Uruguay recently added itself Wednesday to the growing list of nations that allow full recognition of marriage rights among homosexuals as the nation’s lawmakers voted to legalize gay marriage. President Jose Mujica is expected to implement the law expeditiously. Thus Uruguay becomes the second Latin American country to legalize gay marriage and the third in the Americas.
Uruguay joins the ranks of 11 other nations that have legalized gay marriage. The nations sharing this distinction are Argentina, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Iceland, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, South Africa, Spain, and Sweden. Besides these nations, marriage equality has been passed within certain sub-national districts in the United States, Mexico, and Brazil. A current count is maintained by Freedom to Marry , a web portal jointly representing Freedom to Marry, Inc. and Freedom to Marry Action, Inc. with offices in New York City and Washington, D.C.
There are also several nations in which some sort of civil union is recognized by the state ─ notably Australia, Germany, and Iceland. Though Mexico has not legalized marriage nation-wide, marriages performed abroad are recognized throughout the country as legitimate marriages. On Friday, a bill to allow same-sex marriage as well as to legalize adoption by gay and lesbian couples cleared a critical vote in the French Senate, making it likely to become law within months. Nations including Colombia, Ireland, Taiwan and Luxembourg are considering expansions of marriage rights in one form or another, or have already passed or approved such measures at some level of government.
Progress in Western nations over the last ten-plus years has been moving forward quickly. Starting with the Netherlands in 2000, many countries have had to open up the discussion and move forward on laws recognizing same-sex unions. Though approval ratings in some areas remain low, it seems every Western nation is destined to open up to accepting these unions in one form or another.
Marriage equality supporters continue to face challenges even in the West, though. Pockets of resistance to the LGBT community still thrive. Russia, for example, seems to be moving towards a more conservative ideal as their population moves to an 85% disapproval rating, with 5% going so far as to support eradication of the LGBT community. That’s according to non-governmental Russian research organization Levada-Center’s survey findings .
There remain many regions around the world characterized by overwhelming opposition to gay marriage, or any sort of homosexual associations or practices whatsoever. Laws in many African nations mandate penalties for engaging in homosexual activity, the notable exception being South Africa. Depending on the country, being identified as homosexual can earn you anywhere between a minimal fine to a death sentence.
Even in areas where death is not an accepted penalty, advocates and open members of the LGBT community often face severe backlash for being out. Even South Africa has seen violence against LGBT people. In 2008, Eudy Simelane was brutally raped and murdered in her home town of KwaThema in northeast South Africa. Elsewhere, David Kato, one of the leading LGBT activists of Uganda, was murdered after his name was listed along with 99 other known and alleged gay and lesbian people under the headline “Kill the Gays” in the local tabloid Rolling Stone in 2011. The tabloid is a local publication having no association with the more widely known Rolling Stone magazine produced in the U.S. Aljazeera has published extensive details on the hatred.
LGBT people’s standing varies among nations – in some cases suffering bizarre hostility by Western standards. In Iraq, for example, there are no laws specifically regarding homosexuality. But in a land where children have been stoned to death simply for wearing the “wrong” type of clothing, there is always the threat of death hanging over homosexuals in the country, mirroring many parts of Africa.
In Israel, on the other hand, there is a vibrant and open community centered in Tel Aviv. NPR’s Lourdes Garcia-Navarro painted a picture of the Israeli government as becoming decidedly “gay friendly” last year in her article “Israel Presents Itself As Haven For Gay Community”. According to activists however, the nation is accepting of the LGBT community in spite of, not in thanks to the government.
Human rights issues are still a hot-button topic in Israel particularly thanks to a very conservative religious community having significant control over many government institutions. Some activists cite the stalled talks over Palestinian autonomy as evidence to the Israeli government’s lack of desire to truly work towards any sort of expansion of civil rights. They accuse government of centering its focus on generating revenue rather than acknowledging the rights of the gay community.
Saudi Arabia has a relationship with homosexuality that can only be described as unusual, as depicted by Nadya Labi’s “The Kingdom in the Closet” published in The Atlantic. In the only nation that uses Sharia as its one and only source of law, the gay community is oddly flourishing.
“It is easier to be gay than straight here,” says a man The Atlantic simply identifies as Yasser.
Members of the gay community say the severe segregation between men and women is one of the biggest causes of this broad community existing just under the surface of Saudi society. However, it seems they have an unusual perception of what homosexuality is, considering Western perceptions of the Bible.
Yasmin, a lesbian who lives in Riyadh, said of the men and women of Saudi Arabia: “They’re like cell mates in prison.”
To many, it is not considered gay to engage in sexual acts with someone of the same sex. What makes you gay, at least as far as men are concerned, is being the so-called bottom, which is the term used to describe the recipient in an act of sodomy.
“A gay is against the norm. Anybody can be a top, but only a gay can be a bottom,” says another member of this flourishing gay community.
The way power plays out in any sexual relationship seems to be the most defining quality to determine what it means to be gay or straight.
Public support for same-sex unions seems to be one of the driving forces behind change in many Western nations, especially in the U.S. According to CBS news, 54% of Americans now approve of gay marriage—an historic high. Other news agencies report higher and lower numbers, but overall the average seems to work out to about 51%. This comes at a time when the U.S. is just two months away from what could be pivotal Supreme Court decisions on the Defense of Marriage Act and Proposition 8, the California bill that affirms marriage is between a man and woman only.
Despite great disparities in gay marriage prospects among nations and regions, Uruguay’s passing of equal marriage rights is a major step forward for civil rights activists. Worldwide, supporters of the movement seem optimistic about the future of the LGBT community.