International News

Brazil AG pushes same-sex unions

Brazil’s attorney general has asked the country’s highest court to legalize same-sex unions in the South American nation, home to the world’s largest Roman Catholic population.

In a motion filed with the court July 2, Attorney General Deborah Duprat said there are “no reasonable arguments to justify denying homosexuals the right to have their stable relationships recognized by law.”

A bill that would give same-sex couples the same rights as those enjoyed by married heterosexual couples has been stalled in Congress for more than a decade.

Duprat spokesperson Lidian Matos said the motion does not violate a constitutional clause defining marriage as a stable union between a man and a woman.

“It is a definition, not a limitation,” she said. “It does not say that only a man and a woman are capable of forming a stable union. Nowhere in the constitution is it written that a stable relationship between two people of the same sex is illegal.”

The motion argues that failing to recognize same-sex unions violates “the constitution’s defense of human dignity and equality.”

The Rev. Geraldo Martins Dias, spokesperson for the National Conference of Brazilian Bishops, said on July 3 that the country’s Catholic hierarchy would not immediately comment on the motion.

Gay-rights activists hailed the move, however.

“We are extremely happy,” said activist Toni Reis in a phone interview. “This is a very important step toward ending the discrimination suffered by Brazilian gays who for years have been demanding the right to equal treatment.”

President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva expressed support for same-sex unions last year.

HIV vaccine ready for human tests

An HIV/AIDS vaccine developed in Canada has passed safety tests in animals and researchers are awaiting approval to begin human trials in the U.S.

“It is a very important milestone for us,” said Yong Kang, a professor of microbiology at the University of Western Ontario in London.

Kang has been working on the vaccine for 20 years and said he expects to get the go-ahead soon from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to begin human toxicology tests and two phases of clinical trials.

Kang said if all three trials are successful, the vaccine should be available within the next decade.

According to a 2008 United Nations report on the global AIDS epidemic, 33-million people were living with HIV in 2007. Two-million people died of causes related to the disease that year.

Dozens of HIV vaccines have already been developed and tested in animal models, but few have been tested in humans, and none successfully. A promising trial in 2007 by pharmaceutical giant Merck was shut down after those receiving the vaccine contracted HIV at a higher rate than those who received the placebo.

Kang has partnered with Curacom, a South Korean holding company that has agreed to open an office in London, Ont., to help fund research in Kang’s lab and commercialize the vaccine.

A test vaccine is being manufactured in a lab in Maryland near Washington, D.C.

Lab tests showed the vaccine produced no adverse effects or safety risks during immunology tests on animals.

Muslim mayor backs Dutch gays

A harassed gay minority in a conservative suburb in otherwise-tolerant Amsterdam has found an ally in the local Muslim mayor.

Ahmed Marcouch, 41, is on a self-appointed mission to end homophobia in Slotervaart — very close to the capital but light-years away from its anything-goes mentality.

To make his point, Marcouch recently invited Amsterdam’s annual Gay Pride parade to pass through his constituency when it takes place in August.

“It is necessary to confront this issue, to say that homosexuals are normal people like all of us and that we require them to be respected,” Marcouch said.

Slotervaart’s population is mainly of immigrant origin, many of the Muslim faith, like Moroccan-born Marcouch, who came to the Netherlands in 1979 at age 10. The suburb has recently been in the news for homophobic incidents.

The community grew particularly restless over gay men using Slotervaart’s De Oeverlanden public park as a place to meet and have sex.

After gay lobbyists made complaints over incidents of homophobic violence, the local council erected signs in the park indicating the spots where gay sex is known to take place, in a bid to avoid any unfortunate encounters.

“For cultural or religious reasons, some people reject homosexuals and compare them to animals,” said Marcouch, who has been Slotervaart’s mayor since 2006 and was a former spokesperson for Amsterdam’s mosques. “They don’t see homosexuals as humans. These people can be Orthodox Christians, Muslims or immigrants.

On Marcouch’s initiative, the city council recently adopted an action plan for 2009 to 2011 that allows for the opening of a gay cultural center. It will also permit gay associations to give briefings at schools and will take measures to teach mothers in immigrant households about gay rights in the Netherlands.

The mayor has also asked municipal police to be extra vigilant about homophobic aggression, and has even organized debates on the topic in mosques to press home his message.

In 2002, Netherlands was the first country in the world to legalize homosexual marriage.

Queen supports antigay church

The Queen of England has extended her support to a church movement that denounces homosexuality.

The monarch sent two letters of support to the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans, which fights against the preaching of “false gospels” of homosexuality and other “immoral” sexual behavior.

It opposes gay unions and the ordination of women and gays, instead promoting “orthodox, biblical Anglicanism.”

The FCA is concerned over the Anglican Church heading in a more liberal direction. Last year, Queen Elizabeth II wrote to the organization to say she “understand[s] their concerns” about the future of the 80-million-strong global church.

Gay-rights activist Peter Tatchell claimed the Queen, who is the supreme governor of the Church of England, had made “a serious error of judgment.”

“Her letter of support for the breakaway antigay faction of the Church of England is collusion with prejudice,” he said. “She has insulted lesbian and gay people and breached royal protocol by embroiling herself in an issue of religious and political controversy. It is very alarming to see the Queen endorse a homophobic grouping within the Church of England. She is taking sides against gay equality.”

Buckingham Palace refused to comment on what it said was private correspondence, while royal sources said the monarch writes to many organizations.

Singapore unlikely to revise gay ban

The recent decision by the Delhi high court to strike down a British colonial-era law banning gay sex in India will not influence Singapore to eliminate a similar prohibition.

Law minister K. Shanmugam said Singapore was unlikely to decriminalize gay sex because most of the public does not support such a move.

“If the majority of our population is against homosexuality, then it’s not for the government to say we are going to force something against the wishes of the people,” he said.

However, Shanmugam said courts in Singapore are free to interpret the law to permit gay sex, as the court in India did.

Singapore’s ban on gay sex calls for punishing offenders with up to two years in jail, but it is rarely enforced.

On July 2, the Delhi high court struck down Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, which contains a 148-year-old British colonial-era law that made gay sex punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

Larry Nichols can be reached at [email protected].