Gays and the law

Gwynne Dyer
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After a decade when the struggle for equal rights for gay people made great progress, it looks like the counter-revolution is underway. In the past six months, there have been major defeats for gay rights in Africa, in Asia and even in Europe.

In June, the Russian parliament passed a law banning “propaganda for non-traditional sexual relations” that effectively makes it illegal to speak publicly in defence of gay rights, let alone hold gay pride events.

Patriarch Kirill, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, warned the following month that same-sex marriage (barely discussed in Russia) is “a very dangerous sign of the Apocalypse.”

Alarming numbers

In a 2013 poll, 16 per cent of Russians said that gay people should be isolated from society, 22 per cent said they should be forced to undergo treatment and five per cent said they should just be “liquidated.”

In Australia, on Dec. 11, only a week after a law making same-sex marriage legal in the Australian Capital Territory came into effect, the federal High Court overturned it and 27 gay marriages were automatically dissolved. “Whether same sex marriage should be provided for by law is a matter for the federal parliament,” said the judges, and should not be decided by the courts.

Other developments

On the same day, in India, the Supreme Court reversed a 2009 ruling by the Delhi High Court that had struck down the infamous Section 377, which said that a same-sex relationship is an “unnatural offence” punishable by a 10-year jail term. 

The ruling only applied to the National Capital Territory, but it was widely assumed that other Indian courts would follow suit.

However, the Indian Supreme Court has now jumped the other way.

The judgment actually said only that the law has to be changed by parliament, not by the courts.

But meanwhile all the gays who were encouraged by the Delhi High Court ruling to come out of the closet are going to find it harder than ever to live like normal citizens.

Finally, on Dec. 19, Uganda’s parliament passed a law imposing life imprisonment for some homosexual “offences.” The private member’s bill also makes it a crime punishable by a three-year prison sentence not to report gay people to the police.

“I am glad the parliament has voted against evil,” said David Bahati, the MP who sponsored the bill. “Because we are a God-fearing nation, we value life in a holistic way. It is because of those values that members of parliament passed this bill regardless of what the outside world thinks.”

Not all bad news

When you set it out like this, it looks as if a global counter-offensive against gay rights is underway, but it’s not as bad as it looks.

Uganda’s prime minister, Amama Mbabazi, opposes the new law and claims that there was not a quorum in parliament to pass it. It may be cancelled on that argument, or President Yoweri Museveni, who is conscious of the international damage to Uganda’s reputation, may simply veto it. This is not yet a done deal.

Africa is the most anti-gay continent — 37 out of 52 African countries have laws that criminalize homosexual acts — but many of these laws are a legacy of the European colonial occupations and are not vigorously enforced. Some of the biggest African countries, including South Africa, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Egypt, have no anti-gay laws.

The glass is considerably less than half-full in Africa, but it is not empty.

In Asia, anti-homosexual laws are rare except in Muslim-majority countries.

India was the great exception to that rule. Section 377 was an embarrassment to the Congress government, which was quietly grateful to the Delhi High Court for striking it down.

The government has already filed a petition asking the Supreme Court to reconsider its decision on the grounds that it “violated the principle of equality.”

Balance of power

On the other hand, if a new law is actually required to kill Section 377, it is unlikely to risk outraging conservative opinion by passing such a law before next year’s election.

In Russia, the battle for gay rights is already almost a century old.

Homosexuality was decriminalized in 1917 after the revolution, recriminalized under Stalin in 1933, decriminalized again in 1993 — and homosexual relationships are still legal, although President Vladimir Putin is playing populist politics with his “anti-gay propaganda” law.       

As for Australia, the issue is about the “last gay right”: same-sex marriage.

The new prime minister, Tony Abbott, has already said he opposes it, so there will be no new legislation there soon.

But most Australian states already permit civil unions or other legal devices that effectively give same-sex partners the same legal rights as other couples.

So do most other jurisdictions in the developed world, and in the past decade 16 countries, including almost all of Western Europe, Canada, Brazil, Argentina, and 16 U.S. states, have gone further and legalized same-sex marriage. (So has New Zealand, just as Australia was re-banning it.)

The tipping point was passed some time ago, and the clock will not be turned back.

