Church’s gay debate can help bring about change in global attitudes

Prejudice and misguided beliefs mean that even in these more enlightened times, gays and lesbians are still not treated equally in society. Although awareness and tolerance have been growing, discrimination remains common.

Hopes were high when the Vatican raised the question of wider acceptance for homosexuality early this month. In a draft paper for discussion, it said homosexuals had gifts and qualities to offer, and that same-sex partners also gave precious support to one another. Although the positions were later watered down in the face of fierce criticism from traditionalists, they still failed to get majority support from senior bishops to become the church’s official stance.

The opposition is hardly surprising. The Holy See has been a leading voice against homosexuality. Although Pope Francis appears to be in favour of a less critical stance, resistance at the top echelon remains strong.

The outcome has understandably disappointed those who hope the church could become more accommodating towards sexual minorities. But comfort is to be found in the vote. While the change fell short of the two-thirds support to be adopted, more than half voted in favour. The issues are expected to be addressed when the assembly, known as the Synod, meets again in October next year.

Like it or not, discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation is still commonplace across cultures and societies. The problem is equally prevalent in Hong Kong. An ongoing review of the existing anti-discrimination legislations by the Equal Opportunities Commission has been misunderstood as paving the way for legalising gay marriage. The Hong Kong Catholic diocese said it held an open mind towards the issues, but it raised eyebrows when a member of pastoral commission staff came forward at the end of a mass last Sunday. He urged followers to voice opposition, and presented a sample letter for submission to the anti-discrimination watchdog.

The crusade for equal rights and opportunities for sexual minorities goes beyond tweaking the church’s position. Being the world’s oldest institution makes the church also the most conservative. But if the church recognises the need for a change in attitude, there is no reason why the rest of the world cannot see the issue from a different light. The Vatican has proved that gay issues are not untouchable. It is to be hoped that the debate can instil positive change in social attitudes at large.