A group of Georgian Orthodox priests has threatened to curse those lawmakers who sign off on an anti-discrimination bill meant to introduce legal protections for minorities as part of Georgia's integration with the European Union. Confronted by influential clerics who claim the law will turn Georgia into a modern-day Sodom and Gomorrah, many lawmakers face a tough choice between principle and populism.
“Behave wisely,” warned one of the bearded men in cassocks and skufias who formed a black, nay-saying corner at a parliamentary human-rights committee hearing on April 29. From the other corner, a group of rights activists fired back, saying that there should be no place for discrimination and sectarian interference with political processes in a modern state.
Most lawmakers responded to the priests patiently. But in this Orthodox country, where many fast and cross themselves at any sight of a church steeple, a priest's warning is nothing to brush off.
Last year, a mob led by priests overpowered police at an anti-homophobia rally. Now, priests have warned that support for the anti-discrimination bill, slotted for a second parliamentary hearing on April 30, would spell trouble for the government.
Opposition from the Georgian Orthodox Church appears to be driving a schism within the ruling Georgian Dream coalition, a precariously diverse alliance of parties. While some parliamentarians sided with the priests and went against those who hail from rights advocacy past, lawmaker and former rights activist Tamar Kordzaia, left the floor yesterday in protest against what she called priests' challenge to the authority of the secular state.
“What is happening here is an assault on the parliament, and I, as a member of this parliament, will not stand for this,” Kordzaia said, Netgazeti.ge reported.
At an April 30 gathering held in front of Tbilisi's old parliamentary building, members of a radical wing of the Church warned that those MPs who back the bill, dubbed a "gay law" by some, should calculate the potential costs. “We don’t want to see hairy men making out in the streets,” commented one of the protesters.
Patriarch Ilia II, Georgia's most influential public figure, has called for postponing passage of the law.
Human rights activists say the law offers only modest protections for minority rights and want to see its scope widened.
As had been expected, advocacy for the LGBT community, Georgia's most unpopular minority, is shaping up as a major hurdle to Tbilisi’s plans for closer ties with the EU. The issue goes beyond routine foreign policy.
Cutting to the chase, Parliamentary Speaker Davit Usupashvili on April 21 termed the ongoing clash a choice between alignment with Russia or Europe, news outlets reported.
“[W]e have to make decisions that are accepted in the civilized world in order not to remain in an uncivilized world with Russia,” Usupashvili argued.