Whilst England and Wales saw the decriminalisation of homosexuality fifty years ago today, 72 other countries and territories continue to criminalise same-sex relationships, including 45 in which sexual relationships between women are outlawed.
According to an annual report released by the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA), there are eight countries in which homosexuality can result in a death penalty, and dozens more in which homosexuality acts can result in a lengthy prison sentence.
Western Europe and the western hemisphere are the most tolerant. Still, Britain was by no means a frontrunner when it moved to partly decriminalise homosexuality fifty years ago.
On 27 July 1967, Parliament voted to change the Sexual Offence Act (SOA) and legalise sex in private between two alone men over the age of 21 in England and Wales. Gay men in Scotland and Northern Ireland had to wait until the early 1980s.
By contrast, some 20 other countries had already led the way well before 1900, including France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Brazil and Argentina.
The most severe punishments still persist in Southern and East Africa, the Middle East and South Asia. Under sharia law, in Iran, Sudan, Saudi Arabia and Yemen, homosexuality is still punishable by death. The same applies in parts of Somalia and northern Nigeria. In Syria and Iraq, the death penalty is carried out by non-state actors, including the Islamic State.
The ILGA report reveals that, although the potential exists for a death penalty to be handed down under sharia courts in at least five other countries, Pakistan, Afghanistan, the UAE, Qatar and Mauritania, there is no evidence suggesting that it has been implemented for consensual same-sex acts between adults in private.
Same-sex relations, which are vicariously criminalised under laws covering sodomy, buggery and “acts against nature” among others, could lead to a prison sentence in a total of 71 states.
However, this figure excludes Egypt, where same-sex relations are technically legal but are actively pursued and where hundreds of people are reported to be detained on morality grounds.
More than 120 countries altogether have decriminalised homosexuality, although some still cannot be described as liberal. Russia, for instance, has recently introduced laws banning the promotion of homosexuality. Russia was heavily criticised recently by the European court of human rights for a 2013 law banning the spread of “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations” among minors.
Co-author of the ILGA report, Aengus Carroll, said it remained the case that there was “no country in the world where LGBT people are safe from discriminations, stigmatisation or violence”.
“Legislative change is slow enough in coming, but societal attitudes, particularly those that may evoke taboo, are painstakingly slow,” he said.
However, Carroll pointed to some positive developments, in countries including Botswana, Kenya, Zimbabwe and Tunisia, where advocates have recently won court cases guaranteeing the right to form organisations to lobby for rights.
There have also been “amazing strides” on sexual orientation and gender identity issues around the world.
A parliamentary vote in Germany will lead to the legalisation of same-sex marriage later this year; Malta’s parliament voted on 12 July 2017, allowing same-sex couples to marry, bringing the numbers of states allowing gay marriage to 24. Similar to the number of states offering civil partnership recognition.
At the time of the publication of the ILGA report in June 2016, there were 26 countries that allowed for joint adoption for same-sex couples, and 27 in which same-sex second parent adoption-where a same-sex parent can legally become a step-parent to his or her partner’s child- was implemented.
A spokesman for the LGBT charity Stonewall, Matt Horwood said that, while it was important to remember how far the UK had come on LGBT rights since the 1967 Sexual Offences Act, many challenges remained.
Horwood added, “same-sex relations are illegal in 72 countries, and punishable by death in eight. We all have a part to play in ensuring all LGBT people are accepted without exception and all we can hope is that, in 50 more years, we will have lots more progress to look back on.”
“Trans people still face a number of legal barriers and LGBT people as a whole continue to face discrimination in their daily lives. LGBT people can find themselves excluded, or face verbal and physical abuse, whether at work, at school, in sport, in faith or within local communities.”