By Hugo Greenhalgh
LONDON, Dec 16 (Openly) - Almost 400 global religious leaders, including anti-apartheid campaigner Desmond Tutu and Britain's Bishop of Liverpool, called on Wednesday for countries to overturn bans on same-sex relations and end LGBT+ conversion therapy.
Sixty-nine United Nations member states still outlaw gay sex, according to the 2020 State-Sponsored Homophobia report released by the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA World) on Tuesday.
Only Brazil, Ecuador, Malta and Germany have instituted forms of nationwide bans on conversion therapy, which aims to alter a person's sexual orientation or gender identity.
Organised by the Ozanne Foundation charity, the declaration has been signed by faith leaders from 35 countries, including representatives of the world's main religions, and former Irish President Mary McAleese, a prominent member of the Roman Catholic Church.
The announcement, which marks the launch of the Global Interfaith Commission on LGBT+ Lives, will be made on Wednesday at a virtual conference of global faith representatives funded by Britain's foreign ministry (FCDO).
Wendy Morton, Britain's junior foreign minister, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation that the declaration marked "an important step towards equality".
"We fully support its call to end violence, discrimination and the ongoing criminalisation of same-sex conduct in 69 countries," she said in emailed comments, describing conversion therapy as "an abhorrent practice and should be stopped".
McAleese said the joint statement represented "a small step towards countering (homophobia)".
"But it's a necessary step to remind the faith systems of the world and people of faith that they have an obligation to their fellow citizens who are also entitled to the full dignity of their humanity and their full equal human rights," she said.
The declaration also acknowledges "with profound regret" that religious teachings through the centuries have "caused and continue to cause deep pain and offence to those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex".
Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner, former senior rabbi to Reform Judaism - which groups 41 independent synagogues - said the statement was partly about acknowledging that "our religions ... still have a lot that we are culpable for".
"It would be lovely to say it has nothing to do with us, but our religious traditions have driven conversion therapy, particularly," she added.
To date, the declaration has been signed by religious leaders including Christians, Jews, Sikhs, Hindus, Buddhists and Muslims.
"I think the Muslim community is ready for this conversation," said Imam Muhsin Hendricks, who founded the Masjidul Ghurbaah Mosque in Cape Town, South Africa, one of the world's few LGBT-inclusive mosques.
"I'm currently training with six imams from different parts of Africa and the openness to look at this issue (is incredible)," he said.
"I'm really amazed and excited because 10 years ago this kind of training with imams was not possible. So I do think the community is ready."
(Reporting by Hugo Greenhalgh @hugo_greenhalgh; Editing by Helen Popper. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)
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