LGBT rights in Europe- does religion influence gay rights policy?


Recently I came accross this map by ILGA-Europe:


The percentages you see on each country represent an aggregated score calculated by ILGA; 0% would mean the lowest score for LGBT rights and 100% the highest.

The East-West divide seems striking, but why is it so?

Freedom House’s Zselyke Csaky discusses  the idea that it may have to do with religion:

“A somewhat more plausible explanation emphasises the conservative-religious component in many of the region’s countries. Religion definitely plays a role in Poland’s constitutional ban on gay marriage, which has been in effect since 1997 and is strongly supported by the Roman Catholic Church. Support from the church was essential to the success of Croatia’s referendum as well, with Catholic bishops urging Croatians to vote “yes” to the amendment outlawing gay marriage. In Romania, an Orthodox priest running on an antigay platform collected the 100,000 signatures necessary to stand as an independent candidate in the European Parliament elections in May. And Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has been forging a conservative image for a country that had previously been the first in the region to allow the registration of same-sex partnerships, in 2007.”

Fair does, but let’s try to analyse the data a bit more closely:

So,the most gay-friendly countries:

UK: 82% score: 59.3% Christian; (out of which about 60% Anglican and 13.5% Roman Catholic); 25% identify as ‘no religion’ and about 5% as Muslim.

Belgium: 78% score: 57% Catholic;  2% other Christians, 32% ‘no religion’, 6% Muslims

Spain: 73% score: 67.8% Catholic, 16.7% no belief + 10.8% Atheist, only 2.3% of any other religions

Netherlands 70% score: 53.1% non-religious; 24.6% Catholic; 14.8% Protestant, 5.8% Muslim

Norway 68% score: 76.1% Lutheran a total of 82% belonging to Christian denominations; 13.0% officially unaffiliated.

Portugal 64% score: 81.0% Catholic, 3.3% other Christian, 6.8% no religion.

Sweden 65% score: 66% Luteran- Church of Sweden, 5% Muslims, the rest unaffiliated or other

France 64% score: 41% Catholic, 3% other Christian, 35% non-affiliated, atheist or agnostic, 3% Muslims

So- what we have so far: Western European countries, 1 majority non-religious; 3 majority Protestant; 4 majority Catholic, all of them with a sizeable non-religious population and some immigrant minority religious groups (such as Muslims).

Onto the next group: 80%

Denmark:  60% score: 80% Lutheran, 4% Muslim, 16% various other denomination; in a different study. 24% responded that “they do not believe there is any sort of spirit, God or life force”, although the study says Danes are unlikely to identify as Atheist or Agnostic even when they technically are such.

Germany 56% score: 62% Christians (29.2% German Evangelical Protestants, 29.9% Catholic), 32% non-affiliated, 5% Muslims

Croatia 56% score: 86.22% Catholic, 4.4% Ortodox Christians, only 3.81% non-religious

Hungary 54% score: 39% Catholic, 11.6% Calvinist Protestants, 2.2% Lutheran Protestants, 16.17% non-religious + 1.5% Atheists

Austria 52% score: 61.5% Roman Catholic, 6% Orthodox Christian, 4% Protestant, 6% Muslim, 22.5% Other or None.

Malta 50% score: 93.89% Catholic

So: Central European countries, mix of Christian denominations (Catholic-Protestant-Orthodox) but non-Christian faiths somewhat less represented; in some countries (though not all) people are less likely to identify as non-religious, compared to the previous group

Next group:

Montenegro 47% score: 72.08% Orthodox Christian, 19.11% Muslim, 3.44% Catholic, 1.24% Atheist

Finland 45% score: 75.2% Lutheran, 22.1% non-affiliated, anything else less than 2% each

Albania 38% score: 56.70% Sunni Muslim, 10% Catholic, 6.57% Orthodox, 2.5% Atheist

Czech Republic 35% score: 34.2% non-religious, 10.4% Roman Catholic; and 45.2% refused to answer the question at all; in a different study, 16% of Czech citizens responded that “they believe there is a God” (the lowest rate among the countries of the European Union)

Slovenia 35% score: 57.8% Catholic, 10.1% non-religious+ 3.5% spiritual but non-religious

Estonia 35% score: 54.11% non-religious, 16.15% Orthodox, 9.91% Lutheran

Ireland 34% score: 84.2% Roman Catholic, 90.47% total Christians, 5.88% no religion

So far, the group hardest to pin down: 2 very secular countries, 1 Orthodox, 1 Lutheran, 2 Catholic, 1 Muslim. Montenegro and Albania have a fair amount of religious minorities but few people identify as non-religious or atheist; Slovenia and Finland are the opposite. Ireland is just very Catholic.

Next group:

Greece 31% score: 98% Eastern Orthodox, 2% anything else

Slovakia 31% score: 65% Catholic, 8.9% Protestant, 13.4% Atheist and non-religious

Bulgaria 30% score: 59.4% Orthodox, 11.8% Atheists, 10% Muslims

Serbia 30% score: 84.59% Orthodox, 4.97% Catholic, 3.1% Muslims, only 1% Non-religious

Switzerland 29% score:38.2% Roman Catholic, 26.9% Swiss Reformed, Muslims 5%, Unaffiliated 21.4%

Poland 28% score: 87.5% Roman Catholic, 2.4% non-believer

Romania 28% score: 81% Orthodox, 6.2% Protestant, 5.1% Catholic, less than 1% Atheist or non-religious (although, ask me someday about the methodology of that census…)

Georgia 26% score: 83.9% Orthodox, 9.9% Muslim, 3% Armenian Apostolics

Italy 25% score: 87.8% Catholic; 5.1% Non-religious

We start to see more of the “One major religion – either Orthodox or Catholic- with very few people identifying as anything else” model.

