which social conservatives became a force in Brussels has many progressives speculating that they are the creations of American social conservatives seeking to "export the culture wars."
"As far as I understand [social conservative groups] have quite some money in them [from] the U.S., similar to all those missionary and evangelical groups that do work in Uganda," said Ulrike Lunacek, an Austrian Green Party MEP who is now vice president of the European Parliament. Lunacek, who co-chaired the Parliament's Intergroup on LGBT Rights in the last session, authored a report on LGBT rights that groups like CitizenGo and La Manif Pour Tous tried unsuccessfully to defeat this winter.
A review of tax disclosures conducted by the progressive advocacy group People for the American Way found that several U.S. groups — many of which boomed in the 1990s — had recently invested in conservative drives across Europe: The American Center for Law and Justice, founded by Pat Robertson, sent $1.1 million to its European branch, the European Center for Law and Justice, in 2012, which is the most recent year for which tax disclosures are available. Another group founded by well-known American social conservatives called the Alliance Defending Freedom spent more than $750,000 on European programs that year. The Federalist Society, which promotes conservative legal philosophy, reported spending nearly $800,000 in "conferences and seminars" in Europe that year. Personhood USA, a small Colorado-based group that has tried to pass ballot measures that would give fetuses the legal status of "persons" — a strategy for rolling back abortion rights that is controversial even among pro-life activists — poured $400,000 into Europe in 2012, just after one of its ballot measures went down in flames in Mississippi. (Personhood USA President Keith Mason declined to answer questions from BuzzFeed about which organizations received the funds or what they were used for.)
But while there are links to the U.S., the movement is very much homegrown. Arsuaga said neither HazteOír nor CitizenGo get funding from U.S. groups — and they don't need it. Arsuaga said 99% of HazteOír's 1.9 million euro ($2.5 million) annual budget comes from donations from Spanish citizens. CitizenGo has been raising 30,000 to 40,000 euros (roughly $40,000 to $55,000) each month from the 1.2 million members it's signed up worldwide since its October launch.
Today, American ties seem much more about a shared vision to build a global conservative movement rather than leaning on stronger and wealthier U.S. partners for support. Arsuaga, Volontè, and La Manif Pour Tous President Ludovine de La Rochère were all in Washington on June 19 to support the National Organization for Marriage's March for Marriage. Their more important business, however, might have been in a closed-door summit the next day, where representatives of around 70 countries met to discuss creation of an International Organization for Marriage, according to Volontè and another participant. A follow-up meeting is planned for next year.
Many LGBT rights supporters mocked the March for Marriage's paltry turnout. So these Europeans appeared as if they were there to encourage a beleaguered movement, not the other way around — they now possess the vigor that has evaporated from the U.S. movement as opposition to marriage equality has collapsed.
European social conservatives contend that they may have a new energy and sophistication, but Europeans have never been pro-abortion rights or pro-marriage equality. Dissenters just weren't given the floor, and they didn't know how to fight back. "[We] didn't know how to arrive here at the European [Union] level and make their voice heard in parliament," said Sophia Kuby, director of a four-year-old organization based in Brussels, European Dignity Watch.
Polling data doesn't appear to bear this out, at least in Western Europe. Support for marriage equality ranges between 52 and 79% in all seven Western European countries included in a June Ipsos poll. Less than a third of respondents from the two Eastern European countries included — Poland and Hungary — support same-sex marriage (and both countries have banned it in their constitutions), but more than 50% support some form of legal recognition for same-sex couples. Opinion seems to range more on abortion, which is available in most countries at least before 12 weeks, though waiting periods and other restrictions are not uncommon. An April Pew study found substantial pluralities in countries including France, Spain, and the Czech Republic say they believe abortion is "morally acceptable," while there are even more lopsided pluralities saying abortion was "morally unacceptable" in places such as Poland and Greece.
But anti-abortion activists effectively used a new mechanism for direct democracy that the EU introduced in 2012 — called the European Citizens Initiative (ECI) — to make a show of popular support. One of the first ECIs ever launched, dubbed "One of Us," was a proposal to cut off EU funding to any activity that destroys a human embryo, which in practical terms would mean ending support for stem cell research and foreign aid to family planning programs that perform abortions. If organizers could get at least 1 million signatures from seven countries, the EU's executive body, the European Commission, would have had to hold a hearing on it.
