The Global Backlash To America's Gay Rights Triumph

American evangelicals are taking their fight overseas.
RAUL ARBOLEDA via Getty Images

Archbishop Stanley Ntagali of the Anglican Church of Uganda called last month's Supreme Court’s decision on marriage an " immoral virus." The president of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe, called American leaders "perverted Satan-worshipers." Kenya’s deputy president, William Ruto, reportedly promised to defend his country from "dirty things."

These comments -- all delivered in the wake of the court’s landmark ruling on Obergefell v. Hodges, which legalized same-sex marriage throughout the United States -- illustrate a dynamic that has been worrying the international LGBT community for years now: As American evangelicals lose traction at home, they are increasingly finding receptive audiences abroad. Advocates on both sides of the aisle predict the Supreme Court’s ruling will bolster evangelicals' efforts against LGBT rights overseas.

"If you live in the United States, it’s easy to be lulled into thinking that the battle for broader civil rights for gay people is nearly over," Rev. Dr. Kapya Kaoma, a researcher with Political Research Associates, a think tank focused on the American conservative movement, wrote in an op-ed last year.

"But not only is that far from true here, in many other parts of the world the culture wars have only just begun as the most ardent U.S. culture warrior’s vitriol is finding a far more receptive audience abroad," Kaoma, who is also the author of American Culture Warriors in Africa, continued.

In a forthcoming opinion piece for Religion Dispatches, Kaoma outlines African leaders' responses to the Supreme Court ruling.

"As long as they continue to promote their false framework of homosexuality being an attack on Christianity, wherein the Supreme Court ruling is a supposed precursor to the West forcing the 'gay agenda' on Africa, many Africans will continue to find such propaganda attractive," he writes.

This phenomenon is not confined to African countries. On Friday, a group of advocates and researchers from around the world came together for a panel discussion at Netroots Nation about how American anti-LGBT activists are contributing to the globalization of homophobia. These evangelicals have helped build support for anti-gay laws not only in Africa but also in Russia, Eastern Europe, the Caribbean and South America, the panelists said.

While Christian conservatives are positioning themselves in the United States as a persecuted minority that deserves the right to refrain from participating in same-sex weddings, they are taking a different approach abroad.

"In the United States, as they’ve lost public opinion and now the marriage battle, they’re sort of saying 'all we want is to live and let live,'" said Peter Montgomery, the senior fellow at progressive advocacy group People For the American Way who organized the panel.

"But they don’t want live and let live," he continued. "Around the world they’re supporting laws that make LGBT people criminals and in some cases even supporting laws that make LGBT advocacy illegal."

The most famous proponent of this strategy is Scott Lively of Abiding Truth Ministries, who has written such anti-gay books as 7 Steps to Recruit-Proof Your Child and stated that "there is no question that homosexuality figures prominently in the history of the Holocaust."

Lively was one of three American evangelicals who gave a series of high-profile talks in Uganda in 2009 linking homosexuality to pedophilia and bestiality. A month after his visit, some of the lawmakers and government officials he had met with released a draft of Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act of 2009, which called for the execution of gay people by hanging. Lively has been sued by a gay-rights group for alleged "crimes against humanity" related to his work in Uganda, and is scheduled to be called upon this fall to defend his practices as he stands trial in a U.S. federal court. He also conducted a 50-city tour in the former Soviet Union in 2006 and 2007, during which he warned people about the perils of homosexuality.

Lively is among those who see the Supreme Court ruling as boon to American evangelicals seeking to extend their influence abroad. In an email to The Huffington Post, he wrote that the ruling will "strengthen the resolve of the international pro-family movement to pass legislation opposing LGBT radicalism in various countries around the world."

Lively added that he thought American progressives may come to regret the ruling. "We may even see push-back from some progressives who will likely eventually start to recognize and value the natural family as humanity's eco-system and move to protect it in the same manner they currently work to protect other threatened eco-systems," he said.

Gillian Kane, another panelist and researcher with Political Research Associates, said it was too early to see just how the Supreme Court ruling would shape the international anti-gay movement but that she also anticipated backlash to the decision.

"What’s notable is that they have all their pieces in place," she told HuffPost. "There’s going to be a backlash, but the backlash is enabled because they’ve already developed their overseas partners, they’ve had the litigation, they’re ready to go into action."

Kane released a report last week on the rapidly expanding presence of the Alliance Defending Freedom -- a Christian advocacy and litigation firm founded in 1994 by several of the United States largest evangelical ministries -- in South America. ADF is a the "legal army" for the global Christian right, and its Global Initiative, founded in 2010, claims to have been involved in over 500 "religious liberty cases" in more than 40 countries, Kane said.

ADF did not respond to The Huffington Post’s request for comment.

CORRECTION: This article originally stated that Kapya Kaoma attended the Netroots Nation panel. An organizer of the panel told HuffPost that Kaoma was unable to attend and was replaced at the last minute.

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