Today's post is by UM & Global blogmaster Dr. David W. Scott, Director of Mission Theology at the General Board of Global Ministries. The opinions and analysis expressed here are Dr. Scott's own and do not reflect in any way the official position of Global Ministries.
After examining the variety of laws and views regarding homosexuality in Africa and the Philippines, this post will examine such laws and views in Europe and Eurasia, the third region of United Methodist presence outside the United States.
As in Africa, Europe and Eurasia is a large region with multiple countries and cultures, so laws and public opinion vary. Moreover, both laws and public opinion are continuing to change, so please excuse any recent developments overlooked by this post.
On the legal side, no countries in Europe criminalize homosexuality. Instead, most of the variation is in the recognition of same-sex relationships, where countries range from banning gay marriage to recognizing same-sex civil unions to recognizing same-sex marriage. As of last year, 17 European countries recognize same-sex marriage, and an additional 11 recognize same-sex civil unions. Romania is moving the direction of recognizing civil unions after a referendum to ban same-sex marriage there failed. Same-sex marriage because legal in Austria on Jan. 1st of this year.
According to a 2017 Pew Research report, supplemented with additional online information, European countries with a UMC presence where same-sex marriage is legal include Austria, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, and Norway. European countries with a UMC presence where same-sex civil unions are legal include Croatia, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, and Switzerland.
European countries with a UMC presence where there is no legal recognition of same-sex relationships include Albania, Belarus, Bulgaria, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Moldova, Poland, Romania, Russia, Slovakia, and Ukraine. Same-sex relationships are also not legally recognized in the central Asian countries where the UMC has congregations. Some European and Eurasian countries that do not permit same-sex marriage have constitutional bans on same-sex marriage, while others encode such bans in elsewhere in their legal system.
This list of laws reflects an overall trend in public opinion: the farther east one goes in Europe and Eurasia, the more opposed people are to same-sex marriage and homosexuality in general. This result even holds up across age ranges. Large majorities in Northern and Western Europe are in favor of societal acceptance of homosexuality and governmental recognition of same-sex marriage. Opinion on both issues is split among central European countries such as Poland, Hungary, and Slovakia. Eastern European countries are likely to view both same-sex marriage and homosexuality negatively.
This is one of the ways in which The United Methodist Church in Europe is in a unique position in the denomination: it includes people of widely differing views on sexuality living in countries with different legal stances on sexuality, yet at the same time unity is a strong value for European United Methodists. Unity is seen as essential to survival for what is in Europe a small denomination which is often viewed with suspicion.
I know they have struggled themselves and had many difficult conversations in preparation for General Conference 2019, but perhaps European and Eurasian delegates can teach the rest of the denomination something about how to balance strongly held convictions, deep differences in opinion, and the recognition that we still need each other.