Geneva, 25 January 2023 – Pope Francis’ unequivocal stance on ‘unjust’ laws criminalising consensual same-sex relations is much-welcomed development, ILGA World said today, calling on the Holy See to actively support decriminalisation efforts worldwide.

In an interview with Associated Press, the head of the Roman Catholic Church unequivocally stated that “being homosexual is not a crime”. He also reminded all those who believe that diverse sexual orientations are sinful that “it is also a sin to lack charity with one another.”

ILGA World data indicate that 66 UN member States continue to criminalise consensual same-sex sexual relations to date. Over the past two years, Bhutan, Antigua and Barbuda, Saint Kitts and Nevis, and Singapore scrapped these laws off their books. Barbados also moved towards the same direction with a judicial decision.

The mere existence of criminalising laws is sufficient for people of diverse sexual orientations and gender expressions to live perpetually under threat. ILGA World reviewed hundreds of cases over the last two decades in which law enforcement subjected LGBT and gender-diverse persons to fines, arbitrary arrests, prosecutions, corporal punishments, imprisonments and more – up to (possibly) the death penalty. Governments often dismiss these provisions as ‘dormant regulations’, but there is evidence of how these laws can come back to life after years spent as a mere threatening presence on the books.

Today, Pope Francis declared the Catholic Church can and should work to put an end to these ‘unjust’ laws.

“We could not agree more with these words, ” said Luz Elena Aranda and Tuisina Ymania Brown, co-Secretaries General at ILGA World. “Such a simple statement has now the potential to initiate a much-needed change and will provide relief to millions of persons in our communities across the world.”

“Temporary relief, however, will not be enough for those whose life and existence are constantly at risk”, added Julia Ehrt, executive director at ILGA World. “We urge the Holy See to turn these words into concrete action. The Catholic Church and its institutions can and should play an active role in supporting decriminalisation efforts across the world and within the United Nations and multilateral fora, where demands to scrap these profoundly wrong laws have long been reiterated.

In 2019, ILGA World was part of a delegation of global LGBTI leaders that met in Vatican City with the Roman Catholic Church in a private audience.

On that historic occasion, an unequivocal call was made to take action in the face of violence, discrimination, and criminalisation against LGBTI people. Back then, Cardinal Parolin pointed out that the Church is against all forms of violence, and supported respecting the dignity of all persons. He also vowed to convey all information to Pope Francis to continue the dialogue.

Today’s declaration marks a significant step forward from that conversation, and we hope this can be a turning point towards justice, meaningful respect, and compassionate acceptance for LGBTIQ people of all faiths,” continue Aranda and Brown. “Today we are especially reminded of the power of leadership to affect positive change. At ILGA World, we honour those activists and defenders who have fought long and hard for these moments, including the many LGBTIQ people of faith who have lost their lives because of the violence and discrimination perpetuated by organised religion.”