on the state of the world we live in
More from Patrick Strudwick
It’s comforting to believe that because the situation for gay people is improving in Britain, other countries are edging in the right direction. But in pockets across the world, gay people are finding that they are increasingly subject to regressive measures. I’m not referring to the kind of casual, socially backward moves that are sometimes hard to quantify. These are solid, indisputable realities: laws.
In the last few months, a small tide of homophobic legislation has crashed onto gay peoples’ shores threatening to push emancipation back decades. These laws expose as a lie the argument that gay people have equal rights now, and should jolly well stop asking for more. In fact, today we can no more afford to be complacent than at any time in the last hundred years.
St Petersburg, the second largest city in Russia, recently passed a law against the “promotion of homosexuality”. An individual or organisation will be fined for the offence. The law passed on its first reading, by 37 votes to 1. Now, the country’s deputy prime minister wants to roll the legislation out across the world’s largest nation.
In November, the Nigerian senate voted for a bill that criminalises gay marriage. The punishment? 14 years imprisonment. In some areas of the country you can already be stoned to death for being gay. But this new law doesn’t just affect our gay brothers and sisters there. Anyone who attends such a wedding would be jailed for a decade.
Also in November, David Bahati, the Ugandan MP who introduced the bill that would make homosexuality punishable by death, re-introduced the bill to parliament. International condemnation had previously helped to stop it being voted on but Bahati has persuaded his parliament’s speaker to let the bill be heard once more. Pakistan attempted to make phone companies block text messages containing the words gay, homosexual or condom. It was only thanks to a huge outcry that this diktat has been put on hold.
Malaysia is currently debating laws that would give some of its regional states the power to punish homosexuality, on top of the national laws that dish out flogging and 20 years imprisonment. Under these new proposals, fines and enforced gay “cure counselling” would be added to the punishments available. So, not content with physical torture, Malaysia now seeks to use psychological abuse. In Spain the situation for gay people is about to get worse. Its new right-wing government is on a repressive, retrograde mission. Mariano Rajoy, the leader of the ruling Popular Party, has vowed to overturn the law that permits gay marriage. He argues that it is “unconstitutional” and has already filed a challenge to overturn it.
As Europe starts financially freefalling even further over the coming years I fear fellow EU governments will follow Spain’s horrible lead. At the moment, other countries further afield are simply ramping up the enforcement of existing laws. The president of Ghana, John Atta Mills, said a few weeks ago: “I, as president, will never initiate or support any attempt to legalise homosexuality in Ghana,” three months after Paul Evan Aidoo, the minister for Western Ghana, ordered the arrest of all gay people in the area. Cameroon has, according to local activists, started pursuing those who even appear to defy laws against homosexuality. In August, two men, aged 19 and 20 were, according to their lawyer Alice Nkom, beaten and arrested for “looking feminine”. In northern Cyprus, the only part of Europe that still criminalises homosexuality, three men were arrested for it in October. And in Mumbai, despite India legalising homosexuality in 2009, 150 men were fined 1,200 rupees (about two weeks’ wages) for “indecent acts” at a rave. All of these examples teach us one thing: advancements can always be reversed. But, there is every cause for optimism. A new organisation called the Human Dignity Trust has been launched by two of Britain’s top international human rights lawyers to overturn the laws criminalising homosexuality all over the world.
The trust will use the discrepancies between countries’ laws against gay people and their ratifications of international human rights treaties to dismantle such oppressive legislation. It’s the same approach that helped legalise homosexuality in Ireland, Northern Ireland, India and Cyprus. Their first case, in Belize, will have come to court by the time you read this.
After that, every government that outlaws homosexuality should beware: it will, in the end, not be God, the media, politicians, or even the electorate that decides the fate of gay people. It will be the cold, logical reasoning of a judge.