The signature drive was led by Grégor Puppinck of the European Center for Law and Justice, but the continental campaign itself was funded entirely by Spanish and Italian foundations. It quickly sailed past the 1 million signature hurdle, collecting over 1.8 million signatures from more than 20 countries by the time the hearing was held on April 9. Despite this impressive show of popular support, there was little doubt that the commission would reject the proposal even as the witnesses for One of Us walked into the hearing room — Science Commissioner Máire Geoghegan-Quinn had said as much in a January press conference.
The commission summarily dismissed the proposal in a seven-page statement issued on May 28 — just three days after the European elections, which left some organizers feeling like the commission was deliberately trying to prevent it from affecting the vote.
But that doesn't mean it was a defeat for opponents to abortion rights. Well before the process had come to an end, the One of Us campaign signalled on its website that it had bigger goals than just changing EU funding policy.
The drive "could be a starting point of a new Europe-wide mobilization of the pro-life movement," the site said. "Every experience we collect here can be used for campaigns on other pro-life issues in further course. In that sense, it can be expected that the outcome may be very enduring."
It also taught anti-abortion rights activists that they didn't have to pull their punches.
"For too long a time in Europe, pro-life people did not really say clearly and directly what they believe because [they feared] it was too much" for most Europeans to accept, Puppinck said in an interview in his Strasbourg office. "We are more direct, more open, more clear, we don't really try to negotiate on the truth…. This is why, for us, the most important [thing] is to be able to speak."
And from a political standpoint, the rejection of the One of Us initiative may have been a blessing for social conservatives hoping to build a movement. The U.S. anti-abortion movement was built in response to the 1973 Supreme Court decision establishing abortion rights, a ruling that thrust abortion into the center of American politics for the last 40 years. And they can now frame it as a question, not just abortion.
That's exactly how the Parliament's largest bloc, the center-right European People's Party, is already poised to embrace One of Us' cause. The EPP chair, German MEP Manfred Weber, told BuzzFeed he was "disappointed" that the European Commission did not act "when there are so many people standing behind an initiative."
"We have to bring people closer to the European process," Weber said, adding that the EU must not go beyond its mandate. "Europe should not be the political body which is intervening … in this question of family rights, of abortion. Very crucial and very important."
This battle now heads to the courts. On Friday, Puppinck filed a challenge before the EU's judicial arm asking that it take away the European Commission's veto power over initiatives. The suit "is not only about the right to life, but firstly about democracy," Puppinck stated in a press release announcing the suit.
In this fight, Puppinck said, "You can really say it's the opposition between the people and the elite."
Posted originally on Buzzfeed News on July 1, 2014, at 9:11 p.m. ET
ROME — After Sergio Lo Giudice's baby was born in May, he appeared before a California judge to ask that his name be removed from his son's birth certificate.
Lo Giudice is a 53-year-old LGBT activist turned politician, who now represents Bologna in the Italian Senate. When he and his husband decided to have a baby via a surrogate mother, they chose to do it in California because it was illegal for them to do so under Italian law. California recorded Lo Giudice and Michele Giarratano as the child's parents, but the two men feared they would have trouble bringing him home and establishing his Italian citizenship because Italy doesn't recognize same-sex parents.
Their country doesn't recognize their marriage either. Italy is the only country in Western Europe that provides no legal recognition of any kind to same-sex couples; almost every large country in the region has enacted full marriage equality. But that may change this fall: Lo Giudice is part of a group in the Senate Justice Commission that reached agreement on a draft bill on partnership legislation last month, and Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi has said he wants Parliament to begin debating in September.
The fact that Vatican City is just a short walk across the bridge from Parliament goes a long way to explain why Italy has remained so far behind its neighbors on this question. And the battle over this bill pulls at the seams of Italy's twin nature as a cosmopolitan European state with obligations under international accords that increasingly protect LGBT rights and its place as the seat of the Catholic Church. It is also opening fault lines within the Holy See itself, with an old guard committed to the culture wars fought zealously by Pope Benedict set against Pope Francis' efforts to move away from the divisive fights over sexuality that he believes drive many away from the church.
