The jubilation of same-sex marriage reaching the shores of the England and Wales, and soon Scotland, has been a common theme in multiple countries since last year. Apart from the UK, fifteen countries and multiple sub-national jurisdictions in Mexico and the USA have gone forward with the legalising same-sex marriage. It is a worthy cause and one that has been a unifying force for LGBTQ+ movements across Europe and the Americas.
Unfortunately, amidst the celebrations, it is becoming even easier to forget that marriage rights are a long way off for many parts of the world. As the recent outcry over the restrictive laws in Russia, Uganda and Nigeria prove, the world at large is still not ready for a state of tolerance, let alone acceptance and harmony. Even countries that took steps in the right direction have regressed, such as the reinstatement of Section 377 in India, re-criminalising homosexuality.
…the world at large is still not ready for a state of tolerance, let alone acceptance and harmony.
The problem at the moment is that the level of lobbying and campaigning for marriage far outstrips those for decriminalisation. This is not to say that the model used by groups such as OutRage! is the right step forward for countries with hostile attitudes towards the LGBTQ+ community. Part of the reason these campaigns can move forward is that it is alright to be openly in favour of equal rights in the first place. However, there is a clear difference in the level of commitment and attention between these two goals.
Criminalisation of homosexuality only becomes a topic of discussion when countries enact specific laws. Russia’s “homosexuality propaganda” law got as much attention as it did because of the timing coinciding with the Sochi Olympics – and was promptly forgotten during the Games and the subsequent Ukraine crisis. Similarly, Uganda and Nigeria came to the forefront when signing their latest legislation but, following the initial debates and threats of cutting aid, the world seems to have forgotten about them.
And yet, how many people are actively talking about the stonings in the Middle East or the suicides in South Asia?
The situation on the ground, moreover, has always been hostile and even dangerous for sexual minorities in these countries, but there is not enough said about that. Not to mention the fact that these are not the only countries that have laws that make any form of non-heterosexual interaction an act of crime. And yet, how many people are actively talking about the stonings in the Middle East or the suicides in South Asia? Far easier to congratulate ourselves on the victories than dwell on our defeats.
This article is not an attempt to belittle the significance of same-sex marriage, which is a monumental achievement. Nor is it aimed at demeaning the unspoken heroes of the fight for equality in countries where LGBTQ+ communities face very real physical threats daily. Rather, it is a plea to remind the reader that the rights movement is an extremely diverse topic and, along with a unified front, there is also a need to recognise the disparities and tackle them accordingly. On that note, it should be said that decriminalisation and marriage are not the only two issues at stake either. Congratulations to the couples getting married now. Let us continue the fight so that we can one day make that the reality worldwide.