External Affairs

It’s Still Illegal To Be Gay in 72 Countries

Mourners in San Diego, California, gather under an LGBT pride flag at a candlelight vigil in remembrance of victims of the mass shooting in Orlando, Florida. Credit: Reuters/Mike Blake

New Delhi: Homosexuality continues to be a crime in 72 countries and territories around the world, even warranting the death sentence in some. According to a report by the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA), same-sex relations can result in a prison sentence up to life in dozens of countries and in eight it can even lead to a death penalty.

Iran, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Somalia and northern Nigeria criminalise same-sex relations under Sharia law, while the ISIS commits extrajudicial executions of homosexuals in Syria and Iraq. In these harsher nations, penalties differ for married and unmarried men, and are often more lenient for women.

In Yemen, married men can be stoned to death for homosexual intercourse, while unmarried men face whipping or one year in prison, and women seven years imprisonment. In Qatar, the law against sodomy applies only to Muslims; in Saudi Arabia, a non-Muslim can be killed for engaging in gay sex with a Muslim.

Five countries – Pakistan, Afghanistan, the UAE, Qatar and Mauritania – have a death penalty on the books, but there’s no evidence that adults engaging in consensual sex in private have been prosecuted. In a slew of South Asian and African nations influenced by British colonial penal code, homosexuality carries a prison sentence. And a total of 40 countries still have a ‘gay panic’ clause that allows defendants to claim they were provoked to commit a crime because of the victim’s sexuality.

LGBTQ people in these states are often triply persecuted by government, families and terrorist or extremist religious groups. Many flee as refugees to neighbouring host countries like Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan, but don’t always succeed in escaping abuse. In July 2016, a gay Syrian refugee was kidnapped, raped and beheaded in Turkey.

Even in countries where homosexuality is legal, discriminatory laws still exist and violence against the LGBTQ community abounds. In Russia, where homosexuality is legal, the government passed a law in 2013 that bans the “promotion” of “sodomy, lesbianism, bisexuality and transgenderism.” In Chechnya, reports emerged in April of gay men stripped naked, tortured and even killed because of their sexuality. In the US, transgender violence hit its highest level ever recorded in 2015 with the murders of 21 transgender victims, almost all women of colour. Not one was reported or prosecuted as a hate crime.

“There is no country in the world where LGBT people are safe from discrimination, stigmatisation or violence,” Aengus Carroll, co-author of the ILGA report, told The Guardian. “Legislative change is slow enough in coming, but societal attitudes, particularly those that may evoke taboo, are painstakingly slow.”

In spite of prevailing discrimination, the global trend is toward legalisation of same-sex relations. France was the first country to decriminalise homosexuality in 1791; today, homosexuality is legal in more than 120 countries.

Same-sex relationships are recognised in 47 countries, and marriage is legal in 24. The Netherlands was the first country to legalise same-sex marriage in 2003, and the most recent was Germany in June.

Of these countries, 26 allow for same-sex couple adoption and 27 allow for same-sex second parent adoption – where a same-sex parent can legally become a parent to his or her partner’s child.