Tag Archives: LGBT rights

Labor gains as Australia contemplates possible hung parliament

Prime minister Malcolm Turnbull may face a comeback bid from the rival he ousted last September, Tony Abbott (AAPIMAGE / Alan Porritt).
Prime minister Malcolm Turnbull may face a comeback bid from the rival he ousted last September, Tony Abbott (AAPIMAGE / Alan Porritt).

Five days after its July 2 election, Australians woke up Thursday morning to find that they still don’t know who will lead the next government — and that Standard and Poor’s is moving its ‘AAA’ credit outlook from stable to negative as political uncertainty reigns. australia new

The only clear result of the first ‘double dissolution’ election since 1987 is that it might be days or weeks before Australians know who will hold a majority in either house of their parliament, with every possibility that both houses could wind up with no clear majority.

The other clear result is that the election is that, though his Liberal/National Coalition is growing closer to winning the narrowest of majorities, prime minister Malcolm Turnbull is the clear loser of the election. Just nine months into his premiership after he convinced his party to oust its prior (more conservative) leader Tony Abbott, Turnbull has lost at least 16 seats in the 150-member House of Representatives to the center-left Australian Labor Party (ALP). The Coalition, as things currently stand, is now trailing in the so-called two-party preferred vote (under Australia’s single transferable vote system) by the narrowest of margins — 50.09% for Labor to 49.91% for the Coalition.

australia 2016 austrialia house

For someone whose leadership pitch came down to electability, it means his days as prime minister might be numbered — even if the Coalition emerges with a majority.

Politics isn’t always fair, but Turnbull’s problem has always been that he’s a moderate in a conservative party.

I have no doubt that Turnbull, who has always been far more socially progressive than many other Coalition MPs, would like to accomplish some heady goals as prime minister. He’s been an ambitious man his whole life, and there’s no reason to believe that, with the right kind of mandate, Turnbull would like to solve several conundrums that neither the Coalition nor the Australian Labor Party (ALP) have been able to solve.

He might *like* to find a way to end the detention centers in Nauru and Manus Island without encouraging thousands of poor Asians to risk their live by getting on rafts to Australia, especially after Papua New Guinea’s supreme court ruled the Manus Island detention center unconstitutional.

He might *like* to have Australia’s parliament vote to pass marriage equality for gay and lesbian Australians and be done with an issue that now separates Australia from much of the rest of the developed world — almost all of western Europe, Canada, New Zealand and the United States.

He might *like* to redesign the failed carbon trading scheme that former Labor prime minister Julia Gillard enacted (and that Abbott, a few years later, abolished) as perhaps a business-friendlier carbon tax. After all, Turnbull lost his position as leader of the Liberal Party to Abbott in 2009 after he tried to compromise with the Labor government on climate change.

He might even *like* to take another run at an Australian republic after leading the pro-republic campaign in the failed 1993 referendum.

Of course, very few MPs and senators in the Liberal Party want any of those things, and their more conservative junior partners in the National Party would, if given the chance, turf out Turnbull tomorrow in favor of restoring Abbott (or, say, even Turnbull’s treasurer Scott Morrison). Continue reading Labor gains as Australia contemplates possible hung parliament

Moderate conservative Turnbull looks for double dissolution mandate in Australia

Less than a year after ousting Tony Abbott as prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull is seeking a mandate for his own vision. (Facebook)
Less than a year after ousting Tony Abbott as prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull is seeking a mandate for his own vision. (Facebook)

Since Coalition prime minister John Howard lost the 2007 election, and thereby leaving office after 11 consecutive years in office, Australia has changed prime ministers exactly four times.australia new

That wouldn’t be so remarkable in an era of rapid change and economic anxiety — except for the fact that Australians have only gone to the polls twice since 2007.

Internal coups, unknown in the democratic and developed world outside Japan, within both the center-left Australian Labor Party (ALP) and the center-right Liberal Party (the dominant partner in the ‘Coalition’ with the more socially conservative National Party) have made politics in Australia possibly more exciting in between elections than during election campaigns.

