Gay Marriage and Other Wins for LGBT People Here Are Making Life Worse for Gays and Lesbians in Developing Countries
The last six months have seen a run of victories for LGBT people in Europe and America. This week, the British government voted to approve same-sex marriage, only just pipped to the post by the French, who celebrated their first same-sex weddings in May. The hated Defence of Marriage Act was struck down in the US by the Supreme Court last month and California's Prop 8, a similar piece of anti-gay legislation, has been dealt a deathblow.
But the successes achieved in Europe and America are adding to the challenges facing LGBT people in the global South. The achievement of equal marriage, parenting and adoption rights and full legal protection can actually impede the struggles in other parts of the world where the battles for LGBT people are about the most fundamental of human rights. 76 countries continue to criminalise 'homosexual conduct', punishable with prison sentences and hard labour. In five countries the death penalty still applies
Because they are losing ground in the West, our opponents are increasingly moving their resources (and their rhetoric and their hate) to more fertile grounds in developing countries. American Evangelical Churches are abandoning the fight against equality at home, in favour of supporting homophobic laws abroad. Why fight a losing battle against social liberalism in America or Europe, where you are increasingly ignored and ridiculed, when in Uganda, Belize or Nigeria you are welcomed with open arms. In this perverse way the successes of the LGBT movement in the North, and in particular in the United States, have acted to worsen conditions in the South.
Moreover, activists from Africa and elsewhere find it hard at the best of times to decouple their demands for basic rights from the demands of activists in Europe and the US. The fight in much of the world isn't for partnership or parenting rights, but for the right to live lives free from violence, harassment, arrest or detention. Victories for same-sex marriage make this battle for basic rights even more difficult, muddying the water between northern and southern demands. It arms those that stand opposed to granting LGBT people even the most basic of human rights, with the argument: 'Look where it will all end. If we give these people what they are asking for they will be getting married in our churches next.'
As the champagne corks are popped in London and Paris, and we notch up yet more victories for LGBT people in the West, countless setbacks, reversals and outrages occur elsewhere. The Ugandan parliament continues to flirt with introducing the death penalty and imprisoning parents for not turning in their own gay children to the authorities. This week in Cameroon a prominent gay activists was tortured and beaten to death.
And in Russian president Putin signed a law that bans the so-called "propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations", with Ukraine, Lithuania, Belarus and Hungary attempting to implement similar restrictions.
Of course, no one is saying that battles for same-sex marriage shouldn't be fought in the West and victories celebrated. It would be nice though, that as we toast the successes at home, we don't forget that the struggle for equality, rights and dignity continues elsewhere, and that it is not a struggle that is apart from our own. The battle for equal rights in the global North is woven, intimately, with the battles for equality and dignity further afield. We'd do well to remember that and that, in many places, there is far more at stake than embossed invitations or a gift register at John Lewis.