While Francis' vision hasn't changed any church doctrine, his rhetorical disarmament has made it far easier for Italian politicians to back partnership rights. Those working on the bill believe marriage equality is still politically impossible, and their civil union proposal would also prohibit two-parent adoption by same-sex couples. But it would allow stepchild adoption in cases where one spouse is already the legal parent of a child, so Lo Giudice could once again be recognized as his son's father.
But some same-sex couples and local officials aren't waiting for Parliament to act. The mayor of Naples has declared that his city would start transcribing foreign marriages of same-sex couples into its wedding rolls. Naples is the first large city to take this step after a lower court ordered officials in the small Tuscan city of Grosseto to record a foreign marriage in April.
"It seems that in Italy there is a common line of thought in the battle against homophobia: toward equality," said Naples Mayor Luigi de Magistris in announcing the move. "But we never succeed in converting that into law."
The registration of foreign marriages by local officials may have an impact that is more symbolic than legal, worry some to LGBT activists, in part because the Supreme Court issued a ruling in mid-June that undercut it.
That decision came over the case of a couple who now are both named Alessandra, but who were legally married when one of them was Alessandro. When Alessandra Bernaroli legally changed her gender designation in 2009, after the couple had been married for nine years, the courts annulled their marriage, despite their objections. In June, the Constitutional Court ruled that their rights had been violated when they were forced to divorce, which initially led some LGBT rights supporters to celebrate the decision. It said, however, that their marriage was still invalid until Parliament passed a law recognizing same-sex unions and ordered Parliament to swiftly enact new legislation.
Back in 2010, the courts had already ordered Parliament to pass such legislation, which lawmakers ignored. (The Italian courts are much weaker than in places like the United States, where Supreme Court rulings translate directly into changes in law.) And the new ruling undercut the old one in a way that had many LGBT advocates feeling like it was more of a setback than a victory. The 2010 ruling left it up to Parliament whether to enact marriage equality or create a new institution to recognize same-sex unions. The June ruling instructed Parliament to create "a different form of registered partnership" that is "not the same as marriage," and included language that suggested the Italian constitution rules out marriage between people of the same sex.
But civil unions are better than nothing, said Ivan Scalfarotto, secretary for parliamentary relations in the Renzi government and Italy's first out gay government minister. Scalfarotto said that he would prefer marriage equality and full adoption rights. But he said as he approaches the age of 50, he doesn't want to wait any longer for basic protections for his relationship.
"I would not like to [wait to] live in the perfect world when I'm 80," Scalfarotto said. "I'd really love to make sure that the person I love has the right to be recognized as my partner, [and] if I pass away — now — I want him to be able to live in our house, and I want everyone to respect that. ... In principle, I would like to have everything, but principles are a luxury … [that] at this moment, unfortunately, in my country we cannot afford."
Despite the presence of the Vatican, public opinion doesn't show any evidence that Italians are much more disapproving of same-sex relationships than nearby countries with marriage equality. Seventy-four percent of Italians who responded to a 2013 Pew survey said they believed "homosexuality is a way of life that should be accepted by society" — about the same as France, which has had civil unions since 1998 and passed marriage equality last year. A 2013 Ipsos poll found that 48% of Italians supported marriage rights for same-sex couples and an additional 31% oppose marriage but support an alternative form of partnership recognition, on par with Great Britain.
The change in tone ushered in by Pope Francis has helped create an environment where this public opinion can be translated into political action.
Posted originally on Buzzfeed News on November 9, 2013, at 9:51 p.m. ET
KIEV, Ukraine — In recent weeks, billboards with images of same-sex stick figure couples holding hands began to appear on the streets of the Ukrainian capital. The text warned: "Association with the EU means same-sex marriage."
The group behind the posters is Ukrainian Choice, an organization funded by Viktor Medvedchuk, a wealthy businessman and former parliamentarian who is so close to the Russian president that local media routinely allude to the fact that Vladimir Putin is his child's godfather. Medvedchuk created the organization with the sole purpose of lobbying against Ukraine strengthening its ties with the European Union — and is stirring up opposition to LGBT rights as part of the process.
