Sat, Aug 03, 2013 - Page 9 News List

The global battle for gay rights

A few nations have decided to extend marriage to include unions between same-sex couples. A great number remain where homosexuality is outlawed and same-sex marriage along with it

By Emine Saner  /  The Guardian

Illustration: June Hsu

We have a US president who supports gay marriage, and now a pope who, if not exactly signing up to equality for all, is at least starting to talk in language less inflammatory than his predecessor.

“If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has goodwill, who am I to judge?” Pope Francis told an assembled group of journalists on the papal plane back from his tour of Brazil. Then he went on to criticize the gay lobby and said he was not going to break with the catechism that said “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.” Still, for a brief moment it looked like a minor breakthrough.

Then you weigh it against a raft of anti-homosexuality legislation that is coming into force in countries across the world. In Russia, gay teenagers are being tortured and forcibly outed on the internet against a backdrop of laws that look completely out of step with the rest of Europe. In what can be described as rolling the status of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people back to the Stalin era, Russian President Vladimir Putin has passed a number of anti-gay laws, including legislation that punishes people and groups that distribute information considered propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations. The country also now has powers to arrest and detain foreign citizens believed to be gay, or “pro-gay.” It has led to the boycott, started by writer and activist Dan Savage, of Russian vodka brands by gay bars and clubs.

In many African countries where homosexuality is already illegal, more draconian anti-gay laws are being passed and violence against LGBT people is increasing.

Is there a link between growing rights in some countries and worsening or removal of rights in others?

“There are really complicated links between the two. If you look at the history of the advancement of LGBT rights in the UK, every advance is accompanied by a backlash,” said Alistair Stewart, assistant director of the Kaleidoscope Trust, a UK-based organization that supports international LGBT rights.

“To a certain extent that’s happening on a global scale now — the advances that are being made in some parts of the world encourage a backlash in other parts of the world. The struggle for even basic human rights for LGBT people — freedom of association, freedom from violence — becomes harder to achieve when the opponents can point to something like gay marriage, which is not even on the books for most of the countries we are talking about, and make the argument that ‘if we give these people even the most basic of human rights, next they’ll be asking to get married in our churches,’” he said.

Jonathan Cooper Human Dignity Trust chief executive is less sure they are related.

“The further persecution is already happening,” he said.

The Human Dignity Trust challenges laws to end the persecution of LGBT people around the world.

“Most countries sign up to international human rights treaties. If you take Belize as an example, it has ratified all the key UN human rights treaties and in their constitution they have a right to a private life, to equality, to dignity. And so basically to criminalize homosexuality is a violation [of their constitution]. To bring a legal challenge against that takes a very brave individual,” Cooper said.

It has been supporting Caleb Orozco, the gay rights campaigner who launched a legal challenge to overturn Belize’s criminalization laws.

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