Nations around the world, one by one, are eliminating their old laws and statutes that make homosexuality illegal. The largest and most recent of these is India, where an old law–section 377–imposed by the former British occupiers, has recently been struck down.
The judgment opens with a quote from Goethe: “I am what I am, so take me as I am.” It relies on knowledge from psychology and science to support its reasoning, even giving a nod to rainbow symbolism (“different hues and colours together make the painting of humanity beautiful”). Most of all, it is a heartfelt discourse from the justices to their nation on the importance of human rights and diversity, an invitation to move “from bigotry to tolerance,” to serve “as the herald of a new India.”
There will be a lot more work to do in India and in many other countries, where attitudes against homosexuality are deeply embedded, but now at least the laws exist which establish a legal foundation for change.
Historical Context–Those Eminent Victorians:
Today, seventy countries around the world still criminalize homosexuality, wielding punishments that include imprisonment, penalties, brutalization, and, in certain regions, death. In twenty-seven of these nations, the law only applies to men, according to a study conducted by the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA). While these decrees were first introduced in vastly distinct contexts, at least thirty-seven of the seventy countries in which homosexuality is currently illegal were once under British control and these policies originated during colonization. Starting in 1860, Britain spread specific legal codes across its colonies that prohibited sexual relations between men throughout its territories.
Many cases that address LGBTQ legal issues have been brought to court in 2018, paving the way for future advances toward decriminalizing same-sex relationships, supporting same-sex marriage, bringing forth legislature that protects human rights, and even introducing LGBTQ education to school curricula. Here is a timeline of some nations around the world that have legalized homosexuality, and when they did it.
[Selected] Legalization Timeline:
In a few places homosexuality was never legally criminalized: Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Benin, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Djibouti, Madagascar, Aruba, Curaçao, Sint Maarten, Taiwan, North Korea, South Korea, Cambodia, Laos, Philippines and Vietnam.
France: homosexuality decriminalized
Brazil: homosexuality decriminalized
Bolivia: homosexuality decriminalized
Argentina: homosexuality decriminalized
Paraguay: homosexuality decriminalized
Japan: homosexuality decriminalized
Italy: homosexuality decriminalized
Peru: homosexuality decriminalized
Denmark: homosexuality decriminalized
Greenland: homosexuality decriminalized
Uruguay: homosexuality decriminalized
Iceland: homosexuality decriminalized
Sweden: homosexuality decriminalized
Jordan: homosexuality decriminalized
United States: Illinois becomes first state to decriminalize homosexuality
UK (except North Ireland) : homosexuality decriminalized
Spain: homosexuality decriminalized
Colombia: homosexuality decriminalized
Portugal: homosexuality decriminalized
Ireland: homosexuality decriminalized
Chile: homosexuality decriminalized
Ecuador: homosexuality decriminalized
Venezuela: homosexuality decriminalized
Saint Helena: homosexuality decriminalized
Cape Verde: homosexuality decriminalized
Nicaragua: homosexuality decriminalized
Panama: homosexuality decriminalized
Lesotho: homosexuality decriminalized
São Tomé and Príncipe: homosexuality decriminalized
UK (except North Ireland): Same Sex Marriage Act allows Same Sex Marriage
France: Same Sex Marriage legalized
Brazil: Same Sex Marriage legalized
Mozambique: homosexuality decriminalized
Belize: homosexuality decriminalized
Nauru: homosexuality decriminalized
Republic of Seychelles: homosexuality decriminalized
That’s the good news. The not good news is there are many many others yet to come around. Here are the countries where homosexuality is punishable by death:
Mauritania (only for muslim men)
Sudan (upon 3rd conviction)
Qatar (Muslims only, all extramarital sex regardless of gender)
Countries where homosexuality is outlawed who used to be part of the Former British Commonwealth (my God they were everywhere!):
Botswana, Cameroon, Gambia, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Mauritius, Namibia, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Swaziland, Uganda, Tanzania, Zambia, Bangladesh, Brunei Kingdom, Malaysia, Pakistan, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, St Lucia, St Kitts and Nevis, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Kiribati, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga and Tuvalu
Here is a list of all the rest of the countries where homosexuality is illegal:
Algeria, Angola, Botswana, Burundi, Cameroon, Comoros, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia
Gambia, Ghana, Guineaminate, Kenya, Liberia, Libya, Malawi (enforcement of law suspended since 2011), Mauritania, Mauritius, Morocco, Namibia, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Swaziland, Tanzania, Togo, Tunisia, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe
In Asia, including the Middle East:
Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Brunei, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Lebanon (law ruled invalid in one court in 2014 and disqualified for use against same-sex intimacy in another court in February 2017), Malaysia, Maldives, Myanmar, Oman, Pakistan, Palestine/Gaza Strip, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Syria, Turkmenistan, United Arab Emirates, Uzbekistan, Yemen
Antigua & Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica (But see “Dominica leader: No enforcement of anti-gay law“), Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, St Kitts & Nevis, St Lucia and St Vincent & the Grenadines. (However Latin America has made great strides in recent years).
Russia, which enacted an anti-“gay propaganda” law in 2013 prohibiting any positive mention of homosexuality in the presence of minors, including online.
Lithuania, which has a similar law; in 2015 it considered but has not yet adopted a further law that would impose fines for any public display that “defies traditional family values.”
Ukraine, which considered such a law in 2012 and 2013, did not adopt it and seems to have dropped the issue. whew.
Moldova, which adopted and then repealed such a law in 2013.
Belarus, which was discussing such a law in early 2016.
If one looks back at the legalization timeline, it’s clear that legalization is gaining momentum. More nations have legalized in recent decades than in the preceding ones. I would like to think that this momentum and consensus will continue and that this frighteningly long list of nations where people are not allowed to be who they are will continue to shrink.
Not all that long ago this change might have been unthinkable….one might have despaired at how difficult it can be to change people's point of view on a subject such as this. But hearteningly, it seems people can and do change–people used to think slavery was necessary and moral, they did! People thought that women should not be allowed to vote. We humans are flexible and malleable; sometimes that means we can adapt our ways of thinking and change for the better.
Olivia Casa is a writer and editor based in New York.
Parissah Lin is the Managing Editor of Reasons To Be Cheerful.