Since passing the "homosexual propaganda" law this summer, Russian leaders have increasingly used opposition to gay rights — along with an ostentatious embrace of the Orthodox Church — to define the country in opposition to the West. Now its homophobic nationalism is moving west as part of Russia's campaign to retain its influence in the former communist nations being courted by the European Union.
The big testing ground is Ukraine, which is currently in a tug of war between the two sides. The EU wants it to sign an association agreement deepening ties — and has been urging it to release a prominent political prisoner as proof it is ready to move toward the west. Russia wants it to join a Moscow-led customs union instead — and has been warning of dire consequences for Ukraine's "traditions" if it decides to forego integration with Russia in favor of closer ties with the EU. At the end of November, EU and Ukrainian officials are due to meet in the Lithuanian capital Vilnius to sign an association agreement, formalizing bilateral relations with the bloc.
Russia has not been shy about its message. On Thursday, Alexey Pushkov, the outspoken chair of the Duma's foreign affairs committee, tweeted that an agreement with the EU would mean "pride parades will be held instead of Victory Day parades" in the streets of Kiev.
"Now, the fight [is] between East and West, Russia and Europe," said Olena Shevchenko, executive director of the LGBT advocacy organization Insight. "Ukraine is the field of the battle."
Anti-EU protesters in Kiev have zealously seized on the LGBT issue as they rally against closer ties with the West. They have carried signs showing stick figures engaging in anal sex with slogans like, "Homosexuality is a threat to national security." They chant, "v Evropu cherez zhopu," a Russian rhyme that carries the rough meaning of "Fuck you and your Europe." Its literal meaning: "Go to Europe through the ass."
Last week, an NGO called the Parents Committee of Ukraine held a rally in front of the German embassy in Kiev under the slogan "Traditional values—ja!,, Homosexuality, nein!," nominally targeting two German foundations it says promote homosexuality in Ukraine through grants to LGBT rights groups and the promotion of sex education.
Yet it was clear the rally's target was bigger. "We oppose the signing of the association agreement with the EU, because it will lead to the inevitable homosexualizing of Ukraine," said the group's co-head Aleksandr Skvortsov in a statement posted on the group's website. Activists from Ukrainian Choice also joined in the rally, wearing signs that read, "European values are gays, lesbians, and corrupting minors."
Speaking to BuzzFeed at his Kiev office, Skvortsov said that in its current form, the association agreement would establish "the dictatorship of homosexuality in regard to the whole society" in which religious schools would be forced to employ "teachers who are … covered with rainbow flags" and anti-gay parents would be denied the right to adopt. He insisted that his group was not officially calling for the whole agreement to be rejected — it simply wanted amendments that would exempt Ukraine from having to comply with EU rules concerning "public morality."
While it does encourage some reform on LGBT rights, the EU's only explicit requirement in that realm is that countries pass legislation banning discrimination against gays and lesbians in employment as part of a broad package of human rights protections. Ukraine doesn't even have to meet that obligation at this stage — that only comes into play at the next stage of integration, when countries seek to liberalize travel rules to Europe.
Even that is too much for some. Ruslan Kukharchuk, who leads Love Against Homosexuality, another of the most visible anti-gay organizations in Ukraine, said employment protection for gays and lesbians would start a chain reaction that looked like this: next would come a request for civil partnerships, then marriage, then adoption rights, and, finally, the criminalization of those who speak out against gay rights.
This "scheme is implemented in all countries in which they start from this first law," Kukharchuk said. "We are doing everything not to implement this first step."
Under current EU rules, same-sex marriage won't ever come into play — the EU charter restricts it from regulating family law, and many EU member states still do not recognize same-sex marriages or allow gays and lesbians to adopt.
But EU pressure has been critical in keeping Ukraine from following Russia's lead in passing a "homosexual propaganda" ban. A similar bill was first brought up in 2012 and passed an initial vote in the Ukrainian parliament with a vote of 289-61, uniting Ukraine's infamously warring parties like never before. EU officials vehemently opposed it. Štefan Füle, the EU's enlargement commissioner, said at the time that "such legislative initiative … stands in contradiction to the requirements of the relevant benchmarks" for closer ties with the EU. The bill stalled.
