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Saturday 27 May 2017


The Way They Were: Global LGBTI Rights

Posted in: Comment
By Craig Young - 24th April 2017

In this, the second of three farewell Politics and Religion articles, I will deal with the question of global LGBTI Human Rights.

 
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David McNew/Getty Images
Despite the rainbow global map depicted alongside this article, there are considerable gulfs between different nation states when it comes to LGBTI rights. Fortunately, New Zealand is one of the brighter strands of the international rainbow, having legislated for civil unions, marriage equality and inclusive adoption reform in 2005 and 2013, as noted in the previous retrospective article on LGBTI New Zealand. What about the rest of the world, however?

Western Europe, Canada and South America stand out in this period. The United Kingdom made rapid progress during the Blair, Brown and Cameron administrations, passing LGBTI-inclusive anti-discrimination legislation, equalising the gay male age of consent at sixteen, and legislating for inclusive adoption reform as early as 2002. In 2005 and 2013, keeping pace with New Zealand, the Blair and Cameron administrations passed civil partnership (union) and marriage equality legislation at the same time as New Zealand. The Cameron and May administrations have also retrospectively erased the criminal records of gay men convicted under 'buggery' (anal sex) and 'gross indecency' (oral sex) clauses of criminal legislation. Despite devolution of much legislative authority to local parliaments, Scotland followed suit. To everyone's surprise, so did the Republic of Ireland, voting seventy five percent in favour of marriage equality in an amendment to the Irish constitution. Ireland had only decriminalised male homosexuality back in 1993.

The United States is a law unto itself. While the Pacific Northwest and New England states are mainstream liberal democratic jurisdictions, unfortunately the nation is dragged backward by the poorly educated, economically straitened and abnormally religious South, which exchanged its virulent institutional and attitudinal racism for the fundamentalist Protestant 'bully pulpit,' with a stranglehold over the Republican Party under Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H. Bush in the eighties and early nineties. Under the Christian Right's pernicious influence, the US Supreme Court refused to repeal Georgia's archaic 'anti-sodomy' laws back in 1986, at a time when the HIV/AIDS epidemic was making inroads, in the Stygian Bowers versus Hardwick case. Unexpectedly, in 2003, a different US Supreme Court reversed itself in Lawrence versus Texas,where it abolished remaining US state 'anti-sodomy' legislation. In the Democrat interlude of the nineties, President Bill Clinton had had the opportunity to appoint liberal US justices to the Supreme Court. Unfortunately, despite the decriminalisation of male homosexuality that then ensued, anti-discrimination legislation remained log-jammed in the conservative Republican-dominated federal US House of Representatives and Senate. As well as that, President George W.Bush's ascendancy enabled numerous US states to per-emptively ban marriage equality- but the legislation was badly worded and fell apart in an intensive campaign from LGBT rights campaigners during the Obama era of the 2010s. The Obergefelt case struck down all remaining US state laws that opposed civil marriage equality. Even incumbent US Republican President Donald Trump has acknowledged that marriage equality is 'settled law' and seems ill-inclined to revisit it. The current US transgender rights battleground is transgender student educational access.

Meanwhile, Canada was one of the first nations to recognise civil marriage equality, back in 2005 as a consequence of a Charter of Rights and Freedoms decision which forced the hand of the Chretien and Martin federal Liberal governments. Unfortunately, the next nine years saw the Harper Conservative administration in power, which repeatedly obstructed transgender rights legislation introduced by the centre-left federal New Democrat Party. With the election of Justin Trudeau and his Liberals in 2015, however, the tide turned. Bill C-16 is currently passing through the Canadian Senate, its federal upper house. Meanwhile, most Canadian provinces now have trans-inclusive anti-discrimination laws, as is the case in Australia.

While Australia leads New Zealand in terms of transgender rights, the same cannot be said when it comes to marriage equality, due to the backwardness of the Australian Labor Party (which still has conservative Catholic segments) compared to its British and New Zealand counterparts and the stranglehold of Australia's Christian Right over the incumbent governing Liberal/National Coalition. Effectively, the Liberal/National Coalition is committed to a referendum on marriage equality, but it doesn't control the federal Senate, which is elected through the more proportional Single Transferable Vote rather the dis-proportionate Preferential Voting electoral system used for the House of Representatives. Under Chancellor Angela Merkel, the governing German Christian Democratic Union has similarly stonewalled marriage equality in Germany's federal Bundestag, but with its opinion poll lead erased, it may be the case that the Social Democrat and Green Opposition can win the forthcoming German federal election in October 2017 and introduce marriage equality there as well. Taiwan may be about to make a breakthrough in Eastern Asia.

