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LGBTIQ+ rights around the globe

Katya Shaposhnikova

Despite the fact that we live in the 21st century and are seriously in discussions of colonizing Mars, the LGBTIQ+ community is still a sensitive topic. The world is divided in half: in some parts, the community is fully accepted, but on the other — restricted by the government and denied in society. Legalization consists of recognizing and decriminalizing LGBTIQ+ relationships, giving them the opportunity to get married, serve in the military, have children, and more. Where has this already been achieved? What are the best countries for LGBTIQ+ rights? What can other countries learn? And where is the best place for LGBTIQ+ to live?

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Europe: the leader

The history of LGBTIQ+ rights in Europe is truly rich. The first initiative to decriminalize same-sex relationships came from the Principality of Andorra: in 1790, any penalties were abolished. It was followed up by France in 1791, then Monaco (1793), Belgium and Luxembourg (1795), as well as Switzerland (1798). The Netherlands became the first country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage (2001).

Eastern Europe did it later, especially the socialist countries and the states that were once part of the USSR. The year of the abolition of criminal prosecution of LGBTIQ+ in Bulgaria was 1968, in Moldova — 1995, in Romania — 1996, in Ukraine — 1991. In comparison, the Vatican abolished criminal prosecutions of the community in 1929 before World War II, and one of the most religious countries, Italy — in 1890. Communism also prevented Spain from removing the law on criminal liability: this became possible only after Franco died in 1979.

As practice shows, the pioneers in recognizing the rights of people of non-heterosexual orientation were the most economically developed states, which were in a stable and prosperous state at the time of the adoption of laws. The wave of legalizations of same-sex marriage, which occurred in the early 2000s almost simultaneously throughout Europe, is not an unnecessary confirmation. It was a time of peace, relative stability, absence of crises, global threats, and conflicts. Today most European countries fully support and protect the LGBTIQ+.

USA: your way

Things are not easy in the United States. LGBTIQ+ rights in the USA have room for improvement. Despite the five rulings of the US Supreme Court that abolish discrimination, affirm the legality of same-sex marriage and allow the adoption of children, there is a separate family code and local laws in different states. In some of them, adoption is still prohibited for unmarried couples. In some cases, there are no laws on hate crimes. In Kentucky, for example, it’s impossible to change the gender marker on the birth certificate and driver's license. Certain laws existed in Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri, and Kansas until 2003 — such as the law on "improper sexual contact" for heterosexual couples in a number of states.

The Supreme Court overturned all discriminatory laws at the same time, but this required a precedent — the case of Lawrence v. Texas, which proved that the laws of the state of Texas contradict the basic Constitution. Nevertheless, in most regions, the decriminalizing law was adopted in the late 1970s–1980s, so there was and remains the lowest percentage of cases of discrimination in the United States.

Africa: solid no

There are only a few countries in Africa where same-sex relationships are fully legalized, there are anti-discrimination regulations, and LGBTIQ+ people have the opportunity to start a family. Saint Helena adopted laws concerning LGBTIQ+ in 2017. Ascension Island did the same in 2017, and South Africa passed laws on same-sex marriage back in 2006. As expected, these are the most economically sustained regions.

In the rest of the recognized and unrecognized States of the continent, things are very different. For example, in Zambia, Zimbabwe, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Malawi, Mauritius and Swaziland, only female couples are decriminalized. This means that women of non-heterosexual orientation are not imprisoned, but homosexual men are completely outlawed. In the other African States, there’s a penalty for all types of same-sex relationships. In Algeria, entering into a same-sex relationship ends you in prison for 2 years, in Libya — up to 5 years, in Morocco and Tunisia — up to 3 years, in South Sudan — up to 10 years. In Mauritania, men face the death penalty, and women face 2 years in prison. In Tanzania and Somalia, same-sex relationships face life imprisonment.

Russia and CIS countries: well, well…

Despite the fact that criminal liability for "homosexuality" has been abolished both in Russia (1993) and in the Republic of Belarus (1994), the fact that homophobia is flourishing in these countries is no secret to anyone... Belarus diligently pretends that the community doesn’t exist and uses the censorship tool. Russia turns a blind eye to the persecution of LGBTIQ+ people in the Caucasus region, does not investigate hate crimes, and doesn’t even consider the possibility of legalizing gay couples. Not to mention the fact that in 2013 Russia enacted the infamous “gay propaganda” law.

In the countries of the Transcaucasian region, the situation is not much better. Armenia, Georgia, and Azerbaijan excluded penalties for homosexuality from the Criminal Code in the early 2000s, and since then there have been no further changes. There has been no legalization of marriages (moreover, it is constitutionally prohibited in Armenia), no changes to the law on military service, or the law on adoption. They also chose the method of avoiding the problem, silencing people, and censorship.

Things are even worse in Central Asia. In Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, only relations between women are decriminalized, men face up to 3 years in prison. In Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan, criminality was abolished in 1998, gender transition was legalized, but the other points have remained the same since the late 1990s. Here we see the same picture: an unstable economy and the lack of adequate laws and protection of minority rights. 

The Middle East and South Asia: love or death

Unfortunately, there’s also a truly "red zone" on the world map — places where attitudes towards LGBTIQ+ issues have remained at the medieval level. The death penalty for same-sex relationships is officially applied in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Yemen, Afghanistan, Iran, Brunei. Syria, Qatar, and Oman follow the practice of imprisonment for different terms. At the same time, same-sex relationships were decriminalized in Bahrain in 1976. 

In seemingly progressive Singapore, only female couples are not criminally prosecuted. In Myanmar, the law prescribes life imprisonment, as well as in Pakistan. In Malaysia — up to 20 years in prison, in Kuwait — up to 10. 

In this case, the economic reasons for homophobia are not the most obvious, since very developed countries have also been included in the list of radically homophobic countries. In this case, the political aspect is more important. This tool is always used by regimes where a happy life of an individual isn’t of great importance. 

When it comes to LGBTIQ+ rights, the most progressive country in South Asia is India, where, although there is no legalization of same-sex marriage, transgender people have all the rights and a special O (other) mark in their passport, and discrimination is prosecuted by law. Same-sex relationships with mutual consent were decriminalized there in 2018.

What is really behind homophobia?

Even though LBGT Pride Month is a thing, homophobia is still a global issue. Where do mythical justifications like "traditional” and “natural” relationships come from? Perhaps this is a doubt in the future, a shaky foundation that needs to be reevaluated on a global level. Nature itself is in constant motion and development. Moreover, among the representatives of the fauna, same-sex relationships exist — we all know that. But to strengthen the authority of an unstable, weak state, the myth of the unnaturalness of homosexuality is quite suitable.  

Therefore, through the tool of religious or secular ideology, a parallel is drawn between the state and the family, myths about "normality", "morality" are created, demonization of phenomena that for some reason aren’t profitable occurs. To control the consciousness of the masses, an image of the enemy is needed — this is bad, it’s dirty and wrong — and so on. What do we see? It is the dictatorships that are the most homophobic points on the world map, and the dependent follow their rules obediently. Homophobia is still tolerated by governments around the world.

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