Pope Francis, Gay Marriage – and Africa.

In the Philippines, Pope Francis made some observations about marriage when addressing a gathering of families, that have been widely interpreted as an attack on gay marriage, urging people to resist pressures to “colonize” the family. (Read the full text here)

At Bondings 2.0, Frank DeBenardo has a thoughtful reflection on the Pope’s message, which he describes as “problematic”. I have not yet read the actual text, or detailed reports of it, so withhold comment on the message itself, concerning marriage. Read instead, DeBenardo’s thoughts.  However, he does include a useful observation on the word “colonization” that this may have been prompted by the concerns of African bishops at the family synod. As an African myself, this struck me as important. 

Like DeBenardo,  I’m more troubled by the term “colonization” of the family. Making the connection to the African bishop’s concerns is probably appropriate, but as he notes, their concerns were based on two major misapprehensions. The first is that “homosexuality” was a colonial import. It was not.  There is abundant evidence from reports by the earliest colonial explorers that same sex relationships, and transgender lifestyles, were a common feature in many African societies, in all regions of the continent. These were later confirmed, studied and described by academic social anthropologists.  It was not “homosexuality” that was introduced from the West, but homophobia and the criminalization of social relationships that fell outside Western codes.

There was a second false claim by African bishops at the synod, where (I think) the term “colonization” was used, or implies – the claim that the West is trying to blackmail African governments into accepting gay marriage, with the treat of withholding aid. That claim is completely false – Western pressures have nothing to do with gay marriage, but concern only pressure over criminalization and outright persecution of gay people.

That desire, to avoid and oppose persecution, should be strongly supported by Catholic bishops as a matter of faith. The fact that it is so badly misinterpreted and misrepresented by the African bishops is an example of what I have frequently warned about: Africans have such a strong horror of colonialism and anything that even appears to be a form of neo-colonialism, that they will suspect its presence where it does not in fact exist. The desire to promote gay rights in Africa is natural and good – but those in the West must be extremely sensitive to Africans own sensitivities – and apply serious thought and care in selecting our methods and language – or our good intentions can easily backfire and become counterproductive.


Amadiume, Ifi:  Male Daughters, Female Husbands: Gender and Sex in an African Society

Epprecht, Marc: Sexuality and Social Justice in Africa: Rethinking Homophobia and Forging Resistance (African Arguments)

Greenberg, David F:   The Construction of Homosexuality

Murray, Donald O: Boy-Wives and Female Husbands: Studies of African Homosexualities

Naphy, William: Born to be Gay: A History of Homosexuality (Revealing History)

Related Posts:

Natural Families: Africa’s Female Kings and Husbands.

Uganda Martyrs: Charles Lwangwa and companions

David Kato: A New Ugandan Martyr


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