Then, this past July, just as negotiators were working out the fine print on Ukraine's association agreement and locked in a tussle over whether President Viktor Yanukovych would release his imprisoned rival Yulia Tymoshenko, a Russian-leaning lawmaker named Vadim Kolesnichenko reintroduced the propaganda ban bill. Support for the bill is broad — it has six co-sponsors from different parliamentary factions, and had support from the Yanukovych's parliamentary representative.
Lawmakers may disagree about whether to side with Europe or with Russia, Insight's Olena Shevchenko joked ruefully, but opposition to LGBT rights is "the only thing that can unite our parliament."
Despite the timing, Kolesnichenko maintained that the bill was not an effort to derail the treaty, nor was it inspired by Russia. "This is an issue of protecting of our society from corruption and from an attack on the foundations of our society's spirituality and an issue of fighting for health — our country's population is dying out," Kolesnichenko told BuzzFeed. "I do not connect in any way with European integration."
And yet, he argued that Europe's desire to spread its pro-LGBT rights agenda masked a deeper desire for conquest: Since "the time of crusades, Western Europe has practically always fought with … Eastern Christianity," Kolesnichenko said. "I do not really believe that in the past 15 to 20 years, Europe has drastically transformed itself and for some reason begun to love Slavic people from Ukraine."
That kind of jockeying appears transparently political to EU officials.
"I don't think the more pro-Western [politicians] would necessarily be that much in favor of LGBT rights," said Ulrike Lunacek, a member of the European Parliament from Austria and co-president of its intergroup on LGBT rights and sits on its foreign affairs committee. "But it's very clear that the more pro-Russian side is using the … propaganda law that [means] you're not allowed to talk about LGBT rights to enhance their political situation in the country. Very often the politicians in these countries … [use] the argument against LGBT rights to cover up problems that exist on the economic level."
Some EU policymakers fear that pushing too hard on a nation like Ukraine could backfire, driving it into Russia's arms and losing the leverage to shape national policy whatsoever. The challenge is evident in nations like Armenia, which abruptly decided earlier this year to walk away from its EU association agreement and join Russia's Customs Union. EU opponents, assisted by the country's church, had run a virulently anti-gay campaign invoking much of the same rhetoric seen in Ukraine.
Yet in places where the government is firmly committed to the EU — or where national economies are far too dependent on Europe to walk away — EU pressure has empowered national LGBT movements far beyond what they could have achieved on their own.
Ukraine's post-Soviet neighbor, Moldova, illustrated this dramatically in October, when it suddenly repealed a law criminalizing any information about "any other relations than those related to marriage or family" that had been enacted in June. The country is also looking to formalize closer ties with the EU in Vilnius.
Desire for EU membership has also helped enable pride parades throughout eastern Europe, activists argue. The government of the former Yugoslavian republic of Montenegro, which is vying for EU membership, mobilized half the small nation's police force to protect the first gay pride parade in its capital city late last month.
"On the road to European integration, the government of Montenegro has shown its democratic capacity, [and the pride march] shows that Montenegrin society is maturing in the protection of all minorities, including members of the LGBT community," Suad Numanović, Montenegro's minister of human and minority rights, told BuzzFeed last month.
Despite Russia's best efforts — which have included economic bullying through freezing Ukrainian imports and withholding gas shipments — the EU still has sway in Ukraine. Polls show that a narrow majority of Ukrainians prefer the EU to Russia.
"For 22 years [Ukraine] has been trying to join the EU," Valeriy Patskan, a member of the pro-European Udar party, who chairs parliament's committee on human rights, national minorities and international relations, told BuzzFeed. He had just come from a meeting with a European delegation on the human rights terms of Ukraine's association agreement and was convinced a gay propaganda ban would never pass. "Adoption of one legislative act in order to disrupt all these 22 years of efforts by the Ukrainian state is not realistic," he said. "Though a number of pro-Russian deputies will, of course, be raising such issues … for their own public relations."
Despite Patskan's optimism, and apparent evidence that EU efforts have helped derail legislative efforts to enshrine anti-LGBT laws, widespread homophobia has continued to grow on a social level, buoyed, activists say, by Russia's rhetoric next door.
