The US Supreme Court has recently legalised same sex marriage – a decision viewed by many as a step forward for the LGBT community across the world in terms of equality. But with homosexuals still facing persecution in many countries across the world, is the court’s decision really that symbolic in a global context?
Take countries such as Iran and Mauritania, where homosexual acts are still punishable by being stoned to death under Sharia Law in the case of Iran and a 1984 law in Mauritania. There also appears to be a vast discrepancy between the punishment dispensed to men and women in such circumstances, with the punishment in the aforementioned countries being flogging and prison respectively.
The international community’s reaction to such laws also varies dramatically – the case of the Ugandan parliament recently attempting to introduce a law informally dubbed the ‘Kill the Gays‘ bill provoked widespread international outrage, leading to intense pressure from both western governments and media outlets and the eventual decision of the Ugandan Consitutional Court ruling the law invalid. Contrastingly, governments have been accused of turning a blind eye to the gay rights situation in Saudi Arabia, where media is banned from expressing any support for LGBT rights, due to fears it could jeopardise diplomatic relations and the lucrative economic benefits that could be gained from co-operation on trade and commerce, as well as in military campaigns.
The statistics surrounding homophobia also make for sobering reading. According to the FBI, 20.8% of the 2000 hate crimes committed in the US last year were based on the victim’s sexual orientation, while the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights recorded 770 killings and seriously violent attacks against LGBT people and groups between 1st January 2013 and 31st March 2014.
Closer to home, there is continued controversy over Russia’s attitude relating to the treatment of homosexuality and how the topic is taught to young people – a controversial law introduced 2013 prevents any teaching of homosexuality to minors, and gay parents have been banned from adopting. A Russian politician also recently said that Facebook should be blocked in the country after introducing a utility allowing users to change their profile picture to rainbow colours to celebrate the pride festival.
Initiatives to improve LGBT rights have made some ground however, the reaction to the US supreme court decision across social media and the world being one indication of improvement. Changes in attitude have also been noted, with a poll conducted by the Washington Post and NBC News showing a dramatic surge in support for gay marraige over time.
Nevertheless, the increasing disparity between how LGBT issues are perceived and approached in some countries means that equality could be argued to be decreasing as some parts of the world are left behind. Although the decision of the US court is momentous and does represent a big step forward, the fact it represents merely a change in attitude means that more widespread, concentrated and globally co-ordinated actions and campaigns will be needed in order for equality to be achieved.