President Barack Obama's choice for ambassador to the Dominican Republic has angered religious leaders in the deeply Catholic country, sparking fears that the United States is trying to export gay rights.
James "Wally" Brewster is a top campaign fundraiser and prominent gay rights activist in Chicago. Top members of the Dominican evangelical and Catholic churches, including the powerful Catholic cardinal, criticized Obama for a choice they say is out of touch with the country's cultural reality.
Monsignor Pablo Cedano, auxiliary Catholic bishop of Santo Domingo, said Brewster's position on gay rights "is far from our cultural reality." He said if he comes, "he's going to suffer," due to the cultural differences, "and he'll have to leave."
Church leaders often comment on, and influence, social matters in the Dominican Republican, where 88 percent of the population identifies as Catholic. The conservative hand of the church has been seen in the 2010 constitutional ban on same-sex marriage and in pushing through a controversial ban on abortions.
Gay rights advocates, who applauded the appointment, say they are often harassed and threatened.
"The church doesn't accept us," said Francisco Ulerio at a gay rights parade Sunday in downtown Santo Domingo.
Ulerio, who said he is Catholic, dressed as a Catholic cardinal to protest the comments made about Brewster. "They don't have respect for us," he said.
The controversy is unlikely to stop Brewster from taking the ambassadorship, if the Senate confirms him.
Dominican President Danilo Medina's legal adviser, Cesar Pina Toribio, said the announcement of his nomination indicates that the Dominican government had already been consulted. "It would be indelicate for the Dominican state to refuse the nomination now," he said.
Obama has nominated four other gay men to diplomatic posts, including John Berry, a former director of the National Zoo and federal Personnel Management Office in Washington, for Australia, and HBO executive James Costos for Spain.