Several high-profile hate crimes have recently hit Ukraine's LGBT community, and Amnesty International has accused the authorities of burying the cases. Pro-gay speech is suppressed through vandalism and violence. One video, posted to YouTube by a Ukrainian Choice activist, showed a group of young men spray-painting over posters against the propaganda law posted in a Kiev subway, apparently with the tacit approval of police.
Hate groups similar to ones that have gotten attention in Russia, including Occupy Pedophilia, also operate in Ukraine. And gay rights activists are prevented from holding street protests even without a propaganda ban.
When Insight tried to protest the proposed propaganda law on Dec. 8, 2012, Shevchenko, as its executive director, was suddenly summoned to an administrative court hearing at 10 p.m. on Dec. 7. At the late-night hearing, the court acceded to police demands and banned the protest because "the mass action may be viewed as provocative by conservative-minded citizens and groups which could lead to the threat of conflict."
Organizers pushed back — and moved the protest to another location. Shevchenko was subsequently arrested for violating the "regulations for the conduct of meetings." Seven other LGBT activists were also arrested, along with four counter-demonstrators who assaulted the activists with tear gas and were fined for "hooliganism."
Nevertheless, activists keep hope that the LGBT debate may be inching forward. When a small group of activists defied a court ban to hold a pride parade in May, the police protected them from violent counter protestors. And on Wednesday, an LGBT activist made history by becoming the first openly gay person to address a parliamentary committee.
Bogdan Globa, a member of the LGBT group Fulcrum, told a parliamentary hearing on visa liberalization with the EU, "Today's main appeal to you is, when you vote for the bill introducing the mechanism of non-discrimination on the grounds of 'sexual orientation,' you have to understand that the implementation of the EU demand is not simply [to satisfy] a requirement of the European Commission, it [affects] lives of young guys like me. And this is our chance to live in our country a safe and happy life despite our sexual orientation."
J. Lester Feder is a foreign correspondent for BuzzFeed and 2013 Alicia Patterson journalism fellow.
Posted originally on Buzzfeed News on Mar 22, 2013
WASHINGTON — Days before moving furniture into their new house in D.C.'s LeDroit Park neighborhood, Fabrice Houdart and Roy Daiany were still arguing about where to put the master bedroom.
Roy was leaning toward the large front room on the second floor, which had a view of the newly refurbished Howard Theater on the other side of Florida Avenue. Fabrice wanted to turn the third floor into a master suite. This would give them a little space from the nursery on the second floor. In just a few months, they would be fathers.
"I'm planning to raise the children the French way," Fabrice joked. "They can come visit for a while and then come back downstairs with the nanny." Plus, the room on the third floor was closer to what Fabrice had dubbed the RuPaul's Drag Race room. It was the only spot Roy would be allowed to watch the program or another favorite, Mob Wives.
They didn't have a whole lot of time to get the house ready. They were surprised to learn five months earlier that their surrogate mother was pregnant. They hadn't expected the process to work on the first try. It often takes many tries to get an embryo to implant, and their egg donor had given them a disappointingly small number of eggs to work with. But the surrogate was not only pregnant — she was carrying twins. One is Fabrice's biological child; the other is Roy's. They are due in May.
The process of getting pregnant was miraculously easy compared with the legal nightmare that preceded it. It required consulting lawyers on three continents and spending twice what they had expected on the process. There are many more hurdles for a same-sex couple trying to build a family than just getting their union recognized, they found.
Fabrice, who is French, grew up in an upper-crust Parisian family and now works in the World Bank's Washington headquarters. His fair features make him look much younger than his 34 years. On the day they gave me a tour of their house, he was wearing a white waffle shirt and a pair of Diesel jeans with a six-inch rip in the crotch. He'd locked himself out of the house that morning and ripped his pants trying to get back in by jumping over the 8-foot-high wooden fence separating their backyard from the funeral home next door.
Roy is a 32-year-old American who grew up in New York and Tel Aviv. He is dark and stubbly and was dressed that afternoon every bit like the hipster Google employee he is: blue hoodie, plaid shirt, Converse sneakers. He liked the idea of having the master bedroom just on the other side of the nursery's door. "I want to be near my babies," he said.
