The coming clash of civilizations over gay rights

August 12, 2013

Supporters of gay rights have been protesting in Western cities this past week, picketing in front of Russian embassies and consulates. They’re protesting the passing of a law in the Russian parliament that bans “homosexual propaganda” directed at under 18-year olds — which if interpreted strictly, bans all public demonstrations and much public and private discussion on the issue.

Not so long ago how a country’s administration handled its ‘homosexual problem’ would be thought of as its business. Many still think that way. But most Western democracies don’t. They haven’t just adopted legislation that enjoins equality of treatment for all, irrespective of sexuality. They have taken seriously, for the most part, the claims made by gay organizations for many years: that discrimination against gay men and women is an affront to civil liberties, and that when some states pursue discriminatory policies, those who do not should make their disapproval clear. Gay rights are now part of the world’s clash of cultures.

This is presently true most clearly in the United States and the U.K., not because they have been ahead of the pack in equality — they have lagged a bit behind Canada and the Scandinavian states, ever the pioneers in such matters — but because they have had, and still have, the most contentious relations with Russia.

In the U.K., Stephen Fry, a British TV star, wrote an impassioned letter to Prime Minister David Cameron, likening Russia’s treatment of gays to Adolf Hitler’s treatment of Jews, and begged him to order British athletes to boycott the Winter Olympics in the Russian city of Sochi in February next year. In an interview for a TV series on the treatment of gays with Vitaly Milonov, a designer of Russia’s anti-gay platform, Fry was told that Britain was being destroyed by the kind of liberalism that encouraged homosexual behavior. Milonov, a city councilor, was the author of a St. Petersburg law that was the model for the national anti-gay propaganda legislation: he intends to pray for Fry, but believes he is morally and terminally “sick.”

President Barack Obama has also shown some passion on this. Appearing on Jay Leno’s talk show, Obama said that he had “no patience for countries that try to treat gays or lesbians or transgender persons in ways that intimidate them,” adding that he spoke out because “making sure that people are treated fairly is what we (Americans) stand for.” In his August 9 press conference, Obama hoped U.S. athletes would bring back medals — but didn’t believe he should call back the American athletes already out there “training hard.”

Russia is not alone in underscoring the leper-like status its lawmakers believe gays should endure. Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan has presented a bill that stiffens the provisions in 2006 legislation, banning gay marriage, institutional recognition of gay relationships, gay clubs and public displays of affection between gays. The legislation is justified under the rubric of “protecting the integrity of (Nigerian) culture” — a similar stance to that of Milonov in St. Petersburg, and to many who, like him, believe the West’s insistence on sexual equality is but another instance of Western imperialism.

This is bad, but there’s a half-full-glass side too. It’s over-simple to say that there’s a liberal camp of light and a reactionary camp of darkness. There’s an important and very large middle ground, which includes the world’s two largest states, on which a battle rages both for greater toleration on the part of the authorities and — more difficult — for greater understanding on the part of the masses accustomed, for religious or other reasons, to seeing homosexuality as an abomination and gays as fair game for insults, beatings and even murder.

A recent report from Pew Research’s Global Attitudes Project showed that public opinion in most states in North America and in Europe is for, sometimes strongly for, social acceptance of homosexuality. The same is broadly true in Latin America, Japan, the Philippines and Australia. But elsewhere it’s the reverse, and generally strongly so: most African states show their citizens rejecting social acceptance by over 90 percent margins. Even in South Africa, where there is anti-discrimination legislation, some 60 percent reject it. And in no Muslim country is there any significant acceptance. In the Middle East, only Israel shows a more or less even split of opinion.

The “pro” countries are getting steadily more liberal: when the populations are broken down by age, one sees the majorities for acceptance rising steadily the younger the age groups. But the elders are changing too. Pope Francis’ remark last month to reporters on his flight back from a trip to Brazil (“If a person seeks God and is gay and has good will, who am I to judge?”) is the most dramatic indication of old structures creaking toward new positions. His predecessors, especially the last two, would have answered his rhetorical question with something like, “Because you’re the Pope, dummy!” Francis wasn’t changing doctrine, but he was a lot more accommodating. This Pope has a Lady Diana-like feel for the spirit and the causes of the times, and wants to put the Catholic Church, as far as possible, on the right side of history.

