Navigating the Intersection of Religion and LGBTQI+ Human Rights: Recent Developments and Ongoing Challenges

I. Introduction

Amidst the continuous global struggle for LGBTQI+ rights, recent progress within religious institutions presents an opportunity for positive momentum. Oppressive laws are still being enacting in many countries, including recent legislation on Ghana targeting the LGBTQI+ community. Even in the United States, there appears to be increasing pushback on the expansion of LGBTQI+ rights. Despite ongoing challenges, the advancement of acceptance within traditionally conservative religious communities signals a shift in attitudes towards sexual orientation. The stride towards equality show that a more inclusive world can be achieved for all individuals – regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, or religious affiliation.

II. Background

A. Human Rights of the LGBTQI+ Community

The LGBTQI+ community has persistently faced struggles in securing basic human rights across the globe.[1] While there have been improvements in acceptance of LGBTQI+ individuals across different communities, including religious ones over the past decade, discrimination and legal inequalities still run rampant for gay, transgender, and queer individuals.

Sixty-seven countries still criminalize same-sex relations between consenting adults with punishments ranging anywhere from monetary fines all the way to death.[2] Nine countries have laws criminalizing forms of gender expression aimed directly at transgender and non-binary individuals.[3] These laws are not just old relics reflecting attitudes held decades ago; countries are actively adopting new legislation targeting the LGBTQI+ community.[4]

Recently, Ghana’s parliament unanimously passed the Human Sexual Rights and Family Values Bill.[5] Now that the has been passed, anyone who identifies as “gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, pansexual, nonbinary, queer … or any other sexual or gender identity that is contrary to the binary categories of male and female” can face up to three years in prison merely for identifying as such.[6] Additionally, under this law, mere allyship with the LGBTQ+ community could carry a sentence of up to five years in prison.[7]

While legal rights are a key indicator of human rights secured to the LGBTQI+ community, the discussion should not end there. Another important factor to consider is the social acceptance of the LGBTQI+ community. Social acceptance impacts the opportunities afforded to the community, the physical and mental safety of LGBTQI+ individuals, and policies impacting the community.[8] Globally, statistics on social acceptance are grim, with only sixty-three out of 175 analyzed countries scoring higher than a five out of ten on their social acceptance of LGBTQI+ people.[9] Further, out of these countries, fifty-seven saw a decrease in acceptance compared to prior years, while only fifty-six saw an increase in acceptance.[10]

Even in countries that may appear progressive in accepting and protecting the rights of LGBTQI+ community, the safety, liberties, and freedoms of the community are still in threat. The United States ranks well in the international scope for legal rights and social acceptance of LGBTQI+ people.[11]However, a glance at recent news makes it clear that the LGBTQI+ community is far from secure in their human rights in the United States. Legislatures across the country are looking to roll back the rights of LGBTQI+ people.[12] Tragically, negative social attitudes towards the community have also been in the news with the death of non-binary child Nex Benedict, who was beaten by classmates.[13] Benedict’s death was ruled a suicide and occurred the day after the beating; their family reported that they were experiencing bullying because of their gender-identity and the attack was a part of such bullying.[14] LGBTQI+ individuals’ safety and freedoms are in danger even in countries like the United States that are considered accepting and protective of the LGBTQI+ community.

B. Implications

Internationally, members of the LGBTQI+ community face severe consequences simply for being who they are.[15] While some of these consequences, such as the death penalty sentence for loving someone are glaringly obvious, others are more subtle but equally damaging. Isolation, harassment, and stress are pervasive, leading to higher rates of substance abuse, sexual risk taking, and both physical and mental health issues.[16] Discrimination exacerbates these issues, making it even harder for LGBTQI+ to live normal lives. Obstacles in finding employment or stable housing can prevent access to basic needs like food, healthcare, and maintaining good mental health.[17] The discrimination the LGBTQI+ community faces in health care settings may cause them to be less likely to seek help for these mental and physical health issues.[18] Aside from physical and mental well-being, the economic well-being of LGBTQI+ individuals is also gravely impacted by the denial of equality and human rights through discrimination in the workforce.[19]

