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Honduras Measure to Ban Same-Sex Marriage Mobilizes Rights Groups

Sponsor of the proposal, backed by a burgeoning evangelical movement, slams acceptance of gay unions in parts of the U.S. and Europe.

January 19, 2005|Reed Johnson | Times Staff Writer

Honduras' gay community, like those of most Central American countries, is small and politically weak by U.S. or European standards. Though homosexuality is not illegal, only about 5,000 people belong to the country's eight or so gay rights organizations. There are no identifiably "gay" neighborhoods in Tegucigalpa, a city of more than 1 million, Medina says.

As in other countries, gay activism in Honduras was spurred by the global AIDS crisis in the early and mid-1980s. Although the crisis galvanized gays politically, it also may have reinforced the Honduran public's negative impressions of homosexuals.

"The papers here in our country have been very coarse, very stupid. They have been very yellow," says Marco Antonio Lopez, coordinator general of the Violet Collective, the nation's oldest gay rights group. "These crude conservatives ... are bothering us a great deal, more when we are in [an election] year."

Despite the attention that's been showered on the issue, Medina and other activists say that obtaining marriage and adoption rights is less urgent for gays in Honduras than passing legislation against workplace discrimination or curbing police brutality against homosexuals.

"Our priority now is the right to live," Medina says.

But opponents of gay marriage believe they're helping to curb a host of related pathologies and moral failings.

Canales, 45, believes that homosexuality is one of several behaviors destroying traditional Honduran family life, which, he acknowledges, has its own grave problems. He believes lesbianism is increasing because of heterosexual domestic violence against women, a byproduct of what he disapprovingly calls a macho culture.

Canales, who has preached at the Angelus Temple in Los Angeles and will be attending a White House breakfast with Bush in February, also says the controversy over gay marriage in the U.S. has helped shape the debate in Latin nations.

"Clearly, it reverberates in these countries," he says.

Canales says he chose to situate his sprawling church in the capital's poor, haphazard Comayaguela district to minister to the area's prostitutes and drug addicts.

Donny Reyes chose to start a gay rights group, Arcoiris, in the area for the same reasons. Reyes, 29, wants the new group to reach out to a younger, wider cross-section of gays and lesbians.

Reyes and his boyfriend, Ariel Medina, 21, don't know whether the amendment will pass, but they're resolved to keep fighting. "Perhaps we will not win the battle," Medina says, "but we will continue with the war."

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