South America has been a pleasant surprise when it comes to marriage equality and inclusive adoption reform. Emerging from dark pasts of military dictatorship, torture and brutal abuse of human rights and civil liberties, much of South America now has anti-discrimination legislation and marriage equality. Indeed, Uruguay and Argentina preceded New Zealand and the United Kingdom, as did South Africa, while Brazil, Mexico and Colombia have more recently followed suit. Similar proposals for reform exist in Chile. However, in one respect, Chile leads much of the rest of the world. Like Malta in the Mediterranean, Chile is one of two states that have prohibited invasive infantile intersex 'corrective' surgery. Similar proposals have been made in New Zealand and Germany.

Somewhere in the middle is most of Eastern Asia. These nations have decriminalised male homosexuality, while some have never criminalised it. However, few have LGBTI-inclusive anti-discrimination laws and are some distance from marriage equality and recognition of same-sex parenting. However, China has a surprisingly well-organised and articulate independent LGBTI movement of its own, as does Japan, and China's eastern coastal cities have their own LGBTI communities. Much the same is true in Taiwan, Vietnam and Cambodia and Thailand, while Muslim majority Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei are authoritarian hellholes. Sadly, Indonesia has become particularly repressive in recent years.

From the sublime to the Stygian. While the above aren't perfect in some areas, such as abusive,racist, sectarian, homophobic and transphobic refugee and asylum procedures in Australia and the United Kingdom, and issues like pension entitlement are an exception in the United Kingdom, they are paragons of human rights and civil liberties in other areas compared to the other nations that I will now describe.

Russia stands out. While the abolition of communism raised hopes after 1991 that the new Russian Republic would join the liberal democratic mainstream, the brief Yeltsin era of hesitant reform gave way to the entrenched regime of Vladimir Putin, who carries on a swiss cuckoo clock arrangement with his prime minister, Dimitri Medvedev. Their United Russia Party dominates the Duma, Russia's charade 'parliament' as well as exercising heavy censorship of most media outlets. In order to supplement its appeal, Putin has engineered a close relationship with the backward and medieval Russian Orthodox Church during his last two decades in power. As a consequence, Russia now has 'anti-propaganda' legislation which heavily censors positive LGBTI imagery and freedom of speech and expression. Still, at least Russia has decriminalised male homosexuality, unlike much of Central Africa.

Last, and most definitely least, there are the retinue of corrupt dictatorships and virtual one-party states of much of Africa. Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has been in power for over thirty years, and its facade democratic institutions preside over a poorly controlled Ugandan National Police. It maintains criminal penalties against male homosexuality and conducts itself repressively when it comes to professional associations, feminist, environmental and civil libertarian groups as well. Nigeria has had frequent interludes of military dictatorship and similarly refuses to decriminalise male homosexuality, with heavy penalties when it comes to same-sex marriage, even in the form of commitment ceremonies with little legal force. Chad, Kenya, Congo and South Sudan similarly have lamentable human rights and civil libertarian records when it comes to LGBT rights. One exception insofar as transgender rights are concerned is the Shia Islamic Republic of Iran, which is outstandingly liberal on that single issue. Turkey accommodates brutal repression and abuse of transgender sex workers at the hands of police and paramilitary groups. Still, at least these are better than the Sunni Muslim majority states where male homosexuality is a capital offense, leading to execution. Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Kuwait, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates fall into this category, and organisations like Daesh/"Islamic State" routinely murder gay men through throwing them off tall buildings. Moreover, Somalia, Sudan, Afghanistan and Congo are failed states, with little central governmental authority and widespread abuses of human rights and civil liberties.

This concludes this brief overdue of global LGBTI rights over the last decade and a half in this second farewell Politics and Religion article. The third and final piece will deal with our incompetent and inept adversary, the New Zealand Christian Right.



Craig Young - 24th April 2017

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