Onto the next:

Lithuania 22% score: 77.2% Catholic, 4.1% Orthodox, 6.1 Non-religious

Latvia 20% score: 34% Lutheran, 25% Roman Catholic 19% Orthodox, 20% Other or none

Cyprus 20% score: 78% Orthodox, 18% Muslim, 4% Smaller Christians groups, Other religions and no beliefs  (no breakdown of those)

Bosnia and Herzegovina 20% score: 52% Muslim, 31% Orthodox, 14% Roman Catholic

Kosovo 17% score: 95% Muslim, 3% Christian, less than 1% no religion

Moldova 17% score: 93.3% Orthodox, 1.4% not religious

Belarus 14% score: 48.3% Orthodox, 41.1% non-religious

Ukraine 12% score: 62.5% non-religious; 26.8% Orthodox, 5.9% Protestant

Turkey 14% score: 99% Muslim

Azerbaidjan 7% score: 85% Shia Muslim, 15% Sunni

Russia 6% score: 41% Orthodox, 25% Sopiritual but no religious, 13% Atheist.

Separate category: what’s up with micro-states? Monaco scores 10%, San Marino 14%, Luxembourg 28%, Liechtenstein 18%.

Now, let’s draw the line and think: is it the religion? at a glance, countries with an Orthodox Christian or Muslim majority seem to be less likely to uphold gay rights, countries with a relatively large percentage of the population identifying as non-religious are likely to be pro-gay rights (although not necessarily; see the Czech Republic and the Ukraine) and religiously diverse countries are somewhat more likely than religiously homogenous countries to have gay rights.

So, is it the religion? Maybe… sort of… with a lot of exceptions.

Or could this be about how religious you are as opposed to what religion you are?

Let’s look at our map side-by side with the Belief in God map, based on the Eurobarometer 2010 poll:


(via; image by Alphaton)

What does it tell us? Not that much… There is some overlap, but murky at best. Countries where a vast majority of the population- over 90%- believe in God- Poland, Romania, Turkey- have less of a gay rights record than their counterparts; but not remarkable compared with their geographical neighbours. Portugal is just as devoutly Catholic as Ireland- yet has much better gay rights provisions.

Still… in order to see whether being religiously devout has anything to do with opposing gay rights, we would have to look at public opinion within each country. Which I actually did, a few years ago, for a conference paper the results of which I have presented at the RGS-IGB’s 2012 conference “Security of geography; geography of security”. I looked at the 2008 European Values Study Here’s what I had found:

The only country in which rejection of gay neighbour correlates positively (over .20) with considering religion important is Turkey.

Furthermore, how belonging to a religious organisation varies with not wanting gay neighbours (compared to each national average) varies individually from country to country; with no apparent link to either overall tolerance to gays nor the faith practised by the majority: members of religious organisations are more likely than non-members not to want gay neighbours in Moldova and Ukraine, but less likely in Russia and Bulgaria; more likely in Albania, but less likely in Bosnia-Herzegovina; more likely in the Czech Republic and Poland, but less likely in Ireland; more likely in the Netherlands but less likely in Great Britain.

Incidentally, I also found that loking at the urban-rural divide or the level of education wouldn’t take us much further either:

for some countries in Eastern Europe-Albania, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Georgia- large city dwellers are less likely than small-town inhabitants to wish not to have gay neighbours; but the same trend can be observed in North-West countries, such as Norway and Sweden; while in Belgium, it is those living in towns under 5000 inhabitants who are more likely to be tolerant; in Azerbaidjan, Cyprus, Denmark and France, both those living in towns of under 5000 inhabitants and those in cities of over 100000 people were less likely than those in medium-size towns to wish not to have gay neighbours, while the opposite is true of Belarus, Northern Ireland and Kosovo. For most other countries, no meaningful relationship can be found between the respondent’s town size and their preference for not having homosexual neighbours. The differences between countries possibly indicate differences in national ideologies about the inclusion or exclusions of gays and lesbians, to which urban populations would be more exposed than rural-ones. We can see that there are weak correlations only between tolerance towards gay neighbours and the respondent’s level of education, that there are no significant correlations in any country between not wanting to have gay
neighbours and considering family important.

On the ne hand, divides between countries on gay rights were sharp and clear-cut, mapping pretty much exactly on the East-West divide. And this would merit more analysis than this (which I hope to look into soon).

In the meantime, I’ll leave you with Zselyke Csaky’s analysis:

Still, initiatives packaged in antigay rhetoric owe much of their prominence to the economic hardship experienced by many of the region’s citizens. Symbolic matters often come to the fore when populist politicians need scapegoats, and emotionally charged topics, such as the rights of LGBT people, can be used to distract attention from official mismanagement and difficult structural reforms.

In any case, it would be a mistake to conclude from these developments that EU reform pressure is counterproductive and simply provokes a traditionalist backlash. European influence has been shown to strengthen rights advocacy in the long run. Voters in Poland, for example, elected the country’s first openly gay and Europe’s first openly transgender members of parliament in 2011. Since legislation related to family matters is currently relegated to the domestic sphere in the EU, the bloc should make it clear that discrimination based on these laws will not be tolerated in either current or aspiring member states. Public opinion on LGBT issues might be rapidly changing, but populist urges can be hard to resist.










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