C. The Struggle

The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) takes the clear stance that “[d]iscrimination against LGBTI people undermines human rights principles outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”[20] The provisions of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) that are implicated by this human rights issue include Articles 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, and 16, all which deal with “the rights to equality; freedom from discrimination; life, liberty, and personal security; freedom from torture and degrading treatment; recognition as a person before the law; equality before the law; and the rights to marry and have a family.”[21] The OHCHR specifically states that member states of the United Nation have “core legal obligations to “[p]rotect individuals from homophobic and transphobic violence; [p]revent torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment; [r]epeal laws criminalizing same sex relations and transgender people; [p]rohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity; [and] [s]afeguard freedoms of expression, association and peaceful assembly for LGBTI people.”[22]

III. Analysis

Despite a clear call from the OHCHR to protect the basic human rights of LGBTQI+, many nations fail to fulfil these “core legal obligations.”[23] One driving reason for this could be the significant role religion has in shaping attitudes toward the LGBTQI+ community.[24] Research has continuously shown that religious adherents report more negative and prejudicial attitudes towards the LGBTQI+ community than those who do not identify with any religion.[25] Many religions have interpreted their religious texts to contain passages that condemn homosexuality.[26] The more literal of an approach religious individuals take towards religious texts, the more likely they are to oppose equal rights and acceptance for LGBTQI+ individuals.[27]

While religious freedom is an important human right that deserves protection, religious freedom and the freedoms and rights of LGBTQI+ individuals are not mutually exclusive. Ensuring respect to individuals religious views as well as individual’s sexual and gender identity can co-exist.[28]

Recent events in the intersection of religion and LGBTQI+ human rights may signal positive progress in this area. Two of the three major branches of Christianity – Catholicism and Eastern Orthodox – both have recently made news for shifts in their attitudes and stances on same-sex marriage.[29] Both advancements offer a unique discussion on how to effectuate change for traditionally “conservative” religious views toward acceptance of the LGBTQI+ community.

A. Eastern Orthodox Christianity

Last month, Greece made history by becoming the first Orthodox Christian country to legalize same-sex marriage.[30] This bill also confers full parental rights on married same-sex couples with children – a liberty they did not enjoy before.[31] While same-sex civil unions were previously allowed since 2015, legal guardianship was only conferred to biological parents of children in same-sex relationships.[32]

This bill was passed in opposition to the “influential, socially conservative” Greek Orthodox Church.[33] Leaders of the church have released statements forbidding members from entering into same-sex unions and have been unanimously opposed to this recently passed law.[34] In Greece, an overwhelming majority of citizens – anywhere from 81 to 90 percent –  identify as Greek Orthodox.[35] This proves that human rights of LGBTQI+ people do not have to be denied in the name of religion. Despite a supermajority of Greece’s population identifying with a religion that does not permit same-sex unions, laws providing equality to same-sex couples are being passed in this country. Experts also signal that Greece may not be the only country to see same-sex marriage legalized soon.[36]

B. Catholicism

The Catholic Church has historically been notorious for its conservative stances on the LGBTQI+ community.[37] Recently, however, Pope Francis made statements taking a more progressive stance on same-sex marriage and acceptance of the LGBTQI+ community.[38]

Pope Francis, the leader of the Catholic church, released a statement in late 2023 saying that the Catholic church would provide blessings to same-sex marriages.[39] The Pope stood strong in face of criticism of this decision and even called out Catholic’s opposed to the decision saying: “Nobody gets scandalized if I give my blessings to a businessman who perhaps exploits people, and this is a very grave sin. But they get scandalized if I give them to a homosexual… This is hypocrisy.”[40]

With just a slight majority of Catholics favoring or strongly favoring same-sex marriage, the Pope’s new decisions may effectuate more acceptance of same-sex unions and perhaps other LGBTQI+ identifying people.[41] Research shows that the positions religious communities and the leaders of these communities take can impact individuals’ views on these issues.[42] With 50% of Christians and 17% (1.1 billion) of the world’s population identifying as Catholic, the Pope’s accepting attitude toward LGBTQI+ individuals has the potential to shape a large sect of the population’s acceptance on these issues in a positive way.[43]

