Multi-religious reaction against gay rights ruling good for interfaith cooperation

The spontaneous anger from all religious circles that greeted the recent High Court ruling that gay rights activists have the right to formally register their own groups and

welfare organizations sheds significant light on the reality that all recognized religions have a lot in common in their fundamental teachings that could be utilized as effective avenues for interfaith approach to some of the national issues affecting the Kenyan society. On April 24, a three judge panel issued the ruling in favour of a petition by the National Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission. The organization had unsuccessfully tried-five times- to register under the Non –Governmental Organizations Co-ordination Act since 2012 but had been rejected on grounds that Kenya’s Penal Code criminalizes gay and lesbian associations. This time the court ruled that refusing to register the organization was an infringement of constitutional rights of association for LGBT people as registration was not about moral and religious views of Kenyans, since the constitution does not set a limit of rights.

In a swift reaction to the ruling, the Catholic Church warned that registering gay rights groups will destroy the country’s moral fabric. In a press release on Apr 27 The Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops termed the judicial move “a deliberate attempt by certain individuals and institutions to push dangerous agendas and ideologies that are unnatural, un -African and un- Christian” and a threat to the existence of the family. On the same day, ACK Archbishop Eliud Wabukala hit out at the infamous ruling as offending the country’s moral, cultural and religious sensibilities. He noted that the judgment was made on very narrow considerations and “it is not only against Christianity but also against the Muslim teachings and traditions.”

Sometimes back, Muslim clerics led by Kenya National Muslim Advisory (Kemnac) chairman Sheikh Juma Ngao, proposed that gay rights activism should be criminalized. Ngao said Parliament “should enact punitive laws against homosexuality” as it is not natural and should not be encouraged. Kemnac further called for inter-religious approach to tackling the problem. Outside religious circles, NGOs co-ordination board executive director Fazul Mohamed has appealed against the ruling by the High Court. He concurs that “both Christianity and Islam do not allow homosexuality and lesbianism” and therefore the board should not register the group. The High Court judges had ruled in favour of gay rights by quoting Article 36 of The Kenya Constitution which states- “Every person has the right to form, join, or participate in the activities of an association of any kind.” However, the fact that the constitution is not exhaustive in its specifications regarding associations and therefore subject to diversity of interpretation, should not be the basis for throwing all religious and ethical considerations to the winds. This will set a dangerous precedent whereby all vicious groups and cults like witch doctors, night runners, devil worshippers, commercial sex workers, drug addicts and alcoholics will also agitate for constitutional rights.

Nevertheless, by stepping out boldly to interrogate the manner in which the constitution is being interpreted and applied in Kenya in disregard of religious values, the entire religious community of Kenya has demonstrated that they have much to share, hence, if only they could adopt a more proactive interfaith approach to issues, they would be able to spearhead the fight against terrorism, banditry, corruption, tribalism, nepotism, election injustices, marginalization, land grabbing, urban crimes, gender violence and other ills confronting the nation of Kenya. Similarly, they would also be more empowered steer national development in the right direction.

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