The Legality of Love: This Valentine’s Day, Remember That LGBTQ People Are Illegal in a Third of the World

The Legality of Love: This Valentine’s Day, Remember That LGBTQ People Are Illegal in a Third of the World

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This story about LGBTQ criminalization worldwide was contributed by Jessica Stern, Executive Director of OutRight Action International.

As shop windows fill with hearts, ads explode with photos of different-sex couples, and people around the world celebrate romantic love, I inevitably think about the love between people of the same sex. The kind of love scarcely seen on Valentine’s Day cards, even in countries which profess to be champions of LGBTIQ equality, the kind of love for which we face hatred, violence, ostracization, and even imprisonment and death. A love still illegal in much of the world, hidden from view, sometimes even from ourselves, and certainly not celebrated by others.

The criminalization of same-sex relations remains a reality for too many people. Sixty-eight countries — that is over a third of the world — continue to criminalize consensual same-sex relations. Some even criminalize public expressions of affection between people of the same sex through “morality” or “indecency laws”; Nigeria criminalizes not only affection and same-sex relations, but even knowledge of same-sex relations by others, effectively criminalizing freedom of assembly and expression, and the friends and family members of LGBTIQ individuals. A handful of countries that have not criminalized same-sex relations in the past are considering doing so now; Gabon introduced criminalization last summer, Egypt and Indonesia may follow.

These LGBTQ criminalization laws not only outlaw our love, they make us criminals and perpetuate negative societal perceptions, giving the green light for violence and harassment, forcing us to lead lives in secret and fear, hiding our love from the view of the world.

Encouragingly, the fall of these predominantly colonial-era relics has been a consistent trend across the world, most recently in Botswana and Bhutan. And laws in many of the remaining 68 countries are under siege. Just in the last few months challenges have been mounted in Dominica, St Vincent and the Grenadines. They are also pending in Singapore, Tunisia, Jamaica and elsewhere.

The high number of countries that still criminalize same-sex relations is undoubtedly discouraging, a testament to the uphill battle that still lies ahead until we can truly reach LGBTIQ equality.

But there is another number: Over 40 countries recognize some form of partnership between people of the same sex, be that marriage or civil union. Just last year Taiwan became the first country in Asia to recognize same-sex marriage, Northern Ireland joined the rest of the UK in doing the same, recognition of same-sex marriage is pending in the Czech Republic, and efforts to introduce same-sex partnership laws are underway across the Balkans.

That number deserves celebration and visibility, especially today. What Valentine’s Day at least here in the United States shows is that even in a country that recognizes same-sex marriage, we have a way to go before same-sex relationships are seen as equal to different-sex relationships, as relationships worth seeing, promoting and celebrating.

So let us celebrate our love in all its diversity, visibly and loudly. Let’s do so for ourselves — to shatter the assumed and imposed heteronormativity, and for our LGBTIQ friends living in countries where their love is illegal.

Let’s continue the fight against LGBTQ criminalization worldwide.

Jessica Stern is the Executive Director of OutRight Action International, an organization that fights for the human rights for LGBTIQ people everywhere. OutRight works at the international, regional and national levels to research, document, defend, and advance human rights for LGBTIQ people around the world.

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