The head of the Church of England Justin Welby will meet with gay activist Peter Tatchell to discuss gay marriage and LGBT rights in Africa.
Welby, who became Archbishop of Canterbury and head of the Anglican church worldwide this year, pledged to meet Tatchell today after the veteran campaigner sent him an open letter questioning the church’s attitudes on LGBT issues.
Welby described Tatchell’s letter as ‘thoughtful’ and said he would meet him after Easter.
In his letter, issued this morning, Tatchell writes: ‘I hope you will use your new authority to guide the church to accept equality and human rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people.
‘Just over a decade ago, you expressed harsh homophobic opinions, condemning gay relationships and the adoption of children by same-sex couples. You may have since revised these views but even now you oppose marriage equality.
‘One of your first public statements, when you were confirmed as Archbishop of Canterbury last month, was to declare your support for discrimination against gay people: namely your support for the legal ban on same-sex civil marriage [in the UK].
‘You say that you are listening to the concerns of the LGBT community but you continue to ignore and reject our claim for equal marriage rights. It does not feel like you are listening. Or perhaps you listening but not hearing?’
He goes on to raise issues beyond Britain – including the actions of some Anglican leaders in Africa.
Tatchell writes: ‘The Anglican churches of Nigeria and Uganda are supporting draconian new anti-gay bills that are currently before their respective parliaments.
‘Uganda’s Anti Homosexuality Bill intensifies the criminalization of LGBT people, including life imprisonment for mere sexual touching and the death penalty for repeat gay offenders. It also outlaws same-sex marriage, LGBT organizations and gay human rights advocacy.
‘Similar repression, excluding the death penalty, is enshrined in the Nigerian Same-Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Bill.
‘I urge you to speak out against these totalitarian homophobic proposals.’
But Tatchell appears to feel Welby may be more open to LGBT rights than his predecessors.
He says: ‘I note with encouragement recent statements by you that may indicate a softening of your stance and a greater openness to LGBT equality.
‘Most commendably, you support strengthening gay relationships and recognize that love between people of the same sex is no less than that of heterosexual couples.
‘I understand and appreciate that you want to maintain Anglican unity and prevent a split in the communion. But is sacrificing LGBT equal rights morally justifiable in order to secure this goal? Is it a price worth paying to keep the church united?
‘I urge you: Be a moral leader for universal human rights, including the human rights of LGBT people.’
In response, Welby requested a meeting saying ‘I would like to explain what I think to you without the mediation of the press, and listen to you in return’.
And he added Tatchell’s letter ‘requires much though and the points it makes are powerful’.