Viewers had more than just athletic ability on their minds as the 2014 Winter Olympics began in Sochi, Russia.
Last summer, Russian President Vladimir Putin created regulations allowing police to arrest people who were thought to be gay or pro-equality and didn’t allow Russian children to be adopted by anybody living in a country where same-sex marriage exists.
Russia’s homosexual propaganda law, which makes it illegal to spread information about homosexuality to minors, pushed the International Olympic Committee to take a stand. These regulations contradict the charter of the the IOC, which is against discrimination of any kind. During a meeting in late January, Putin approached the issue from a different angle and said homosexual athletes would be safe to compete in Sochi, but were not allowed to go near Russian children.
Daniel Vaudrin, president of the Gay and Lesbian International Sport Association, said this discrimination to homosexuals would be similar to the Russians not allowing athletes of the Islamic faith to participate. He added there has been homosexuality in sports since the Greek times.
“As with all human rights, it takes a lot of time for a society or culture to accept different things,” Vaudrin said. “You look at the Declaration of Human Rights that was signed in the 1940s and there’s still stuff in there. It’s a constant fight to do this.”
He said the Russian government is not going to wake up and excuse themselves for what other countries deem a mistake. But Vaudrin is confident that in time, the Russian government will learn to accept homosexuals.
When gay couples walked into the Buncombe, N.C. County Register of Deeds office asking for a marriage application, Drew Reisinger, the register of deeds, denied same-sex marriage queries. But when one of his friends walked into the office with her spouse and child, something changed.
“Then I really started to see the human element and I was like, ‘oh my goodness, these really are humans that we’re denying the same rights we do to every one else and doing it consistently,’” he said. “It broke me down and I realized we needed to figure out how to start to doing something differently.”
While he does not deny same-sex couples the marriage application, he knows it will take a lot more than one office in North Carolina to alter this internationally controversial topic, especially as tension rises with Russia’s anti-gay laws.
But some Americans remain rooted in what they interpret from the Bible: homosexuality is a sun.
While Peter LaBarbera, president of Americans for Truth, agrees with this and said it is wrong and unnatural, he said being gay does not define a person. But as a faithful Christian, he said he can’t tell a homosexual couple that they can be a couple.
LaBarbera said he is very bothered by the pressure the United States has put on Russia to change their culture to accept homosexuality, especially as the pro-gay activists continue to paint Russia as an evil country.
“Who are we, America, to lecture Russia? We’ve got AIDs and Christians losing their jobs because they oppose homosexuality,” he said. “The gay activists like to make themselves the victims. Now, there are other people who think they are the victims of gay activism. Gay activists are doing everything they once claimed were being done to them.”
Mary Jo Festle, an Elon University history professor and specialist in sports and LGBTQ history, said the Olympics is a perfect time to spark discussions with the pressure Americans are placing on Russia’s laws. But she is worried about the rights and quality of life of LGBTQ people in Russia.
“I don’t know what all [other] countries [at the Olympics] are doing, but it seems like most of the ‘pressure’ being exerted on Russia is largely symbolic expression of disapproval of the [anti-gay] policy,” she said.
As the international coverage continues, LaBarbera said the demonization of Christians from all over the world will continue. Some “hardcore activists” go as far to say gay rights supersedes religious freedom in the United States, which LaBarbera said is against the very nature of freedom as an American.
Randy Orwig, senior pastor at the Elon Community Church in Elon, N.C., said he went into theological training and biblical studies believing homosexuality was wrong because the Bible said so.
But as Orwig examined the text, he realized the Bible was not against gay men and women.
“It is misunderstood and taken out of context and placed in modern-day context in dangerous ways,” he said.
Although the Olympics come with clashing opinions this year, the games have never been just about athletic skill. Various beliefs, religions and laws lead cultures to political debate about racial discriminations, Nazism, sex discrimination, free speech and international aggression. With the terrorism and wars happening across the world, Orwig said the games should be an opportunity for people to focus on peace, which is why they were created in the first place.
“As a religious understanding, we’re all on a journey and we’re going to continue to work to that journey,” Orwig said. “I think once we understand that we can welcome others with an open mind and an open sense of affirmation that it makes us stronger. I think we will actually be getting close to peace because of that.”