Is rejecting “parent 1 and 2” discriminatory against gays? Albanian judge has to decide
Albanian pastor Akil Pano will stand before the judge again later this week. He knows the courthouse quite well since his TV performance last year. He said that speaking about “parent 1” and “parent 2” instead of father and mother was “dehumanising”. This is received as hate speech against homosexuals.
It is an idea that popped up in several countries. In order to make the family more gender-neutral, it would be better if official documents would speak about “parent 1 and 2”.
Akil Pano is a well-known figure in the media in Albania. He is a teacher in philosophy at the State University of Tirana. He is pastor in the Evangelical Gospel of Christ Church. He is a regular presenter and commentator about current issues.
What would he think of “parent 1 and 2” instead of father and mother, he was asked in the summer of 2021. This would reduce people –with a will and a soul– to a number. “An unprecedented ethical selfishness”, he said in a television debate. According to Pano, such a proposal is the fruit of a “sick society”, he explained. “They are so selfish that they want to deprive the next generation’s children of their right to a mother and a father.”
The fact that he used the word “sick” was taken as an insult by gay rights organisation Aleanca Lgbt, that went to the anti-discrimination commissioner. The government watchdog first rejected the complaint and stated that Pano had the right to come out for his understanding of Biblical truth, and that he had not discriminated against the LGBT community. The pastor also received support from the European Pentecostal organisation PEF, the Swede Pelle Hörnmark.
But later on, the commissioner changed his mind within the same week. Perhaps, the word “sick” was just an opinion. But the philosopher had also said that a change in the family law would lead to a situation in which “anyone can claim his right to marry his loved animal, like a dog or a cat, or three or four people”. According to the commissioner, this implies that Mr Pano equates gays with animals, which is insulting.
He concluded that Pano’s words “go beyond the freedom of expression and the right to express one’s religion and outlook on life” and were not protected by the European Convention on Human Rights, the commissioner wrote in November 2021.
Mr Pano was asked to make a public statement in which he distanced himself from “hateful rhetoric against LGBTQ people”, and promised not to repeat these beliefs in the future. Otherwise, the consequences would be grave.
The pastor denies spreading any hatred. “If we change family law”, he stated, “there is no limit. Where will it end, and who can say what is right or wrong?”
Pano has decided to challenge the commissioner’s decision before the court, as, according to him, the request constraints the freedom of religion, speech and conscience. During one of the sessions, the commissioner’s representative said: “Pastor Akil is loved and held in high regard by the people of Albania, and that’s why he has a large audience. He is loving and patient. He has always done a good job in his 14 years of public discussions, but maybe this time, he was not very careful with his statements on parent 1 and parent 2 and gay marriages. That’s why our office had to make sure to correct this, as his words influence his audience.”
There have been several hearings, and on coming Friday, there will be the next one. According to Pano’s wife, Linda, the commissioner made many mistakes and quoted things out of context. In the meantime, the first judge handling the case was promoted, and the next judge decided to start the case anew from the beginning. During all the court sessions, Christians prayed outside for the Pano couple, sometimes for several hours.
The pastor and philosopher receives judicial support from ADF International. When the court case went on, Pano worked further to build the Albanian Pro-Family and Life Coalition, which had its first official congress in February 2022. Even the President of Albania, Mr Ilir Meta, was among the speakers. A few months later, the same president decorated the pastor for his work for the family and his 30 years of contribution to society’s values.
From opinion research, it is known that the Albanian population is quite conservative in their view on family and relations. This has nothing to do with religiousness because the country is not very believing. It is known that the people in the southwestern Balkans see homosexuality as a Western social idea that should not be imported there. The country does not know same-sex marriage nor civil partnership for gays or child adoption for homosexual couples.
The court case led to a lively debate in Albanian society. Once on a Sunday morning, Pano’s church was attended by a group of gays, recognisable by their rainbow banners. On that same day, the church was visited by a well-known TV figure from Italy, Nausica Della Valle, who claims to be a former lesbian. She witnessed that living with Jesus had stimulated her to change her lifestyle.
One of the gay rights activists in the country, Xheni Karaj, said on social media that she went to Pano’s service with her partner, “open for change”, but it had not happened. Photos on social media, however, show that the church people welcomed them without rejection. In the court session in April, Mr Pano said: “We love gay people and have always shown our love to them, not only by words in different TV programs but even by welcoming them in our church.”
The Swedish Christian news portal Världen Idag reported that both the Swedish and Dutch embassies supported the gay movement in the debates around this case. The Swedish ambassador in Albania, Elsa Håstad, said this support should not be seen as “cultural imperialism”. “It is about support to democratic forces”, she said to Världen Idag.
Akil Pano and his wife Linda say they are afraid Albania goes back to the times of Communism, under which their country was the only official atheist nation. “During the Communist era, you could not openly express yourself”, Linda says. “It seems that we are going back in that direction. But as Christians, we cannot bow to the suppression of opinions, but we must do God’s will.”
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