Cardinal Peter Turkson: “homosexuals are not criminals”

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Vatican Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana has spoken out against the anti-gay law in Uganda, saying that “homosexuals are not criminals,” and don’t deserve to be jailed for life.

Speaking at a conference on the Catholic Church and human rights, Turkson also told press that the Vatican is calling on nations and corporations around the world to continue providing Uganda with aid. After its passage of one of the harshest anti-gay bills in the world, Norway, Denmark and the Netherlands have reduced their aid to the country, and other nations are reconsidering their own support. The World Bank has also postponed an intended $90 million loan, pending review.

Turkson’s statement was surprising in comparison to many of his past remarks, as he previously defended a number of overtly homophobic laws. According to the National Catholic Register, in 2013 the Cardinal declared that people should be aware of the “reasons” why some African countries have passed anti-gay laws. He argued that the “intensity of the reaction is probably commensurate with tradition,” and called for the values of traditional African culture to be respected.

“When you’re talking about what’s called ‘an alternative lifestyle,’ are those human rights?” Turkson asked.

“There’s a subtle distinction between morality and human rights, and that’s what needs to be clarified.”

In an interview with CNN in 2013, he said, “In several communities, in several cultures in Africa, homosexuality or for that matter any affair between two sexes of the same kind, are not countenanced in our society.

“So that cultural taboo, that tradition has been there…It has served to keep [homosexuality]out.”

In 2012, in response to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon’s speech urging leaders of the Catholic church to stand up for LGBT rights in Africa, Turkson claimed that “Just as there’s a sense of a call for rights, there’s also a call to respect culture, of all kinds of people.”

Pope Francis has called for tolerance, most famously saying “Who am I to judge?” in reference to LGBT people seeking religion. However, he is also scheduled to visit Uganda later in 2014 to honor the “Ugandan Martyrs,” male servants who were executed for refusing their king’s advances after they had become Christian converts.

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