This is the State of LGBTQ Equality at Home and Abroad – Updated Nov. 7

Written by | Lifestyle

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Photo By Lopolo/shutterstock

Back in 2001 the Netherlands became the first country to legalize gay marriage. Countries like Belgium, Spain, Canada, South Africa, Norway, Portugal and Iceland were quick to join the Dutch. Since then over 20 countries have come out of the Dark Ages to recognize (and legalize) same-sex marriage. Nevertheless, 2019 was a year where we won and lost some of the battles in marriage equality.

Just because the United States (as of this writing) has marriage equality in all 50 states doesn’t mean the fight for equality is over. Certainly 2020 is poised to be a pivotal year for our community around the world. Let’s continue to work with our friends overseas to make sure that everyone has the right to say “I do.” For the latest update on the global marriage equality news, let’s look at recent happenings in Hong Kong, Japan, Northern Ireland and Costa Rica

As of November, 2019

Hong Kong

Hong Kong was anticipated to follow Taiwan in acknowledging LGBTQ unions. That anticipation subsided in October when their court ruled against allowing same-sex unions in the city. In fact, Judge Anderson Chow even warned that updating the definition of marriage to include marriage equality would lead to “far-reaching consequences.” Man-kei Tam, Director of Amnesty International Hong Kong, stated “this judgement is a bitter blow to the LGBTQ communities in Hong Kong, who cannot acquire the same status and recognition,and access the same rights as opposite-sex couples, due to outdated laws that refuse to recognize same-sex unions.” This is despite the fact that the former British colony decriminalized homosexuality in 1991.

Japan

Japan’s constitution hasn’t been amended since it was adopted after World War II. The constitution states that “Marriage shall be based only on the mutual consent of both sexes and it shall be maintained through mutual cooperation with the equal rights of husband and wife as a basis.” Former Minister of Education Hakubun Shimomura recently suggested adding same sex marriage rights along with a list of other potential constitutional changes.

This is following in the footsteps of a same-sex marriage bill that was introduced in June. Dentsu Diversity Lab had already found that 78 percent of the Japanese population supports same-sex marriage. Still, according to the same study, only some 65 percent of the surveyed respondents who identify as LGBTQ are open about their sexuality at home or work. The survey involved 60,00 individuals between the ages of 20-59 across Japan. Thirty lawyers are currently working on marriage equality cases across four district courts in the country, echoing the Chi Chi-wei petition mounted by Taiwanese activists that first paved the way for marriage equality in Taiwan.

Northern Ireland

Happy (early) Valentine’s Day to the people of Belfast and all of Northern Ireland. The first same-sex weddings are scheduled to take place and formally registered there on February 14, 2020. At the stroke of midnight on Monday, October 21, the people of Northern Ireland received the official news. The UK Parliament had been in a deep deadlock until Labour Party MP Conor McGinn offered an amendment to a bill that legalized marriage equality in Northern Ireland. The terms of this amendment stated that marriage equality would be put into place if the legislature failed to reconstitute. The rest, as they say, is history.

Costa Rica

We recently reported the exciting possibility of marriage equality on the horizon for the people of Costa Rica. More than 30 groups there have joined a campaign calling to increase the support for marriage equality in the country.

Back in January of 2018, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights issued a ruling to recognize same-sex marriage as well as transgender rights. Costa Rica President Carlos Alvarado Quesada has also come out in support of same-sex marriage. Alvarado stated publicly, “We continue to deploy actions that guarantee no person will face discrimination for their sexual orientation or gender identity, and that all the state’s protections be given to all families under equal conditions. … Our commitment to full equality remains intact.” The May 26, 2020 decision deadline draws ever nearer. Will they rally enough support in time?

As of October, 2019

Alabama

Marc Brown, creator of the PBS series Arthur expressed his frustration after Alabama Public Television yanked his Series 22 premiere because it featured a gay wedding. In the episode, Mr. Ratburn, Arthur’s teacher, married his longtime partner. This echoes the 2005 decision Alabama Public Television made to also yank the spinoff series Postcards from Buster which featured lesbian mothers. Shortly after the announcement came out, Birmingham’s First Methodist Church teamed up with Sidewalk Film Festival and SHOUT LGBTQ Festival to hold a special screening of the episode. Guests who came to the screening were offered sparkling apple juice and wedding cake in honor of episode entitled Mr. Ratburn and the Special Someone.

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Cayman Islands

Friction on the equality front has been rattling the Cayman Islands over the past few years. Currently, no country in the Caribbean allows same-sex marriage or civil unions, even though it’s legal in certain other overseas territories of the Netherlands and the United States.  Chantelle Day and Vickie Bodden Bush went to court last year after they were denied the opportunity to marry each other in the islands. After Chief Justice Anthony Smellie ruled that the definition of marriage is between a man and a woman last March, Day and Bush went to bat for same-sex rights during a three-day hearing in August.

