Photographer: Akila Berjaoui
In many countries across the globe, homosexuals are treated as second-rate citizens and deprived of liberties, such as the right to marry, to adopt children, and even, sometimes, to practice sex. Which countries are the worst offenders and, more positively, which countries are giving homosexuals the rights they deserve?
Sodomy laws restrict particular sexual practices, and countries that enforce sodomy laws effectively criminalize homosexuality. Sodomy laws in Western civilization emerged alongside Christianity, from which time sodomy and “buggery” were made illegal, and punishable by imprisonment and execution (2000 years later and Christians still aren’t super keen on homosexuality).
Homosexuality was also considered a crime against nature, because homosexual sex does not aid procreation. Michel Foucault argues that nations originally made homosexuality illegal because it did not propagate the nation’s population and, ultimately, the more people a nation governs, the more powerful it is. “The appearance in nineteenth-century psychiatry, jurisprudence, and literature of a whole series of discourses on the species and subspecies of homosexuality, inversion, pederasty, and “psychic hermaphroditism” made possible a strong advance of social controls into this area of “perversity”, Foucault explains in The History of Sexuality: An Introduction.
Laws discriminating against homosexual acts stuck around for a disturbingly long time in the Western world: while the Netherlands decriminalized them in 1811, it took more than a century for countries like Australia, New Zealand, the United States and the UK, to catch up (South Australia decriminalised homosexuality in 1972).
Upsettingly, legislation outlawing homosexuality still exists in a huge portion of the world today; in 36 nations in Africa, 23 nations in Asia and the Middle East, 11 nations across the Americas, and nine island nations. Weirdly, Sierra Leone, Kenya, Mauritius, and the Seychelles have criminalised male homosexuality but are A–Okay with lesbians.
Worse still, some countries still impose the death penalty for homosexual acts, including Iran, Iraq, Mauritania, Nigeria, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, and the United Arab Emirates. In recent violation-of-basic-human-rights news, Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act of 2014 proposed death penalties for practising homosexual sex, but was abandoned after immense pressure from the Western world (the US even cut aid to Uganda to help ensure the bill would not be passed). Stephen Fry reportedly attempted suicide while filming his documentary, Out There, in Uganda, after becoming so outrageously depressed by the treatment of innocent homosexuals, which included frequent, violent attacks.
Discrimination against homosexuals is widespread in countries that haven’t made homosexuality illegal, too, and Russia is perhaps the most infamous country on this count. In 2014, LGBT publication, The Advocate, went ahead and named Vladimir Putin their Person of the Year, arguing that he has affected the state of gay rights more profoundly than anyone else this year, what with his flagrant discrimination and hatred towards them. “Since winning a third term in 2012, Putin has become ever more autocratic, and his antigay ideology ever more extreme…In June 2013, he signed the infamous antigay propaganda bill that criminalises the ‘distribution of information…aimed at the formation among minors of non-traditional sexual attitudes, with non-traditional meaning anything other than heterosexual,” wrote Jeremy Lybarger, author of The Advocate’s cover feature explaining why Putin won person of the year. The cover featured Vladimir Putin with the copy, “Person of the Year”, placed above his upper lip to resemble Hitler’s moustache.
In Russia, anti-gay hate crimes are widespread, too. Firing someone for being gay is pretty acceptable, as demonstrated in 2013 when news anchor, Anton Kravosky, was dismissed when he announced his homosexuality live on air. Personalities such as Jay Leno, Stephen Fry, and Dan Savage have drawn parallels between the treatment of the LGBT community in Russia and the treatment of Jews in Nazi Germany. “The IOC absolutely must take a firm stance on behalf of the shared humanity it is supposed to represent against the barbaric, fascist law that Putin has pushed through the Duma,” Stephen Fry wrote, in an open letter to David Cameron and the International Olympic Committee, pleading with them to boycott the Sochi winter Olympics.
Still, it’s not all bad news for gay communities across the globe – there are countries getting it seriously right by accepting that a relationship between two men or two women is as legal and socially valid as a relationship between a man and a woman. In 2001, the Netherlands became the first nation to legalise same-sex marriage, followed closely by Belgium and Canada in 2003.
At the time of writing, 18 countries have legalised same-sex marriage, as have 35 US states. New Zealand was one of the first of these countries – alongside France, Uruguay and Brazil – while Australia is conspicuously absent from this list, showing no signs of progress despite public pressure.
Australia’s current (and largely regrettable) Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, is committed to his opposition to same sex marriage, often averting questions with answers like, “I guess it’s a definitional thing”, something he said to one high school student during a particularly awkward discussion on the grounds of Parliament House.
Abbott admits that same sex marriage is an important issue, but has always kind of asserted that it’s just not a question for his government. “It’s a very important issue. I know how important an issue it is. It’s not the only important issue and I’ve got to say as far as an incoming Coalition government is concerned, the priority will be on things like reducing cost-of-living pressure and increasing job security”, Abbott said in a 2013 debate between himself and Kevin Rudd. Tony Abbott’s stance is more confusing when we consider his sister is gay and engaged to her partner. Hey, at least he concedes that if they do have a ceremony he’ll “do the right thing” and turn up with a present – that’s nice.
Australia enjoyed a tiny moment of marriage equality in 2013, when the ACT legalised it, but this move was quickly found to be invalid under the constitution, due to inconsistency with the Federal Marriage Act – 31 couples registered to marry before their hopes were dashed by the High Court. However, the 2012 Civil Union Act did legalise civil unions in the ACT.
Legalising adoption for homosexual couples is another important issue in the fight for sexuality equality, but this movement is still in its infancy.
Many people believe that a child who is raised by gay parents will struggle to assert their sexual identity and form social bonds, and may display behavioural or adjustment disorders. However, the American Psychological Association insists there is absolutely no evidence to support this. Furthermore, children of gay, adoptive parents are no more likely to suffer sexual abuse than children cared for by heterosexuals. Despite these facts, adoption by same-sex couples is only legal in 16 countries and 29 US states. Canada was the first to legalise the practice in 1999.
Bizarrely, same-sex adoption has been legalised in Australia in New South Wales, the ACT, Tasmania, and Western Australia – apparently homosexuals shouldn’t be able to sign a document enfranchising their love under the law, but they can engage in the insanely important task (most important in society?) of raising a child. While commercial surrogacy remains illegal in Australia, altruistic surrogacy (lending your womb out for a favour) is legal in Queensland, the ACT, New South Wales, Tasmania and Victoria; this means that In Vitro Fertilization and Assisted Reproductive Technology can be used with altruistic surrogates to provide children for homosexual couples in these states.
Bigotry against the homosexual community exists in all facets of society –blood donation is restricted for homosexual males for fear of HIV, homosexuals in the military face ambiguous rules regarding their rights, and discrimination as a result, and violence against homosexual people is still prevalent within conservative communities. Right now, total social and legal equality between heterosexual and homosexual people is a long way off, but in many countries the legislative action is heading in a progressive direction. The Netherlands, Canada, New Zealand, France and South Africa are all enfranchising the LGBT community, one piece of legislation at a time.