There has been progress on gay and human rights during this time leading up to Christmas 2017. We might need magnification to see it, but it’s there and it’s real.
Perhaps the biggest step was taken in Australia on December 7 when the government passed into law a marriage equality act that had been asked for in a popular referendum. The first full-fledged gay marriages should be taking place the week after New Years.
More recently, in the USA, the state of Alabama elected a Democrat to the US Senate rather than the Republican, Roy Moore. A news source said Moore “was twice removed from his post as Alabama’s chief justice for flouting federal law. He believes homosexuality should be illegal, Muslims should not be allowed to serve in Congress, the Constitution exists to foster Christianity and America was last great ‘at the time when families were united—even though we had slavery.’ Several women have accused him of offences ranging from sexual misconduct to assault; most were teenagers at the time of the alleged incidents.” The winner, Doug Jones, in addition to being noted for his prosecution of members of the Ku Klux Klan, is reported in the gay press to have a gay adult son. It was a special election, so only one political office was at stake. But this year it’s especially gratifying to end on a happier note than most US national news has been.
Britain’s bumpy road out of the European Union seems to this far-removed American, to be making progress toward finding whatever measure of sanity might be retained by moving extremely cautiously toward the goal of protecting the people of Britain from the “erosion of their independence” as well as to limit emigration. Prince Harry will marry a biracial American divorcee, to everyone’s apparent delight. Yesterday I enjoyed a gay-men’s choir from Cambridge singing Christmas music (I think they were King’s College ex-choirboys, but I could be wrong about that). Let’s hear it for GB.
It’s hard to find hopeful human rights news from Africa, but yesterday (as I type this) the President of Ghana was quoted as saying that marriage equality in that country “was only a matter of time.” It might be a long time, since opinion polls say only 3% of the people would give LGBT people equal rights. Still, President Akufo-Addo’s prediction is a huge improvement over his predecessor’s outrages and widespread round-ups of gays across the country.
Meanwhile, here in Thailand a friend came across an unexpected clue to progress. He found a Hindu shrine at a modern new mall that announced “menstruating women are prohibited.” What my friend did not understand is how remarkable that sign is. Hinduism is evolving. In Bali and in much of India it is not just menstruating women who are banned from the inner precincts of Hindu temples, but all women and girls. Clearly, upwards of 90% of the female population have gained the right to enter this shrine in the Maya Mall in Chiang Mai, and it is up to women to decide whether to enter or not. I take that as significant progress toward total inclusion by at least one Hindu shrine.
Also, I have recently heard of three Buddhist temples in Thailand where the saffron-robed head and clergy are women. That is a 200% increase in the number of temples where the clergy are women. This is in spite of official opposition from the Sangha hierarchy, and the express prohibition of such ordinations. The movement is spreading. This movement has rocked the very legal structure of Buddhism in Thailand. Its impact is profound. Progress toward inclusion and equality is being made, microscopic as it appears from the outside.
2017 has been tough on us, but steps have been made if we look hard enough.
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Rev. Dr. Kenneth Dobson posts his weekly reflections on this blog.