Catholicism and gay rights do not find harmony in this South American country.
“COFFEE IS A SERIOUS AS A SACRAMENT,” I read as I walked down Avenue José Pardo in the Miraflores district of Lima on a January summer morning. As someone who saved coffee for rare occasions, I didn’t see it as serious. On top of that, comparing the beverage to a Catholic ritual shocked me.
Yes, summer in January. This is Peru, in the southern hemisphere.
Peru is a devout Catholic country with rosaries sold at markets and taxi drivers making the sign of the cross when passing the many churches. According to countrystudies.us, only 4.5 % of Peruvians identify as Protestant. The heavy Catholic influence is woven into the country’s politics: The archbishop plays a role in the government and has had significant influence in the passage of laws.
According to a March 2016 Telesur article, Archbishop Javier del Río of Arequipa, Peru’s second-largest city, declared it a “sin” to vote for left-leaning presidential candidates who champion abortion and gay rights.
Many Catholics share the belief that marriage is a sacred bond reserved for a man and a woman. Because of this, same-sex marriage is illegal in Peru. While being gay itself is not criminalized, it is considered taboo, and many LGBT Peruvian residents must be careful not to express affection in public because of widespread opposition to LGBT rights.
Walter Estrada, 64, and his wife Carmen, 63, of Miraflores, agree the Catholic Church is tolerant toward those who have a homosexual predisposition. They do not believe, however, that gay people should be allowed to marry, citing their religious beliefs. In addition, they say it is wrong for gay people to act on their sexual urges; rather, they should remain celibate.
Mabel Ancajima, 36, of Miraflores, agrees with this sentiment.
“They are my brothers and sisters,” she says, “and I love them. But marriage is for a man and a woman.”
Ancajima has a gay cousin, whom she says she loves very much; however, she doesn’t think he should be allowed to marry a man.
Carlos Bruce is Peru’s first openly gay congressman. A May 2014 NBC News article says his election generated negative responses and gay slurs, which Bruce said he expected. What shocked him, he told NBC, was the support he received. The article also says Bruce has supported a bill that would allow civil unions for same-sex couples. After Congress blocked the bill in 2015, Catholic Bishop Luis Bambarén directed a gay slur against Bruce, according to a March 2015 Splinter article.
Despite opposition from the Catholic church, some Peruvians say they support gay marriage.
Ana Cecilia Gonzales-Vigil, an independent photojournalist, says though she is Catholic, she does not practice the religion; rather, she prefers to explore spirituality. She disagrees with the Catholic Church’s policy and says gay people should be able to marry.
Exploring other parts of the world can sometimes impact a person’s compassion for those who are different, as well as their beliefs. Though Gonzales-Vigil has traveled outside of her home country of Peru, she says she’s always believed in the importance of trusting people because they know in their hearts what they want. She said she never believed that being gay was wrong or a sin, but instead as something that is part of someone’s nature.
“It’s free will,” Gonzales-Vigil says. “People should definitely be free to choose who they want to live with. This is all about love. It’s not about gender. The same rules should apply to everyone.”
Freddy Castillo, 29, of Surquillo, a district of Lima, is gay. He says that though he is agnostic, he has encountered people, such as his own parents, who don’t understand his being gay.
Luis Olivares, 17, also of Surquillo, says he and his family are Catholic, and as a result, his family disapproves of his being gay as well.
Castillo and Olivares say the intolerance they face stems from a lack of understanding.
“I think about a world where we can exist together peacefully, regardless of who we’re attracted to,” Olivares said.