Homosexuality is still illegal in 83 countries, but even including India they account for only one-third of the world’s people.

Without India, they would have a mere sixth of the planet’s population.

The global glass is more than half-full.

Gwynne Dyer is an independent

journalist whose articles are

published in 45 countries.

Organizations: Supreme Court, Delhi High Court, Russian Orthodox Church

Geographic location: India, Australia, Russia Uganda Australian Capital Territory Africa South Africa Democratic Republic of Congo Egypt Asia Western Europe Canada Brazil Argentina U.S. New Zealand

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Recent comments

  • Colin Burke
    December 31, 2013 - 20:27

    The "hygienic" view of sodomy as physically unhealthy is a lesser consideration than the moral perception that sodomy equates the source of human life with the production of dirt. Allowing people to do that, or celebrating their doing it, follows logically upon approving of abortion, which in a sense not merely figurative disposes of the product of a woman's womb as if that were indeed a kind of dirt, though the scientific among us may claim that such "moral perceptions" don't count for anything compared to being physically healthy and feeling good about one's self (enjoying positive selfy-steam.)

  • Kilgore Trout
    December 30, 2013 - 14:35

    Robert Hiscock, I find your comment quite bizzare. While I agree with you that Future Tense is quite good (got it for Xmas actually), your contention that personal hygiene and sexual orientation are in any way related is delusional. If you're a rabble rouser, fine. If you actually beleive this, please elaborate "on this very important issue".

    • Robert Hiscock
      December 30, 2013 - 16:04

      No problem "Kilgore". One must look at an aversion to homosexuality with a historical sense that still applies to our times. There once was a time where the personal hygiene of people and societies was many orders of magnitude much lower than the hygiene of an average person in Canada. Where the roots of christianity first took root, the holy land, the vast majority of people lived in abject poverty, and even those of the highest order of rank, for example a roman citizen, in those days probably only had the hygiene of a pauper of victorian england, which is to say, washing once or twice or month a week. So because of the complete lack of hygiene people had to pay closer attention to their behaviours. One example: it is dirty to bite your nails. Follow up: It is dirty to take part in man to man sex. It is inherently dirty, this cannot be debated. Following "Kilgore"? Now, that aversion to homosexuality still exists in our time because of a wide spectrum in the difference in hygiene from one person to the next, from one society to the next. What is best for canadians may not be best for ugandans. Canada in general is less averse to the gays because our hygiene as a whole is probably better per capita than the hygiene in uganda. One more things: I am gay neutral, that is to say I don't care who one loves. I believe in the absolute right of individuals to live ones own life as one sees fit. But here, in this explanation you will find the reasons why some people call homosexuality evil, or a sin: because it is a sublimation of peoples instincts to a human, "all too human" natural aversion to sickness and death.

    • Robert Hiscock
      December 30, 2013 - 16:09

      If they don't post my full response, perhaps the Telegram, that beacon of free thought and expression will post my summarized version: Biting your nails is dirty, Therefore taking part in man on man sex is dirty. Dirty without good hygiene leads to sickness, decay, and death, for individuals as well as civilizations. Am I delusional, or are you?

  • Ed Power
    December 30, 2013 - 10:06

    Isn't it sad, "seanoairborne", how the pagan "Holiday Tree", the Festival of Saturnalia and the celebration of the Winter Solstice have been co-opted and corrupted by Christians? NEWFOUINDLAND! What has become of you? My Celtic and Gaulish ancestors who fought at Alesia and Medway are turning over in their graves!

    • seanoairborne
      December 30, 2013 - 11:59

      What's to matter meatball?You never answered,sufficiently,any of my queries?MY Celtic ancestors were Christians,not Anthropoids,like yours obviously were!!

