Brazil: homosexuality, religious beliefs and intolerance

Jessica Robineau, translated by Bartlett Kitty
24 Novembre 2015

Brazil is home to the largest Catholic community in the world with 123 million believers out of a total population of 200 million. After attending the World Youth Day celebrations in Rio de Janeiro in 2014, Pope Francis told reporters: “If a person is gay, seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge him?” A year earlier, a law allowing marriage between two people of the same sex was adopted and hypothetically backed by the Catholic Church. Known for its tolerance but also its homophobia, the influence of religion in Brazil is not to be overlooked.

Credit RR
Credit RR
Brazil is the biggest country in South America and the third to approve same-sex marriage but has witnessed a sharp rise in homophobic crimes. According to the NGO Gay Group of Bahia, an LGBT rights group, half of all murders fuelled by homophobia in the world are committed in Brazil. On July 16th, a step in the right direction was made thanks to an anti-discrimination law adopted by the Rio de Janeiro Parliament. The influence of the Church is particularly appreciated during these political decisions. In Brazil, Evangelical churches and especially Pentecostal churches have seen dramatic growth,equally in Parliament.

The Church: a fake player for the cause of homosexuality?

Pope Francis paved the way to allow other representatives of the Church to make a stand more freely. In 2014, Fábio de Melo, a priest infamous for his presence on social media, tweeted: “A civil union between two people of the same sex is not a religious matter, it’s up to the state to decide.”

Dom Antonio Dias Duarte, Auxiliary Bishop of Rio, reminded us that “the Brazilian Church, just as all Churches are, is opposed to it”. According to him, “people of the same sex who decide to live together have to be protected by the state like any other citizen, but this union should not be regarded as a marriage” , as was reported by the newspaper La Croix.

Credit RR
Credit RR
Another ruling given shortly after Dom Antonio Dias Duarte’s message showed the limitations of the Catholic representatives. The Church confirmed the excommunication of a priest accused of heresy after a video was released, during which he admits that love can exist between two people of the same sex.. This is proof that homosexuality remains a taboo subject for the Brazilian Catholic Church, which also proved to be strongly opposed to the law authorizing same-sex couples to adopt.

Fernando, interviewed by the Journal International, said that, as a homosexual, “with the influence of religion in our society, a great number of people are terrified of the idea of going to hell and fully acknowledging their homosexuality. The Brazilian Church can truly disrupt the coming out process.” Despite a handful of religious representatives in favour of the homosexual cause, a part of Brazilian society remains anchored in its religious beliefs. According to Fernando, “one of the major changes was the strong influence of TV shows, where in 2013 we saw the first kiss between two people of the same sex. After the episode was broadcast, people started to become more open.”

Cultural developments

An advertising campaign featuring homosexual couples triggered a war between the ultra-conservatives and those who enjoyed the campaign. For Valentine’s Day, which is celebrated on June 12th in Brazil, the beauty company O Boticário released an ad featuring a number of heterosexual and homosexual couples embracing each other and exchanging gifts with their partners. For some, the video was seen as an attack against traditional values, whereas others were outraged by the criticism towards the ad. This difference in opinion therefore led to a war between the likes and dislikes of their video on Youtube.

The broadcast of this video proved that acceptance of homosexuality goes beyond religious beliefs. Despite the strong influence of the Catholic Church, Brazil is a secular country, although the line separating the Church from the State remains unclear. The preamble of the Constitution explicitly refers to God. It’s adopted “under the protection of God”, despite the fact that this same Constitution forbids the States, Federal District and Counties to “establish religions or churches, subsidise them, hinder their functioning or maintain dependent relations or alliances with them or their representatives” according to Article I-19 of the Constitution.

The Catholic Church, as well as Protestantism today progressively,, are proving that the country is not secular as many Congress members are religious fundamentalists themselves. This is why the homosexual community has no representative in Congress.

The development of Evangelism

Catholicism remains the dominant religion in Brazil even though it has lost ground to Evangelical Protestantism over the past two decades. According to 2010 figures, the number of Brazilians declaring themselves to be Pentecostal has risen by 41% compared to 2000, whereas the amount of Catholics has decreased by 1%. The Universal Church of the Kingdom of God (UCKG) claims 13 million followers in the world, 1.8% of those from Brazil alone: these figures have been on a constant upward curve for the past few years. The most widespread Neo-Pentecostal Church in Brazil, which was created less than 40 years ago, declined to be interviewed by le Journal International.

The economic and political influence of the Neo-Pentecostal Evangelicals was illustrated by the presence of the President, Dilma Rousseff and the Governor of São Paulo, Geraldo Alckmin, during the inauguration of the gigantic replica of the ancient Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem. The Temple was originally built by the UCKG, which became the biggest church in the country but also the most homophobic. Conversely, the contemporary Christian Church, whose scale is much less impressive than the UCKG, accepts both heterosexual and homosexuals. Moreover, a gay cathedral saw the light of day that month.

Credit Iglesia Universal
Credit Iglesia Universal
In the two Federal Assemblies, 73 out of 594 elected representatives declare themselves as belonging to a neo-Pentecostal Church. The votes of the evangelist groups have hampered a number of progressive laws such as, for example, the decriminalisation of abortion. In Brazil, Evangelists make up a big political power.

The state of Rio de Janeiro is taking action

The number of murders and attacks is up 14% since President Dilma Rousseff came to power in early 2011. 312 homosexuals, transvestites and transsexuals were murdered in 2013 which amounts to one murder every 28 hours. In response to these shocking figures, a law against discrimination toward homophobic behaviour was passed by the Rio de Janeiro Government, meaning offenders could face a fine of up to 60,000 dollars. The law forbids discriminatory treatment toward gays and lesbians such as charging a higher tariff for entry to public or private premises. Incitement of acts of violence and of homophobia are also prohibited. This decision has been made as the country is becoming less and less tolerant.

The progressive law has an exception: religious institutions. They will not be submitted to punishment in the case of homophobic discrimination. This exception is in line with the bill passed in 2013, authorising churches to refuse homosexuals wishing to get married or baptise their children within their institution. Religious beliefs and politics do not mix in Parliament, especially in a country deemed to be secular. The Catholic word, which is becoming more and more Evangelist, is powerful and is spreading throughout the country awaiting the establishment of a national law against homophobic crime.