Scotland

The Methodist Church in the United Kingdom and the Church of Scotland are currently reviewing changes that would include marriage equality. Individual congregations have been able to vote on whether or not their churches can hold same-sex weddings. Ian McDowall, 27, and Jamie Wallace, 39 – a gay couple from Scotland – were married in Glasgow’s Rutherglen United Reformed Church on Songs of Praise, a Christian reality program broadcast on the BBC. The couple’s ceremony was the first same-sex wedding at the church. Reverend Kate Bottley officiated and Wallace reminded fellow Christians that “Jesus preaches about love, inclusion, kindness, compassion.”

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Kentucky

It’s been a little while since Kim Davis, the infamously anti-gay former Kentucky county clerk, has been in the news. After gaining notoriety for pushing religion as a justification for discriminating against processing paperwork for same-sex couples wishing to tie the knot, she’s back in the papers because she may finally face legal action after three judges (that’s 3-0, hennies!) on the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati put out a ruling that she can be formally sued for damages after couples appealed initial court rulings.

New Jersey

This past summer, Amit Shah and Aditya Madiraju did what many considered unthinkable: they threw a traditional Desi wedding for themselves. The couple met at a birthday party in 2016 and were formally wed in New York City in early 2018. But the groundbreaking part of their celebration took place this year. The wedding, performed at a Hindu temple on July 18, was the talk of the South Asian LGBTQ community with the grooms clad in handsome outfits designed by Anita Dongre (and floral kurtas from Bohame for the party). Images of the wedding went viral practically overnight. Why is a formal Desi wedding such a big deal? India does not currently recognize same-sex relationships, let alone marriage. In fact, the Supreme Court of India only decriminalized homosexuality last year.

As of September, 2019

Botswana

While rainbow wedding bells might not be ringing in Botswana yet, civil rights activists are reveling in the fact that Botswana’s High Court overturned laws that criminalized homosexuality. Judge Michael Leburu made the decision that these laws violate the country’s Constitution and ruled in favor of protecting human rights. Letsweletse Motshidiemang courageously challenged the country’s anti-sodomy laws stating, “We are not looking for people to agree with homosexuality [but] to be tolerant.” Under section 164 of Botswana’s Penal Code, “carnal knowledge of any person against the order of nature,” was an offense that could carry a maximum sentencing of seven years in prison. In section 167 “acts of gross indecency” (public or private) were considered a punishable offense with up to two years in prison.

Ecuador

Good news came to the people of Ecuador this June when the Constitutional Court, Ecuador’s highest court, voted in favor of marriage equality. The 5-to-4 ruling came on June 12, 2019, just before the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising. Ecuador officially became the fifth South American country to allow same-sex couples to marry, following Argentina, Brazil, Colombia and Uruguay.

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Indiana

All eyes were on Cathedral High School in Indianapolis this past June when the school fired a teacher for being married. The school terminated the teacher’s contract in order to protect its “Catholic identity.” In a letter posted on the high school’s website, Board Chairman Matt Cohoat and President Rob Bridges wrote “It is Archbishop Thompson’s responsibility to oversee faith and morals as related to Catholic identity within the Archdiocese of Indianapolis. Archbishop Thompson made it clear that Cathedral’s continued employment of a teacher in a public, same-sex marriage would result in our forfeiting our Catholic identity due to our employment of an individual living in contradiction to Catholic teaching on marriage. If this were to happen, Cathedral would lose the ability to celebrate the Sacraments as we have it the past 100 years with our students and community.”

Earlier that month, The Archdiocese of Indianapolis cut ties with Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School after they refused to fire a gay teacher. Cathedral High School addressed the difference of their decision, stating: “We respect the position of our brothers and sisters at Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School as they also navigate this painful time. Brebeuf is sponsored by the Jesuits while Cathedral is merely affiliated with The Brothers of Holy Cross. Because Brebeuf is a specific ministry of the Jesuits, their canonical and nonprofit status is different than ours. Therefore, the two schools cannot function the same way if Cathedral were to receive a similar decree as Brebeuf.”

Israel

During gay pride month, 23 couples held a fabulous party in Tel Aviv. At the party these couples had an “unofficial” wedding, bringing attention to the fact that the country currently only recognizes foreign same-sex marriages.

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Kenya

At the end of May, Kenya’s highest court voted to uphold its law banning gay sex. Activist Eric Gitari had filed a 2016 petition stating that two sections of Kenya’s penal code violated the rights of Kenayans. Article 162 penalizes “carnal knowledge against the order of nature” with a maximum of 14 years in prison and Article 165 addresses “indecent practices between males” with up to five years of prison. Same-sex relations continue to remain punishable with up to 14 years behind bars.

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Last modified: November 7, 2019