Decorating the rest of the house caused less debate. A friend suggested they paint the nursery a light green rather than blue — they didn't want to oppress their sons if they turned out to be transgender. (The color would also accent the tile work around the fireplace.) Fabrice wanted to paint the front door black and strip the banisters down to their original wood; Roy didn't care — his domain was the granite-countered kitchen.
For those gay couples who want to be biological parents, they must navigate a shifting patchwork of laws governing surrogacy and in-vitro fertilization, technology that is banned or denied to same-sex couples in many places. France is one of these countries, with a law so strict that it will not grant citizenship to the children of French citizens born in countries where surrogacy is legal. Fabrice and Roy had planned to work with a foreign surrogate because the process abroad costs a fraction of what it does in the U.S. But there was a risk they would never be able to get the child out of the country of its birth if Fabrice was the biological father.
They ultimately found the resources to have the child in Pennsylvania. But their struggle reflects that once same-sex marriage is a reality, much harder questions will remain about what equality really means for same-sex couples. Does biological parenthood remain a right for same-sex couples even thought their biology makes that impossible? Will restrictions on certain types of assisted reproduction one day be regarded as fundamental barriers to full equality for gays and lesbians the way same-sex marriage has become?
Roy had long dreamed of being a father. When he was coming out at age 17, he believed he would probably have to give up on getting married. But he never thought he would have to sacrifice having a family.
"For me, really having a family and being a father was always and absolute, I always wanted it, I knew it was going to be part of my life — I never wanted to give up on that dream because I was gay," Roy told me in a boutique coffee shop across the street from the couple's new house. And though he has a lot of respect for those who adopt, he always wanted biological children. "I always dreamed of having biological children of mine and my partner's," he said.
But marriage still seemed a little weird to him.
"I never thought about myself getting married because I'm a gay man. One of the things that I gave up on is marriage," he said. The test of a mate was not whether he could imagine one day exchanging rings with him — it was whether "you can picture your life in 20 years with you and him, sitting in the living room, reading the newspaper while the kids run around."
Before Fabrice started dating Roy, he didn't think either fatherhood or marriage was in his future. When he came out to his parents at 24, he recalls his father saying, "Well, it's very easy to be gay when you are young, but when you are old … you age alone." Much of his family remains chilly toward his relationship to Roy; his grandfather recently marched in the protests against France's impending legalization of same-sex marriage and then posted pictures of it on Facebook.
When I met Fabrice one afternoon in the atrium of the World Bank's glass-and-metal headquarters by the White House, he told me he'd believed that a long-term relationship "was not something that was in the cards." He had a hard time imagining a future, even after he started dating Roy in 2008.
"I have been a very unhappy gay man for years, and I thought my life would be over at 30," Fabrice said. His struggle with these doubts delayed their plans to start a family. But by New Year's Eve of 2012, the couple felt ready to move ahead. "He was feeling better and healthier, and [it seemed like] he felt like he was in the best place of his life," Roy remembers.
Roy ultimately did ask Fabrice to marry him. He surprised him on his birthday with a ring with three interlocking gold bands modeled on the one French poet Jean Cocteau gave to his lover.
"That's the only day that I really started to really relax," Fabrice said; he could count on a future with Roy. And having children on the way has gone further in erasing the shame he felt about being gay. "I'm so proud," he said.
Fabrice and Roy have had to postpone their wedding — they'd picked out a date in May before they learned that was when their twins would be born. By the time they finally tie the knot, same-sex marriage could be fully legal in both the United States and France.
But many of the roadblocks to parenthood that they've encountered will remain even if their marriage is given the force of law.
Assisted reproduction pushes many of the same buttons as abortion in some countries. While in-vitro fertilization is legal in most countries, several, like France and Italy, only allow married, heterosexual couples to access the procedure. Gay male couples who need a surrogate to carry a biological child face even greater restrictions. Countries like China and Germany ban surrogacy outright, and several more make it illegal to pay a woman for carrying a child.
The landscape isn't simple for those who want to work with a surrogate in the United States, either. Fabrice and Roy could technically have faced jail time if they had hired a surrogate in their hometown. The District of Columbia is the only jurisdiction where contracting a surrogate is a criminal offense, but such contracts are banned or unenforceable in several others. They also couldn't have worked with a surrogate in Virginia. Like many other states, including Texas and Utah, Virginia only allows surrogacy for married heterosexual couples.