    • Ed Power
      December 30, 2013 - 15:25

      "What's to matter, meatball..."? It is quite obvious - by your juvenile ad hominem rant - that I answered your queries in the manner that they deserved. If you had more than a passing knowledge of history you would know that YOUR Celtic ancestors (and mine) were followers of many different pagan religions before being converted to Christianity by the sword. You would also know that your grandfather didn't die at Vimy Ridge so that followers of one religious sect could impose their own peculiar beliefs upon their fellow citizens. If you had even a grade school knowledge of science -biology, in general, and evolutionary biology, in particular - you would know that homosexuality has been observed and documented in over 1500 species. It is a genetic variation and not an "abomination in the eyes of the Lord" as the religiously deluded believe. Finally, I might point out, that while my ancient ancestors came from the Hominid branch of the family tree, we still feel deep affection for our distant cousins on the Anthropoid side of family - you, as well. Happy Holidays!

  • seanoairborne
    December 28, 2013 - 21:25

    I never understood why 97 pct of the population of a country should buckle down to the three or four percent of a small minority.What a bunch of sheeple you have became all in the name of political correctness and diversity.And how about that "Holiday Tree"at the Avalon Mall?Another politically correct stunt that's taking the word "Christmas"and throwing it on the trash heap of history along with the well earned pride of a once great people who fought in two great wars to make the world safe for democracy and freedom and to uphold the noble standards that many bled and died for?Standards that have become passe in today's world!? Alas,it was all for naught! NEWFOUNDLAND!What has become of you?I barely recognize you any more?My Grandfather who fought at Vimy is turning over in his grave!

    • kyle
      January 07, 2014 - 21:55

      People fought in two great wars to make the world safe for democracy and freedom and to uphold the noble standards that many bled and died for to stop the "holiday tree" at the Avalon Mall? Lol oh poor white Christians getting upset when others get rights they've been trying to deny them for years.

  • Robert Hiscock
    December 28, 2013 - 15:48

    One of Mr. Dwyers books, entitled Future: Tense, is a must read for anyone who would like to know more about the Iraq war and some of the real reasons why that war occurred. However, Mr. Dwyer seems to overlook the teachings of some very important texts. I'm not religious, though J.C. is my favorite of the gods. When talking about gay rights one should have to talk about hygiene, and how the spectrum of hygiene from one person to the next in our modern world is very long. I mean, this is not a religious thing. The reason why the bible says that it is a sin directly relates to hygiene, sickness, and health. Do I have any takers to discuss this very important issue, or just the same old crowd yelling bigot?

    • Ed Power
      December 30, 2013 - 15:56

      I can only assume, Mr. Hiscock, that you follow other Biblical prohibitions with equal zeal? Do you like bacon? Out (Leviticus 11:7-8). Shellfish (Lev. 11:9-12)? Also out. Have you had a haircut recently? Out (Lev. 19:27). Do you plant different crops or flowers in your garden, allow your sheep and cattle graze together or wear a cotton shirt with woolen pants? Out, out and out (Lev. 19:19)! On the plus side, if your spouse should find that life with another man is preferable to living with you, you can kill her without penalty (Lev. 20:10). And if you can't find another wife, you can always keep a slave...or two or three (as long as they are from another nation (Lev. 25:44-46). I do hope that you don't - through some unhappy circumstance or accident - become disabled, for then you will be unable to approach or enter the House of the Lord (Lev. 21:18-23).

  • Ed Power
    December 28, 2013 - 12:18

    Oh, yes, the "gay agenda". The demand to be treated equally and fairly under the law, and the ability to live without fear of persecution by bigoted individuals and religious fundamentalists. It certainly rates right up there on the "Threat to Humanity" scale with the corporate war on the middle class and unions, the rape of the environment of by mining and oil interests and the never ending, but extremely profitable War on Terror,doesn't it, "saelcove"? What an asinine comment.

    • Robert Hiscock
      December 30, 2013 - 16:33

      The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms apply to everyone there bud, regardless of sexual orientation. They DO have equal rights under the law partner. Thanks Robert

  • saelcove
    December 28, 2013 - 10:39

    Behind closed doors and what is said in public is totally different,The media spend a lot of time promoting the gay agenda

    • Chantal
      December 28, 2013 - 14:10

      And what, pray tell, is the 'gay agenda?'

    • C.
      December 28, 2013 - 23:32

      What "gay agenda"? How ridiculous!

    • kyle
      January 07, 2014 - 21:57

      Try learning how to spell Seal Cove. You'll probably sound smarter. Then again, if you're talking about the "gay agenda", sounding smart is probably a lost cause for you.