What comes next perhaps matters most in the 21st century giants: China and India. In his knowledgeable Peking Duck blog, Richard Burger writes that, even after 15 years of legal recognition and 10 years after its being removed from the list of mental illnesses (and centuries after gay lovers were an accepted part of Chinese life, at least among the aristocrats) homosexuality still offends against the deeply and widely rooted belief that “children must marry and continue the family line.” Uniquely, Chinese gays have gotten around this in an organized fashion, setting up arrangements where male and female gays marry in order to placate their families, then go their separate sexual ways. Burger doesn’t think matters will change much soon: certainly not enough for gay marriage to be accepted.

India’s still more conservative. The Colonial era anti-sodomy legislation was repealed only in 2009, and attitudes are far behind. Nish Gera, an Indian writer and entrepreneur who lives in New York, wrote recently that when he came out to his middle class parents, his mother threw up. Most people, he writes, believe that homosexuality is a Western “disease.” But if homosexuals account for some 5 to 10 percent of any population, India has between 50 and 100 million who are afflicted. Yet contentious Gay Pride marches attract no more than a few thousand.

India and China make up two-fifths of the world’s population. It’s there, rather than in shrinking Russia, that the important struggles — to recognize gay men and women as fully equal to heterosexuals in their choice of partners and style of life — are taking place. For the pioneers, and the men and women who must make their mothers sick by revealing their sexuality, support is needed. It will not be shown by boycotting Sochi. Athletes are better off wearing a badge or waving a flag to show which side they are on.

Over the past weekend, a 14-year old boy jumped to his death in Rome because he could no longer bear schoolmates’ jibes over his homosexuality. That was in relatively liberal Italy. It’s much worse in hardline countries. Misery of that kind is what’s at stake. Speaking out against Russia, a country that is going backward, would show we’re aware of that.

PHOTO: Demonstrators hold up signs, including one of Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, during a protest against Russia’s new anti-gay propaganda law, outside Downing Street in central London August 10, 2013. REUTERS/Luke MacGregor 


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Just what societies need, another “issue” that DIVIDES the world. What would be wrong with an international agreement to “agree to disagree”…don’t, don’t tell?

There’s not a dime to be made by western democracies on this issue, and rather a lot that can be at risk. Why don’t we concentrate on “individual rights” and achieve consensus on THAT before picking this CULTURAL conflict to throw kicking and flopping on the negotiating tables?

The world needs PEACE a lot more than it needs equity. Too many unreasonable people are of the “I want it NOW” mind set even though our patchwork of societies is, at best, a “work in progress”.

Posted by OneOfTheSheep | Report as abusive

Once again the media ignore the muslim in the room. Almost all OIC muslim countries are anti homosexual and make Russian practices seem quite liberal compared to their acts against the gay community. But no media person will say jack because anti muslim is not PC and in some countries is itself a hate crime to point out muslims routinely violate UN treaty and treat many minorities unequally or even kill them (homosexuals)(.

Posted by VultureTX | Report as abusive

I fear that the world will lose the Olympics completely as social politics begins to take precedence. If all countries banned or boycotted the Olympics for social reasons, there would be very few participants. Surely not enough to warrant the costs. Just making them secure is damaging them considerably. What a shame it is.

Posted by tmc | Report as abusive

Actually, all “violation of gay rights” in Russia is mostly reaction to activity of pederasts (see definition in dictionary) and their lesbian counterparts.

All these laws do is supress _promotion_ of gayism.

Due to same reasons few years ago the age of consent was increased to 16 years (liberal-heavy Yeltsin’s parliament lowered it to 14).

Sorry guys, maybe europeans are in favour of pedophilia (and scandinavian judges see zoophilia as something normal) but not us. Marriage here is still union between single man and single woman, both of legal age.

BTW why didn’t “West” is interested that Saudi have law to execute gays?

Posted by chyron | Report as abusive

God hates gays. Especially the Old Testament God.

This is because God is all about fear of sin and mortification of sinful flesh. All bodily desire comes from Original Sin. And damnation is the punishment for those who indulge in the pleasures of the flesh. If you do not understand this with every fibre of your being, you do not understand God. It is necessary to suffer intentionally in this life.

These moral absolutes, which have to be grasped emotionally to be understood, brook no compromise. They form the backdrop for the entire edifice of Western religious and spiritual tradition. The obvious symbols include Dr Faustus – and more recently films such as Angel Heart by Parker and the Ninth Gate by Polanski.

Posted by Mabelode | Report as abusive

There is no such thing as gay rights. There are civil rights and civility. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Otherwise, the measure you mete out will be the one you get back in return.

Homosexuals, misnamed gays, can enter contracts, own weapons, sue and be sued, vote and serve on juries.

