On Saturday The Guardian dedicated two full culour pages to a map of the world which mapped attitudes and legislation in respect of homosexuality. It detailed national approaches to relationship rights, the legal status of homosexcuality, the type of punishment applied where homosexuality remain illegal and policies in respect of military service by homosexual service men and women. It made for a pretty disturbing read. (Unfortunately there's no online version to link to.)
The map showed that the vast majority of gay and lesbian people around the world live in countries which continue to criminalise homosexuality. Ending state sanctioned imprisonment, corporal punishment and execution of gay men and lesbians around the world is urgent and demands our attention. Illegality renders gay people invisible and robs them of the opportunity to exercise their basic rights. It also drives gay men underground fuelling the HIV epidemic and exacerbating its impact.
I'm amazed that there's not a bigger movement for the decriminalisation of homosexuality. All the mainstream players in the human rights movement, such as Amnesty and Human Rights Watch agree that gay rights and human rights, and have active campaigns in support of gay and lesbian equality, but the effort, at least in my view lacks both any real scale and a sense of urgency. Consider for instance Amnesty's Stop Violence Against Women campaign or Oxfam and Amnesty's joint Control Arms campaign and you soon realise that we've got a long way to go in campaigning on sexuality rights.
There's also a lot more that progressive Governments and mulitlateral bodies like the EU could be doing too. For instance the UK has a solid track record of tackling sexuality discrimination at home. However, apart from the odd UN resolution it has done almost nothing to support sexuality rights internationally. I think it's time for the UK to play a larger part in efforts to protect the rights of gay and lesbian people abroad. I've argued, including before the UK Parliament's International Development Committee, that the appointment of a Special Ambassador to build international support for the universal decriminalisation of homosexuality and for measures to end discrimination would be a concrete first step.
On another front the map was overly generous in its treatment of Australia.The map indicated that Australia allows civil unions and joint adoption of children by same sex partners.
Unfortunately, neither is true.
Marriage is regulated by the Federal Government who have not only resisted all moves towards relationship equality for gay and lesbian people but actually legislated to tighten existing provisions that restrict common law marriage to between a man and a women. The government also legislated to ensure that same sex marriages and civil unions made overseas have no legal status in Australia.
Domestic adoption on the other hand is regulated by Australia’s states and territories. Same-sex adoption has been legalised in the Australian Capital Territory and Western Australia. However the Federal Government regulates overseas adoption and has flagged its intention to introduce legislation to outlaw same sex couples resident in Australia adopting from overseas.
The Federal Government has also refused to outlaw sexuality discrimination. Thankfully each of the states and territories have done so, but it makes for a patchwork of different laws rather than a coherent, national system of protection from discrimination.
Australia ’s conservative federal government is notoriously homophobic and as a result gay and lesbian equality has been stymied for the last ten years.