Archbishop of Canterbury steps into U.N. gays row

Tue Feb 28, 2012 5:05pm EST
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By Robert Evans

GENEVA (Reuters) - Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, spiritual head of the global Anglican communion, stepped on Tuesday into a row which is flaring at the U.N. Human Rights Council over the persecution of gays and lesbians.

Williams, who has faced strong opposition from parts of his own church especially in Africa for his stance on gays, did not directly refer to the current controversy at the Council, according to the text of a speech prepared for delivery at the Geneva-based World Council of Churches (WCC).

However, he said laws against sexual minorities were equivalent to racism, and warned that legal regulation of consensual sexual conduct "can be both unworkable and open to appalling abuse - intimidation and blackmail."

A panel of the U.N. rights body will consider action in Geneva on Wednesday aimed at halting persecution of gays and lesbians around the world, despite fierce condemnation from Muslim and some African countries.

A report prepared for the gathering by U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay says homosexuals and bisexuals face execution in at least five countries and 76 nations had laws criminalizing gay sex.

They also accounted disproportionately for torture cases in jails around the globe, said the report which was mandated by a council resolution backed by Western and a range of developing states that was passed narrowly last June.

But in a statement in advance of the panel, Pakistan said the 57-nation Organization for Islamic Cooperation (OIC) opposed the convening of the panel and would not accept any recommendations that it might issue.

The Pakistani statement, in a letter to the president of the council, said "abnormal sexual behavior" was an outcome of personal behavior and preferences "having nothing to do with fundamental human rights."   Continued...

The Archbishop of Cantebury Rowan Williams (R) and atheist scholar Richard Dawkins walk to their debate in the Sheldonian Theatre in Oxford, central England, February 23, 2012. REUTERS/Andrew Winning