Jesuit priest and AIDS activist denounces criminalisation of homosexuality

By Ecumenical News International
April 2, 2009

A Zambian AIDS activist and Jesuit priest, Michael Kelly, has called for the decriminalisation of same-sex relations, and said that the existence of laws banning such relations was fanning the spread of HIV - writes Rodrick Mukumbira.

"The continued prevalence of such laws is driving people in same-sex relations underground and making authorities stubborn to the fact that even prisoners are having sex in prison," Kelly told a workshop on the role of the media and parliamentary involvement on HIV and AIDS, held in the Zambian capital on 17 March 2009.

The priest said that instead of "criminalising" sexual orientation, southern African countries should follow the South African example and legalise gay partnerships, "to ensure access to prevention and treatment, as well as the involvement of these people and prisoners in the battle against the epidemic".

Still, Kelly later told Ecumenical News International, "I am not saying I support men-to-men sex."

The Lusaka workshop was organized by the parliamentary forum of the Southern African Development Community and Panos, a media and communication network.

Originally from Tullamore in Ireland, Kelly has lived and worked in Zambia for more than 50 years. He has been professor emeritus of education at the University of Zambia since 2001 [,] and also acted in an advisory capacity on AIDS to United Nations bodies as well as to the World Bank and to governments throughout Africa and around the world.

In his workshop address, Kelly said priority should be given to access to prevention and treatment, instead of legislation against same-sex relations and he described himself as an advocate of distributing condoms to prisoners.

He also said he was concerned about a "strong push" in Africa, the Caribbean, Latin America and some parts of Asia to introduce laws that would make it a criminal offence to transmit HIV or expose others to the virus.

While describing such a move as legitimate in cases where women or children became infected through sexual violence, Kelly said the application of criminal law to HIV transmission would be self-defeating.

It would, he added, "neither achieve criminal justice nor stem the transmission of the virus … Criminalising HIV transmission may even favour the conditions that make an enormous contribution to this very transmission, namely, the stigmatisation of those with HIV, silence, and ignorance of one's personal HIV status and increasing the vulnerability of women."

He said, "Bad laws, like faulty condoms and unsafe medical supplies, can spread the virus."

[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches.]

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