C. Barriers Still Faced

While the recent events in Greece and statements from the Pope show progress towards the acceptance of same-sex marriage within Christian religions, it is important to note that this only represents a small portion of the LGBTQI+ community. The recent events in this space have not addressed the transgender community and other queer and gender-diverse people. Further, these developments have not occurred in other major religions such as Islam and Judaism. Even within the Christian community, there have been varying responses to these changes.[44]

IV. Conclusion

While progress has been made over the past decades to secure the global LGBTQI+ community’s human rights, there is still a long way to go. Both acceptance and full legal and societal freedom have yet to be achieved. Furthermore, most progress has been focused on marriage equality for same-sex couples. While the recent events in sects of Christianity may present a further opportunity for advancement, there is pushback from individuals and authority within those communities.

[1] LGBTQI+ Free and Equal NOT Criminalized, United Nations,, (last visited Mar. 20, 2024).

[2]#OUTLAWED “THE LOVE THAT DARE NOT SPEAK ITS NAME”, Human Rights Watch,, (last visited Mar. 20, 2024). The 67 countries that criminalize same-sex conduct are: Afghanistan, Algeria, Bangladesh, Brunei, Burundi, Cameroon, Chad, Comoros, Dominica, Egypt, Eritrea, Eswatini, Ethiopia, Gambia, Ghana, Grenada, Guinea, Guyana, Iran, Jamaica, Kenya, Kiribati, Kuwait, Lebanon, Liberia, Libya, Malawi, Malaysia, Maldives, Mauritania, Morocco, Myanmar, Namibia, Nigeria, Occupied Palestinian Territory (Gaza Strip), Oman, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Qatar, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and The Grenadines, Samoa, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Solomon Islands, Somalia, South Sudan, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Syria, Tanzania, Togo, Tonga, Tunisia, Turkmenistan, Tuvalu, Uganda, United Arab Emirates, Uzbekistan, Yemen, Zambia, Zimbabwe.

The nine countries that criminalize forms of gender expression are: Brunei, Malawi, Malaysia, Oman, Saudi Arabia, South Sudan, Tonga, United Arab Emirates.

[3] Id.

[4] Emma Ogao, Ghana’s parliament passes controversial new anti-LGBTQ bill, ABC News, (Feb. 29, 2024),, (last visited Mar. 20, 2024).

[5] Id.

[6] Id.

[7] Id.

[8] Andrew R. Flores, Social Acceptance of LGBT People in 174 Countries, 1981 to 2017, Williams Institute (Oct. 2019),, (last visited Mar. 20, 2024).

[9] Id. This study used a Global Acceptance Index to measure acceptance of the 175 studied countries. The index was created through an advanced statistics model using data from a compilation of surveys and studies taken worldwide. “The resulting dataset included 6,198 country-question-years (meaning results for a particular country in a particular year for a particular question) under analysis with 98 different question wordings, 175 different countries and locations, and 37 years. The combined individual-level sample involves 7,059,822 responses to questions relating to LGBTI people and rights.”

[10] Id.

[11]  Id. US ranked 23 out of 175 for social acceptance. Kate Sosin, United States scores a C on global LGBTQ+ human rights scorecard, The 19th, (Sept. 22, 2023), (last visited Mar. 20, 2024). The US ranks 31 out of 136 for human rights.

[12] Mapping Attacks on LGBTQ Rights in U.S. State Legislatures in 2024, American Civil Liberties Union, (Mar. 1, 2024),, (last visited Mar. 20, 2024).

[13] Bevan Hurley, Oklahoma banned trans students from bathrooms. Now Nex Benedict is dead after a fight at school, The Independent, (Feb. 20, 2024),, (last visited Mar. 20, 2024).

[14] Sean Murphy, A nonbinary student’s death after a high school fight has been ruled a suicide. Here’s what to know, AP News, (March 14, 2024),

[15] Suzanne M. Marks, MPH, MA, Global Recognition of Human Rights for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender People, Health Hum Rights. 2006; 9(1): 33–42, (May 31, 2017), and Human Rights Watch, supra note 2.

