The South African Nobel peace laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu says he will never worship a ‘homophobic God’ and would rather go to hell than find himself in a ‘homophobic heaven’.
The retired archbishop said the fight against homophobia in South Africa was similar to the campaign waged against racial apartheid in South Africa.
Archbishop Tutu, 81, was speaking at the launch of the UN’s first global campaign to promote gay rights.
Although gay relationships are legal in South Africa, the country has had some of the worst incidences of homophobic violence, UN human rights chief Navi Pillay said.
‘I am as passionate about this campaign as I ever was about apartheid. For me, it is at the same level,’ the 81-year-old archbishop said at the launch of the Free and Equal campaign in Cape Town.
Same-sex relationships are illegal in more than a third of countries around the world and punishable by death in five, Ms Pillay said.
In Africa, homosexual acts are criminalized in 38 countries, according to the rights group Amnesty International.
Tutu, who retired as Archbishop of Cape Town in 1996, has long campaigned for gay rights.
‘I would refuse to go to a homophobic heaven. No, I would say sorry, I mean I would much rather go to the other place,’ he said.
‘I would not worship a God who is homophobic and that is how deeply I feel about this.’
Archbishop Tutu said the campaign against homophobia was on a par with the campaign to end the official racial segregation that split South Africa until it was formally ended in 1994.
Ms Pillay said gay and lesbian people in South Africa had good legal safeguards but they still faced brutal attacks.
Last month, a lesbian was found dead in a township outside Johannesburg. She had been sexually assaulted with a toilet brush.
‘People are literally paying for their love with their lives,’ Ms Pillay said, AFP news agency reported.
Ms Pillay said the UN will push for gay rights to be recognized in countries where they are illegal.
‘I constantly hear governments tell me, ‘but this is our culture, our tradition and we can’t change it’… So we have lots of work to do,’ she added.
When US President Barack Obama visited Senegal at the start of his visit to Africa in June, he urged African nations to decriminalize homosexual acts.
But he was publicly rebuffed by President Macky Sall of Senegal while the pair were sharing a podium. President Sall said Senegal was not ready to make the step.
Other African faith leaders including Kenyan Catholic Cardinal John Njue also rejected Obama’s comments.