Whether they should be allowed to serve in armed forces and proselytize remains to be seen. The Romans beat their troops for engaging in homosexual activities. See Polybius’ remarks in History of Roman Empire. Same sex marriage affronts our idea of what marriage should be. It also affronted Roman poet Juvenal. See 12th satire. The worst way one Roman could slander another was alleging he had had sexual intercourse with another Roman male. See Suetonius’ remarks regarding Julius Caesar and Caesar Augustus.

Posted by zylon | Report as abusive

This is a clash of traditional morality versus non-traditional morality. It is also a sign of the West’s moral decline.

Posted by zylon | Report as abusive

We no longer live in a world where humans require high levels of procreation to survive, yet we act like the silly institutions who promoted that for power and money reasons have some true understanding of the human condition. There is not a church or country that isn’t interested in more followers and more money and more power. However, we don’t really need that anymore. Human kind now has the ability to survive against nature without the religious requirement to go forth and multiply. We also have the ability to feed and care for everyone (care includes education- a necessary part). We once had shaman and there may have been a real reason, and they may have been mostly good, but we now have knowledge of most of the common afflictions of mankind such that our existence is not at risk. Okay, we may off ourselves through greed and corruption, but it’s not nature that is the threat, it is us. Ironically, the most likely people to lead us to destruction are those that are most tied to the old silly institutions.

Posted by brotherkenny4 | Report as abusive


Adaptation and procreation – two things that describe successeful species. Sorry, but in this case it’s uneducated fanatics who inherit the Earth again – after some threshold percentage assimilation becomes impossible, so even in peaceful version western civilization will be forgotten. And considering that even Europeans concede that “multiculturalism failed”…if still go this road only one question will remain: “in how many generation?”.

In RuNet classical West often described with single word: “Elves”…arrogant dwindling race with no future and no matter how bright present shines.

Posted by chyron | Report as abusive

The late Huntington would be surprised that his beloved term “clash of civilizations” was applied to LGTB rights.
What I can tell you from Moscow. I probably don’t like the recent legislation. However, it is the trend in the societal consciousness. If the Lower House voted 449 out of 450 – it means a lot. It means that we should make a stop and take a pause.
I am wondering. The full-scale LGTB rights are not even rooted firmly in Europe (Italy and Poland.) The Supreme Court decision was made just last month. The marriages are legal in less than 1/3 of the U.S. states.
Nevertheless, on the propaganda front, we have a new agenda. Isn’t it weird?
It is The Multi-Polar World. It’s not a Star Trek Universe, unfortunately. Let us be patient. Let us be sympathetic. To push Russians is the most unproductive politics.

Posted by OUTPOST2012.NET | Report as abusive

It’s “Princess Diana”, not “Lady Diana” — and yes, I have noticed the resemblance between Pope Francis and Princess Diana. These are people who look for human kindness. And who are not afraid of human diversity. They are not like the people who try to insult and infuriate their heterosexual neighbors by going around buck naked in “Gay Pride” parades. Instead, these are people who are not afraid to reach across the aisle for understanding. It is possible to understand and even feel sad for the Muslim people’s fear of homosexuality, without condoning the abuse they meet out to homosexuals in their midst.

Posted by CharleneKing | Report as abusive

Back to the stone age with you troglodytes. The “Morality” of the Church is the last thing we need more of. More nonsense based on the hysterical tales of desert goatherds will not lead us to a brighter future at this point. Individual rights are enough, if you don’t want to be gay, then don’t have sex with men (or women as appropriate). Either way it is none of your business, and you have no right to persecute others for your own lack of critical faculties.

Posted by Benny27 | Report as abusive

I once met a Russian young man while traveling abroad. He had never met an American in person before, and wanted to strike up a lengthy conversation. We had dinner a few times and spoke about many different issues. Somehow, the topic of homosexuality came up, and he shocked me when he said, “There are no homosexuals in Russia.” I found this remark incredulous to say the least, but he was quite adamant in his belief that homosexuality does not exist in Russia. In light of this article, what he said is finally beginning to make sense.

Posted by Justinian | Report as abusive

It is time for homosexuals to go back into the closet.

Posted by itwolan99 | Report as abusive

The Liberal camp is the camp of darkness. Their goal is not simply to enjoy their own freedom but to destroy the cultures in which they live.

Posted by pabarge | Report as abusive

Obviously another pro-gay agenda piece. Oh well, guess the silent majority has to start voting with their dollars as well as at the booth. I love and cherish homosexuals yet abhor their lifestyle pertaining to sex. Oh course this isn’t all that defines a homosexual. I just don’t think it’s something I want my government legitimizing.