[16] Marks, supra note 15.

[17] Id.

[18] Caroline Medina and Lindsay Mahowald, Discrimination and Barriers to Well-Being: The state of the LGBTQI+ Community in 2022, (January 12, 2023),, (last visited Mar. 20, 2024). More than 1 in 5 LGBTQI+ adults reported postponing or avoiding medical care in the past year due to disrespect or discrimination by providers, including more than 1 in 3 transgender or nonbinary individuals.


[20] United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner, About LGBTI people and human rights, OHCHR and the human rights of LGBTI people,, (last visited Mar. 20, 2024).

[21] Marks, supra note 15.

[22] OHCHR, supra note 20.

[23]OHCHR, supra note 20 and Human Rights Watch, supra note 2.

[24] Sue Westwood, Religious-based negative attitudes towards LGBTQ people among healthcare, social care and social work student and professionals: A review of international literature, PubMed Central, (Apr. 9, 2022),

[25] Lilith Roggeman et al., Religion and Negative Attitudes towards Homosexuals: An Analysis of Urban Young People and Their Attitudes towards Homosexuality, Sage Journals, (July 26, 2015),, (last visited Mar. 20, 2024).

[26] Religious Groups’ Official Position on Same-Sex Marriage, Pew Research Center, (Dec. 7, 2012),, (last visited Mar. 20, 2024).

[27] Westwood, supra note 24.   

[28] United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner, Freedom of religion or belief not incompatible with equality for LGBT persons, United Nations, (June 21, 2023),, (last visited Mar. 20, 2024).

[29] Editors, Christianity,, (Aug. 3, 2021),, (last visited Mar. 20, 2024). “Christianity is broadly split into three branches: Catholic, Protestant and (Eastern) Orthodox.”

[30] Nicholas Paphitis, Greece becomes first Orthodox Christian country to legalize same-sex civil marriage, AP News, (Feb. 15, 2024),, (last visited Mar. 20, 2024).

[31] Id.

[32] Id.

[33] Id.

[34] Peter Smith and Dasha Litvinova, Greece just legalized same-sex marriage. Will other Orthodox countries join them any time soon?, AP News, (Feb. 16, 2024),, (last visited Mar. 20, 2024).

[35] Id.

[36] Id. Director of Orthodox Studies at Fordham University, George Demacopoulos, believes that the Orthodox countries in the European Union will all eventually legalize same-sex marriage despite resistance from the Orthodox Church.

[37] Bill Chappell, Vatican Says Catholic Church Cannot Bless Same-Sex Marriages, NPR, (Mar 15, 2021),, (last visited Mar. 20, 2024).

[38] Reuters, Pope denounces ‘hypocrisy’ of those who criticize LGBTQ blessings, NBC News, (Feb. 7, 2024),, (last visited Mar. 20, 2024).

[39] Philip Pullella, Vatican approves blessings for same-sex couples in landmark ruling, Reuters, (Dec. 18, 2023),, (last visited Mar. 20, 2024).

[40] Reuters, supra note 39.

[41] Views about same-sex marriage among Catholics, Pew Research Center,, (last visited Mar. 20, 2024). 57% of Catholics surveyed favor or strongly favor same-sex marriage.

[42]  Abigail Vegter and Donald P. Haider-Markel, The Special Role of Religion in LGBT-Related Attitudes, Oxford, (Nov. 19, 2020),;jsessionid=7BB66477D1D2AF72B880F035F189B9E3?rskey=7RH7D3&result=10, (last visited Mar. 20, 2024). “These positions and the elites who hold them often influence the attitudes of their congregants, but not always, as some congregations diverge from the official positions of their denominations in terms of attitudes toward LGBT rights, religious leadership, and congregational membership.”

[43] The Global Catholic Population, Pew Research Center, (Feb. 13, 2013),, (last visited Mar. 20, 2024).

[44] Reuters, supra note 39. African Bishops have rejected the Pope’s announcement that same-sex marriages can be blessed.