Gay mullah flees Iran for conducting same-sex weddings

‘They were saying I am a cleric and I shouldn’t be meeting gay men. The other mullahs were suspicious about my sexual orientation and threatened me with death’

A Muslim gay cleric who conducted same sex weddings in secret in Iran has been forced to leave the county after receiving death threats from fellow religious figures.

Homosexuality is banned in Iran and punishable by execution under the country’s strict Sharia law. Minors can receive 74 lashes for homosexual activity, while women can receive 50 lashes if convicted of lesbianism and face the death penalty after a fourth conviction.

In April 2014, Iran’s Supreme Leader described homosexuality as “moral bankruptcy” and “libidinous behaviour”, while in September of the same year, the Iranian Speaker of Parliament called homosexuality “modern Western barbarism”.

With homosexuality taboo in Iran, Taha, the gay mullah, attempted to keep his sexual orientation hidden, but was exposed after he began conducting gay weddings.

Speaking to the BBC, Taha said: “Yes, I conducted gay weddings. The last few months were very difficult. The authorities questioned me several times about my choice of friends.

“They were saying I am a cleric and I shouldn’t be meeting gay men. The other mullahs were suspicious about my sexual orientation and threatened me with death.”

In Iran, mullahs wield huge power in the country and advise people on spiritual matters. These clerics are respected, but also feared for the power they hold.

Ramtin Zigorat, an Iranian gay refugee who fled from the country a year ago, said meeting Taha was extremely significant for him: “Before this we knew mullahs as people who wanted to punish us. They prayed at our execution ceremonies, but now we know someone who prays at our wedding ceremonies.”

However, another gay refugee, who left Iran a month ago and has not come out to his family, said trusting Taha was difficult following the treatment he had received from religious figures in Iran.

The man, who goes by the alias Farid, said: “It is very difficult for me to trust him because he is a mullah. I grew up in an atmosphere where they were part of the fears and lies.”

Taha is currently living in Istanbul, Turkey with plans to move on to Canada. Homosexual activity has been legal in Turkey since 1858, however same-sex unions and marriage are banned.

As of May 2016, 73 countries have laws criminalizing homosexuality. Five of these, Mauritania, Sudan, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Yemen, are prepared to sentence gay people to death; just for the sexual orientation.

In 2011, Iran received immense backlash from human rights groups after executing three men for sodomy.

The case was deemed significant as the prosecution office admitted they were sentenced for “lavat”, the phrase used in Islamic law for sodomy. Usually courts label such acts as sexual assault and rape – crimes that convey an element of coercion rather than consensual sex between two willing participants.

In 2008, Iranian President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, told New York’s Columbia University there were no homosexuals in Iran.

Iran received widespread condemnation in 2005 for the execution of two teenagers Mahmoud Asgari and Ayaz Marhoni, who were publicly hanged from a crane in a square at the centre of the city of Mashad. Gay rights groups claimed that the pair were murdered by the state for consensual sex but the charges against them were actually described as “lavat beh onf” – sodomy by coercion – against a 13-year-old boy.

by Alexandra Sims
Source – The Independent