Posted by Steve-0 | Report as abusive

There is no credible survey that has ever reported the homosexual population of any country to be in the 5-10% range. It is always under 2%. This is just another of the many lies told about homosexuality to try to make it more palatable to decent people. That the young are overwhelmingly for homosexual acceptance is another one. They have been getting those results since the 1960’s. Yet as young people get older and married they tend to change their views. Otherwise why all those older people who disapprove now? They are the same ones who approved in the 60’s. Homosexual tolerance is sign you know nothing about homosexuality.

Posted by SAJohnson | Report as abusive

2 Benny27
Well, looking how “fight for gay rights” goes in the West, we already joke than soon american oath of allegiance will consist of standing on the knees with bare back – how else one’s “tolerant lifestyle” can be demonstrated?

Some minorities just too arrogant to realize that proving true old saying “give ’em an inch and they will take a mile” is a recipe for disaster. For minorities of course.

Posted by chyron | Report as abusive

The communities have the right to speak out. That’s a domestic issue what they speak.
The problem is that the states included the LGTB rights into their agendas – even before the problems were settled in their own countries.
This is a sheer propaganda.
It harms the communities in other countries. However, in case of Russia, the governments are aimed at President Putin personally. They don’t care of the gay rights in Russia. Nobody even tried to talk to Russian gays, if it were better for them to start such a loud campaign.
And again, the human rights’ argument is used for purely political reasons.

Posted by OUTPOST2012.NET | Report as abusive

So gay rights are part of a world-wide culture clash because – let me get this straight – the U.S. & U.K. have contentious relations with Russia. By that reasoning we should have an obese rights movement purely because the U.S. has such close ties with Japan.

Other than that I was able to follow your train of thought.

Posted by Mac20nine | Report as abusive

Enough of the suicide politics and emotional blackmail please. How do you know why that 14 year old boy in Rome killed himself?

Posted by George1512 | Report as abusive

It seems an error to conflate “the West” with “the human rights industry”. The latter, let’s not forget, is frequently even more scathing about Western nations than it is about emerging ones, and likely would need only a little encouragement to show why there is no nation in the world worthy of holding the Olympics. Liberty, one imagines, would have been delighted if folk had boycotted the London Olympics over our handling of suspected terrorists, for example.

But what leaves a particularly bad taste in the mouth about Stephen Fry’s position is that in calling for a boycott on this issue and on no other, he appears to be starting from the position that Anna Politkovskaya and Sergei Magnitsky (who of course are just proxies for many more journalists and lawyers) were somehow worth less to the human race, just because they happened to be straight. Russians die for the worst, most trivial, of reasons, but Stephen Fry seems to think that the straight ones don’t count.

Not a very nice, not a very “civilised”, attitude.

Posted by Ian_Kemmish | Report as abusive

The craven capitulation of the IOC to Russian government bullying cannot be allowed to sit where it is. The IOC and more recently the USOC have in effect endorsed Russia’s recriminalisation of homosexuality by ordering all athletes to “respect Russia’s law” and shut the hell up, right down to painting their fingernails the “right colour” (not Rainbow). If it were ANY other minority, the IOC and the USOC would be calling on Russia to “respect the Olympic Charter” it signed up to. Anything can be turned into a “crime” by a hostile government simply by passing a law. For example Jews became illegal at the stroke of a pen under the Nazis. Would today’s IOC tell Berlin athletes of the day to “respect Nazi law”?

The IOC and USOC therefore need to be brought in line with their own charter, and insist that Russia abide by it or desist from holding any future events of international goodwill. Same goes for upcoming events in other countries that criminalise homosexuality, including the death penalty. If our government believes as David Cameron clearly does, that Russia’s policy is in breach not only of the Olympic Charter, but of the United Nations International Declaration of Human Rights, to which Russia is also signatory, then words (while still very welcome and very necessary) are not enough. A new kind of “coalition of the willing” governments needs to come together to push back any further inroads against LGBT’s equal right to exist and equal right to happiness.

What is done today has implications for other minorities. “The arc of history is long, but it bends towards justice” (Martin Luther King).

Posted by DerekWilliams | Report as abusive

When they make laws that a decent person can not follow they destroy the “rule of law”, which is the purpose of this issue. Democracy only survives in an atmosphere of “rule of law”. Otherwise we will have laws unto ourselves, and we are far down that road now.

Posted by ccharles | Report as abusive