Around the World

Global Gay Rights, from Marriage to the Death Penalty

A lawmaker called it “a Christmas gift to the people.”

But the proposed law late last year in the East African nation of Uganda was not a reprieve on taxes or better social services. It would add harsher punishments for convicted homosexuals, even up to a life sentence in prison.

Uganda’s treatment of homosexuals is one end of a wide range of approaches to gay rights around the world. Even as several U.S. states recently voted on same-sex unions, and the Supreme Court is set to hear arguments in two different cases, rights for the LGBT community differ from country to country, from full recognition of same-sex marriages, even up to the death penalty for homosexual acts. As gay rights supporters push for more acceptance, the issue is increasingly being framed worldwide as one of fundamental human rights.

The Netherlands was the first country to recognize gay marriage about a dozen years ago, and now 12 countries, mostly in the developed world, recognize same-sex unions. But a significant portion of the globe, mostly in the Muslim world and Africa, considers homosexuals as criminals, sentencing them to prison and even capital punishment. In many countries, even where the law is unclear, members of the gay community are subject to enormous societal pressure. They are ostracized, bullied and sometimes physically attacked.

Russia has recently seen an uptick in attacks against gay people, since nine regions of the country have banned the promotion of “homosexual propaganda” among minors. Using that law, conservative activists even tried to sue Madonna after her summer concert, but a St. Petersburg court threw out the case.

Homosexuality is already illegal in Uganda and the pending anti-gay bill is broadly popular among citizens and legislators. The country’s parliament was set to vote on the bill around the holidays but will likely take another look early this year. World leaders have denounced the proposal. South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu likened the law to apartheid in an open letter to Ugandan lawmakers.

U.S. leaders have recently been more outspoken on the issue of gay rights. In an exclusive interview with ABC News in May 2012, President Barack Obama announced his support for same-sex marriage. In late 2011, during remarks in recognition of International Human Rights Day, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said: “Some have suggested that gay rights and human rights are separate and distinct; but, in fact, they are one and the same.”

Christiane speaks about the global state of gay rights with Urvashi Vaid of Columbia University’s Law School. She’s a long-time social justice advocate and the author of the recently published book “Irresistible Revolution: Confronting Race, Class and the Assumptions of LGBT Politics.”

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