Friday, June 28, 2013

A world-wide gay rights map

Max Fisher of the Washington Post put together a useful map comparing the legal status of homosexuals and homosexuality in different places around the world, ranging from countries that criminalize homosexuality (and even execute people for it) to countries that grant gay men and lesbians full legal equality—including, in some cases, a recognition of same sex marriages.  I don't have the expertise to vouch for the map's accuracy in every detail, and I do have a few small quibbles (e.g., Israel should be at least blue-ish), but it looks generally right.  (You can click on the map to enlarge it.)

From a world-historical perspective, one striking feature of this map is how many countries do not treat homosexuality as a crime—those are the gray and blue countries on the map.  For example, not a single country in Europe, North America, or South America now criminalizes homosexuality, and the same is true for the world's two most populous countries, India and China.  A mere half-century ago the situation was very different in that respect (and if it were up to Antonin Scalia, it would still be different in some parts of the US).  The spreading acceptance of legal recognition for same-sex marriages (or civil unions), which is a very recent development, is also pretty striking.
[Update 12/23/2013:  Up until recently, homosexuality was legally permitted in India—not by legislation, but because of a 2009 court ruling that struck down an anti-homosexual law dating from the colonial era.  But on December 11 the Supreme Court of India reversed that earlier ruling and upheld the criminalization of homosexuality.  What happens next remains to be seen.]
At the other end, there are 76 countries where homosexuality is illegal, and in some of those countries (like Uganda) there is a strong push to make the penalties harsher, not milder.  In 5 of those 76 countries (Mauritania, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Iran), homosexuals are subject to the death penalty.  The countries that criminalize homosexuality are overwhelmingly in Africa and the Middle East (including under that rubric Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekhstan), with some others in Southeast Asia and the Caribbean.  (In sub-Saharan Africa, South Africa stands out as a conspicuous exception to the regional norm.)

It's worth adding that this map refers only to the formal legal codes.  Even in some countries that are colored gray because homosexuality is not technically illegal, in practice being identified as a homosexual can still get you into trouble with the police or with violent homosexual bigots (including, but definitely not limited to, religious fanatics)—and if people attack or murder homosexuals, especially in the context of family-related honor killings, they are often not likely to face much legal difficulty or social disapproval.  (Similarly, there are countries where slavery is technically illegal, but still exists in practice.)  And even in South Africa, where the formal legal equality of gay people is complete, violent homophobia is not uncommon and the "corrective rape" of lesbians in order to "cure" them seems to be an increasingly frequent practice.

(One question does come to my mind as I ponder this map.  I know that back in the 19th and 20th centuries, some legal codes that criminalized male homosexuality simply ignored lesbianism.  That still seems to be true in some places today.  In Jamaica, according to the relevant Wikipedia entry, "Sexual acts between men are punishable with up to ten years imprisonment. Sexual acts between women are legal."  I wonder whether that distinction still holds anywhere else.  By the way, the fact that lesbianism is not formally illegal in Jamaica is far from the whole story; in practice, being an openly lesbian woman in Jamaica can be quite dangerous.)

For Fisher's own discussion of his map and some of its implications, see here.

—Jeff Weintraub

P.S.  It may also be worth adding a few points about the touchy subject of the relationship between legalized homophobia and the Islamic world (a subject to which Fisher alludes only indirectly).

As the map makes clear, not all countries that formally criminalize homosexuality are Muslim-majority countries, and not all Muslim-majority countries criminalize homosexuality.  The ones that do not criminalize homosexuality include the most populous Muslim-majority country in the world, Indonesia, as well as the most economically advanced, Turkey.  On the other hand, one can't help noticing that outside of sub-Saharan Africa, the countries where homosexuality is a criminal offense are almost all Muslim-majority countries. (There are some scattered exceptions to that pattern in the Caribbean, in South Asia, and in Southeast Asia.  The two most notable exceptions, Sri Lanka and Burma, are Buddhist-majority countries that happen to have persecuted Muslim minorities.  But aside from Sri Lanka and Burma, those exceptions are all countries with fairly tiny populations.)  Right now, all the countries where homosexuality is a capital crime are Muslim-majority countries.  And in a number of Middle Eastern countries now undergoing political and ideological upheaval, the situation for gay people is likely to get worse before it gets better (presuming, perhaps a bit Whiggishly, that it will eventually get better).

Incidentally, in some non-Muslim-majority countries where being openly gay or lesbian is especially dangerous, or where there is strong support for making homosexuality a capital crime, Christian-fundamentalist versions of theocratic politics are sometimes part of the picture.