Moral Low Ground


Brazilian Women Joana Palhares & Yunka Mihura Arrested After Kissing at Evangelical Christian Event

Two Brazilian women were arrested after kissing at an Evangelical Christian event in São Paulo state earlier this month.

G1 reports 18-year-old Joana Palhares and her companion, 20-year-old Yunka Mihura, were attending Glorifica Litoral, billed as the “biggest gospel event in Brazil,” in São Sebastião on September 15 when conservative anti-gay congressman and pastor Marco Feliciano interrupted a sermon upon noticing the two young women kissing passionately in the crowd (this can be seen at the 4:20 mark in the YouTube video above). Feliciano, a member of the right-wing religious Social Christian Party who presides over the Congressional Commission for Human Rights and Minorities and also heads the popular Assembléia de Deus Evangelical church group, called out for police officers present at the event to arrest the women.

“Take away those two girls that are kissing,” Feliciano ordered the officers. “Those two girls have to leave here in handcuffs… This is the house of God.”

No less than six municipal police officers heeded Feliciano’s call to arrest the two students, whose kiss was apparently an act of protest. Palhares and Mihura claim they were brutalized by officers en route to a local police station. Palhares says she was slapped three times in the face and had her arm twisted. Feliciano says the girls kicked at officers.

Mihura told G1 she saw plenty of heterosexual couples kissing at the event, which drew an estimated 70,000 people for a night of music and prayer.

“It was completely unfair and horrible,” she said. “I’ve never felt such helplessness to see cops beating [Palhares], holding me hard, and there was nothing I could do.”

“The event was public, paid for with our taxes,” Mihura said in an interview following her arrest. “That stage, that microphone– everything was with public money. It was also an open space, on Beach Street. It was our right to be there.”

“We see it as a situation that got completely out of control,” Daniel Galani, a lawyer for the two women, told G1. “We know there are two conflicting rights– one is freedom of expression, the other freedom of religion. Both are constitutional rights.”

Galani said he will file a complaint against Feliciano. The city of São Sebastião is also investigating whether officers used excessive force against Palhares and Mihura.

For his part, Feliciano called the women’s behavior “disrespectful.”

“Any decent person knows that a religious environment is no place to do what these people did,” he told G1. “They should have a little more judgment.”

Feliciano wrote that individuals who “step into a place of worship, wherever, and shamelessly violate our principles and injure our rights” should face consequences, according to the Christian website Amigo de Cristo.

There are two Brazilian laws that defenders of the women’s arrest cite to justify their detention. Article 5, Section 6 of the national constitution guarantees freedom of conscience and belief and assures the “free exercise of religious service” and “protection of places of worship.” Article 208 of the national penal code states that anyone who disturbs or mocks religious worship may be punished by a fine and up to a year behind bars.

LGBT rights are a complicated issue in Brazil, a traditionally Catholic country of 199 million people where Evangelical Christian sects, many of them US-based or of US origin, have made great social and political inroads in recent decades. At the same time, LGBT Brazilians have also seen a rapid expansion of their rights. Numerous Brazilian states, including São Paulo, have legalized same-sex marriage, and same-sex civil unions are legal throughout the nation. Earlier this year, the National Council of Justice cleared the way for legalized nationwide same-sex marriage, ruling that government offices that issue marriage licenses have no standing to deny them to gay couples.

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