-OpEd-

LIMA — This piece is motivated by the unusual, surreal and hostile march that several prominent evangelical groups in Peru recently promoted.

The May 3 protest along some of Lima’s central streets were similar to the far-from-venerable public trials during the Holy Inquisition that determined which sentence or torture was “best” to eradicate heresy. This time, demonstrators were condemning the idea of same-sex civil unions in our country.

In particular, the march opposed a bill proposed by legislator Carlos Bruce to allow civil unions between people of the same gender, which the judiciary has approved. Judges have already declared that “the project is not just viable in juridical terms, it also represents an essential expression of the fundamental rights to personal development, equality and non-discrimination.”

What, then, prompted the evangelicals’ objection? They are apparently chafing at one specific part of the bill that would allow partners in a civil union to enjoy joint property ownership, unless they decide otherwise.

Civil partners, according to this draft, would receive the same treatment and have the same rights as first relatives do, meaning they could visit their partner in the hospital or in prison. They could decide to initiate emergency surgery, receive food from their partners and acquire Peruvian nationality after two years of a civil union, if they’re foreign nationals.

Under the proposal, if one partner dies, the other could inherit the late partner’s estate. And when it comes to social security, the bill would allow an uncovered partner to be included as beneficiary in his or her partner’s health insurance plan.

Exclusion vs. inclusion

The march left me confused. I have difficulty understanding why and how such movements still exist in a country that claims to have an “inclusive” government concerned with eradicating discrimination, one that believes in freedom and equality. How can some parts of our society use freedom of expression and the right to protest only to recall the dark days of a religious orthodoxy that sought to correct idolatry, witchcraft, secret marriage among priests, bigamy, homosexuality, apostasy and other “damnable” conduct?

Thinking of the protesters’ insistent — if not outdated — arguments, I asked myself: Why don’t we see other kinds of demonstrations?

A march to rebuild the quake-hit city of Pisco, for instance, or one to fight child malnutrition in Huancavelica? What about protests against fatalities caused by reckless driving, domestic violence or the practices of hiding children from extra-marital relationships? Why not protest against bribes or disrespect to the police?

There are so many issues Peruvians could demonstrate against. Yet some of them have chosen to march not against, but in favor of, exclusion.

Anyone who tries to promote and implement real social inclusion in this country can expect to wait a good two generations, if not more, to see it happen. We clearly see an ample and deeply rooted reticence to it here.

In the end, we are still living in the sexist, intolerant and sanctimonious society of old times. This is a judgmental society excessively critical of others’ conduct, which might even justify its acts by saying this is all “God's will, because God Himself is a man.”

But when it comes to Divine Providence, let’s not forget what the Pope himself said, that we “should not condemn the divorced, and that the Church is no place for inquisitors.”

Carlos Escaffi is a professor of international marketing at the University of Lima’s School of Business.