The recent fining and canning of two women in Malaysia is a sharp reminder of the fact that there are still many countries around the globe where homosexuality is illegal that, not only stigmatise gay people but actually have severe punishments should they be caught.
On the Wednesday 12th August 2018, the Terengganu Shari's High Court sentenced two women to be fined RM3,300 (£633) and to be canned six times each after being convicted of attempting to have consensual same-sex relations in a car. The sentence was carried out in a courtroom in Terengganu state in front of government officials and family members. The BBC reports that this is the country's first ever conviction for same-sex relations and its first public caning.
However, whilst homosexuality remains illegal, there were several members of Malaysian parliament who expressed outrage at the punishment, including Charles Santiago, an MP from the Malaysian state of Selangor, who called it a "violation of international human rights". He further commented: "we need to stop targeting the LGBT community. We need to stop invading their privacy. We need to stop abusing them. We need to grow up as a society and learn to embrace diversity."
There are 73 countries in which it is illegal to be gay, 37 of them in the Commonwealth. The punishments vary from the death penalty in the shape of hanging, beheading and stoning to lengthy prison sentences. In some countries these penalties are never or rarely enforced. In Papua New Guinea, for example, the punishment for homosexuality is up to 14 years in prison, however despite this the Sambia people of the Eastern Highlands and Etoro people of the Southern slopes practice ritualized homosexuality. The Sambia people recognise transgender male to female as a third sex, the Etoro people, whilst they do marry women and have children, believe that heterosexual activities shorten their lives and the homosexual sex prolongs life.
Mauritania reserves stoning to death for Muslim men who are gay and fines and imprisonment for women. Only South Africa recognises same-sex marriage.
The genesis of these laws, particularly in Africa, is often rooted in the empire building in past centuries which brought with it the missionaries who influenced the moral landscape of the various countries. Ironically the mother countries have nearly all repealed such laws.
Slowly the grip is being loosened; Mozambique dropped a colonial-era clause outlawing "vices against nature" in 2015. In 2016 Belize, struck out laws that criminalise same-sex acts and in the same year the parliaments in the Seychelles and Nauru voted to decriminalise homosexuality and April this year Trinidad and Tobago found that anti-gay laws were unconstitutional. These welcome changes are not an excuse to stop lobbying, the very real risks and the severe punishments that some LGBT people face make it imperative that campaigners around the world continue to maintain the maximum pressure to force through changes that will make the lives of LGBT people around the world happier and safer.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.