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Gay rights around the world


Australians have voted in favour of legalising same-sex marriage — but elsewhere in the world gay people can struggle to simply stay out of jail. Being openly gay is effectively illegal in more than 70 gay rights around the world — and can result in severe punishment, sometimes even death. See how Australia’s position on same-sex marriage compares around the world. Voters’ ‘yes’ response to the SSM postal survey is Australia’s latest step towards allowing same-sex couples to marry, and may prove close to the culmination of a long campaign.

Campaigners have suggested Australia is lagging behind rest of the world. It is fair to say that most countries with similar cultural backgrounds to Australia have now legalised same-sex marriage, but based on total country numbers, Australia remains part of the majority in restricting marriage to couples made up of a man and a woman. Out of 209 countries the ABC examined, only 24 allow same-sex couples to marry. There is no same-sex marriage in Asia or the Middle East, and South Africa is the only country in Africa to have legalised it. In Europe, the legal status of same-sex marriage is mixed. The Netherlands was the first country in the world to legalise same-sex marriage in 2001, with other Western countries including the United Kingdom, France, Spain and Germany following it. Yet more than half of European Union members have not.

Photo: Mima Simic and her girlfriend Marta Sisak vote in Croatia’s referendum on defining marriage as a “union of man and woman”. Hungary brought in a new constitution in 2011 that specifically restricts marriage to heterosexual couples. In December 2015, Slovenian voters rejected the legalisation of same-sex marriage in a referendum. Australia made a similar amendment to its Marriage Act in 2004, adding a definition of marriage as “the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others”. How have countries legalised same-sex marriage? In Australia, Parliament can legalise same-sex marriage by amending the Marriage Act but the Government’s policy has been that its MPs will only be able to vote for same-sex marriage if a majority of Australians support the change via a plebiscite. The Government’s compulsory plebiscite proposal was defeated in the Senate. Instead, the non-compulsory Australian Marriage Law Postal Survey was run by the Australian Bureau of Statistics between September 12 and November 7. After the survey returned a yes outcome, a private member’s bill will now be debated in Parliament to legalise marriage between people of the same sex.

Beginning in 1998, the Belgian parliament offered limited rights to same-sex couples through registered partnerships. Anita Bryant organized the first major opposition movement to gay rights in America, based on fundamentalist Christian values. In addition to allowing same-sex couples to marry and adopt, the legislation sets the legal age of marriage at 18 and eliminates the existing requirement that couples who want to marry must first submit to a medical exam. HER FINAL PERFORMANCE WAS AT CARNEGIE HALL. Some sharia scholars say that the laws against illicit sex should basically be regarded as laws against public indecency, since they require four witnesses.

Parade during San Diego 2016 LGBT Pride in July 2016. Five years later, in January 2003, the Belgian parliament legalized same-sex marriage, giving gay and lesbian couples the same tax and inheritance rights as heterosexual couples. According to the IGLA, the death penalty applies in Sudan, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Yemen and in parts of Nigeria and Somalia. Claudia Breger, “Feminine Masculinities: Scientific and Literary Representations of ‘Female Inversion’ at the Turn of the Twentieth Century,” Journal of the History of Sexuality 14. Iceland had allowed same-sex couples to register as domestic partners since 1996.

Only one country, Ireland, put the change to a people’s vote. A referendum was legally required, held in May 2015, and overwhelmingly passed. Parliaments legalised same-sex marriage in 20 countries. Court rulings prompted the change in five countries. The highest-profile court decision was in the United States in 2013, when the Supreme Court effectively legalised same-sex marriage by finding the Defence of Marriage Act was unconstitutional. Taiwanese law defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman was unconstitutional.

It ordered that a change in the law had to occur within two years. At the time of writing, same-sex marriage is still unavailable in Taiwan. Marriage is an important issue in Western countries but elsewhere in the world, LGBT people can struggle to simply stay out of jail. There are more than 70 countries where homosexual acts are illegal.

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The countries shaded in the map above are those where there is a law that prohibits homosexual acts in part or all of the country. Most of these countries fall within two main categories — just over half are former colonies mostly in Africa that inherited discriminatory laws but never repealed them, while the others are majority-Muslim countries. What exactly is outlawed varies from country to country. Twenty-eight states only prohibit relations between men. A common formulation is a prohibition of “carnal intercourse against the order of nature”.

Sometimes gay sex is placed in the same category as bestiality. In India it is an offence to “voluntarily carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal”. In Mauritius, it is a crime to commit “sodomy or bestiality”. In Uganda, a law provides for a seven-year jail term for anyone who conducts a same-sex marriage ceremony. Photo: Kenyan MP Irungu Kang’ata leads an anti-gay caucus protest in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi. Not all the countries with these laws actually enforce them for consensual sex at home. The Singapore Penal Code prohibits “any act of gross indecency with another male person” in “public or private”, with a maximum penalty of two years in prison.

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But National University of Singapore Assistant Professor Lynette Chua says the ban has “seldom been applied in private, consensual situations and typically used in non-consensual situations or cases involving minors”. Some sharia scholars say that the laws against illicit sex should basically be regarded as laws against public indecency, since they require four witnesses. Even if bans aren’t strictly enforced, they often still have a harmful impact on LGBT people. Where do LGBT people risk the death penalty? The death penalty is in place for same-sex sexual acts in at least 11 countries. According to the IGLA, the death penalty applies in Sudan, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Yemen and in parts of Nigeria and Somalia. In theory the death penalty could also be imposed in Mauritania, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates through sharia law, but this does not appear to have occurred in practice.

Information on when the death penalty has been carried out is not readily available. The “Erasing 76 Crimes” blog, which advocates for the repeal of anti-LGBT laws around the world, indicates that only Iran and Saudi Arabia have actually carried out executions for same-sex activity in recent times. The blog’s founder, Colin Stewart, says that in Saudi Arabia “beheadings have been imposed for homosexual behaviour in the past, including three men in 2002, but imprisonment and lashings are a more common punishment”. Iran is second in the world for frequency of executions , including executions for homosexual activity, although the facts about the offences being punished are often unclear or misrepresented in news accounts.