"Surrogacy in general, it's very state-by-state, country-by-country," said Meryl Rosenberg, of ART Parenting, a Maryland attorney who specializes in surrogacy arrangements. "You have to be really, really careful."
Fabrice and Roy went into the process assuming that they would work with an Indian surrogate. It costs less than half what surrogacy costs in the United States, and they knew other couples had gone this route. But they decided India was too risky after consulting with their lawyers. If the child was Fabrice's, France would not grant the child citizenship and Roy wouldn't be able to get the child U.S. citizenship either, because the U.S. government wouldn't recognize him as a parent. There was a possibility that India might also refuse to recognize the child as an Indian citizen too, which could mean an even more serious legal headache.
"I had to really ask if there was a really a big risk [that] my kids [could] not have any nationality or be stuck in India in an orphanage until I find a way to get them out of there," Fabrice said.
Being unable to use an Indian surrogate may have been a blessing in disguise. India recently enacted rules barring same-sex couples from going there to have a child. But unless they were willing to only use Roy's sperm — and they wanted chance to decide who would be the father — having the child anywhere outside the country was going to be risky. Fabrice could still technically face problems getting his child French citizenship if the child is born in the U.S., which is important the child ever wanted to live in Europe or study at a French university. But Fabrice's lawyer expects the French government will ultimately defer to the U.S. government's recognition of his paternity.
Couples who live in countries where surrogacy is illegal are not so lucky. In February, a couple from Israel got worldwide attention when they put a video online asking for contributions to help them continue finding a way to have a child around Israel's bans on surrogacy and adoption. They had spent $120,000 in their seven years of trying to become fathers without success.
Despite their difficulties, Fabrice and Roy have been incredibly fortunate. Not only were they able to come up with the more than $100,000 to hire a U.S. surrogate, but, they joke, they're getting two kids for the price of one. They had the money to buy a house when they realized the second child meant their apartment would be too small. And child care will be considerably easier and cheaper because Fabrice's visa status gives him the right to hire a live-in nanny from abroad.
They are also fortunate to work for employers that will give them generous paternity leave. The World Bank even has a specific policy for surrogate parents granting them 70 days of leave, the same amount of time given to parents of newborn biological children.
However, Fabrice is still frustrated where he perceives unequal treatment. World Bank employees who give birth to more than one child are entitled to an additional 20 days of leave, and he is fighting to access that benefit. Bank spokesman David Theis said this is a separate medical benefit for mothers who give birth to twins and its application has nothing to do with sexual orientation; a lesbian mother would be able to access it and a straight couple having children by surrogate would not.
But Fabrice says it's discriminatory to create a benefit that a gay couple can't access. Plus, they've had plenty of unique difficulties in having their twins, and the Bank should take that into account.
"My point of view is that it's very hard to create your own family as a gay man, and you're already starting from a pretty low point," he said. "The reaction of my parents, the reaction of society … and plus the emotional journey of surrogacy, which is a difficult one."
Although there isn't a lot of data on how common families like Fabrice and Roy's are, they seem to be growing in number. A recent study by UCLA's Williams Institute found that 27.4% of all lesbian couples and 10.6% of gay male couples are currently raising children. The percentage is even higher among couples who consider themselves married: 34.5% of lesbians and 27.9% of gays. International surrogacy is also a booming trend: A recent survey of five surrogacy agencies reported a 1,000% increase in international arrangements in just the past four years.
Fabrice doesn't expect the dispute over the additional leave to be resolved until after the kids are born. Right now they're mainly just scrambling to get the house ready. Any improvements they want to make to the house have to be done before their children arrive, and they have to do the work themselves.
After the cost of the surrogacy and the house, Roy said, "We don't have any money left to pay someone to do it. When we were making the down payment, we held the couch upside down and shook the change out — we were paying the down payment with change."
Fabrice has claimed a room at the back of the house, just off Roy's kitchen, for his library. He's planning to use it to enjoy an indulgence he had given up to save for the kids: his newspaper subscription.
While the kids run around, he said, "I'm going to take a subscription to The Washington Post and sit in here reading."
J. Lester Feder is a BuzzFeed contributor and a 2013 Alicia Patterson journalism fellow.