Prime minister Malcolm Turnbull came to power only last September after ousting his more conservative predecessor Tony Abbott in an internal coup, as Liberal MPs in Australia’s House of Representatives began worrying about polls that showed Abbott would easily lose the next election. Those polls turned around when Turnbull, a more moderate figure who led the Liberal Party briefly from 2008 to 2009 and who led the 1999 campaign to transform Australia from a constitutional monarchy into a republic, became prime minister.

Bill Shorten, Labor's leader, hopes to pull off an upset victory in a very tight election on Saturday. (Facebook)
Bill Shorten, Labor’s leader, hopes to pull off an upset victory in a very tight election on Saturday. (Facebook)

Labor leader Bill Shorten, in his own right, has managed to do in opposition what Labor couldn’t manage when it was in government for six years — remain united. Though Labor was elected in 2007 with a wide mandate for Kevin Rudd, he was ousted by his own deputy prime minister, Julia Gillard, within two years. Though she won a narrower mandate in her own right in 2010, the Labor caucus, in turn,  ousted Gillard in mid-2013 when it appeared that she would not win the next election. Instead, they turning back to Rudd, who subsequently lost the 2013 election, however narrowly, to Abbott and the Coalition.

As Australia goes to the polls in a campaign that has been unmercifully long by Australian standards and mercifully short by American standards (eight weeks), neither Turnbull nor Shorten seem to inspire much confidence from the electorate. The two have spent the campaign tussling over issues from health care to the economy to LGBT marriage equality to immigration and, in the process, making voters like each of them less.

It’s a tight race. Polls show that the Coalition holds the narrowest of advantages, about 51% to 49%, over Labor in the so-called ‘two-party preferred’ vote — which reflects the outcome of a compulsory electoral system that features a preferential instant-runoff mechanism. It’s almost certain that the Coalition is doing far better than it would have been under Abbott’s leadership, though it’s almost just as certain that, even if Turnbull wins, it will be with a much reduced majority in both houses — and in each house, the balance of power may lie with third parties such as the Australian Greens.

Though both the center-right Turnbull and the center-left Shorten are sensible moderates well capable of governing Australia in a competent and centrist manner, voters seem to have tired of the internal scheming that have come to characterize both of the country’s two major parties.

Turnbull, once a moderate lion who championed climate change legislation, LGBT equality and an Australian republic, was forced by his more right-wing caucus to run on a platform around an AUS$48 billion corporate tax cut.

Shorten, who once vowed to defend the carbon trading scheme, is running on an ambiguous platform, shellshocked by the damage that Labor sustained in 2013 over what was perceived as a double mining tax and carbon tax. Those issues have become especially tender now that the Chinese economy has slowed and the global demand for commodities is somewhat subdued.

On gay marriage, both Turnbull and Shorten personally favor marriage equality. But Turnbull has been pushed towards supporting a nation-wide referendum on the matter, while Shorten has promised to call a vote in the Australian parliament if elected. The Labor position is that a plebiscite is a Coalition tactic to divide Australians that would bring unnecessary strife and animosity to the LGBT community (though Shorten in recent days has taken flak for once supporting such a vote).

Though the Great Barrier Reef is going through a horrific moment of coral bleaching, Australian politics is moving away from the carbon trading scheme (and mining tax) that Rudd promised, that Gillard enacted and that Abbott repealed. Ironically, Abbott ousted Turnbull from the Liberal leadership in 2009 after Turnbull tried to strike a deal with Rudd on the carbon trading scheme. Today, Turnbull, in thrall to his more conservative parliamentary caucus, would never sign up to a similar deal. Shorten, for his part, failed to stop the carbon trading scheme’s repeal last year.

In recent years, both parties have moved towards a more restrictive immigration policy.  Both are now wedded to the policy of offshore detention of immigrants bound for Australia in subpar camps in Nauru and Papua New Guinea, notwithstanding a Papua New Guinean judicial ruling in April that called into constitutional question Australia’s immigration policy.

Richard Di Natale, the leader of the Australian Greens, hopes to win enough seats to hold the balance of power in Australia. (Facebook)
Richard Di Natale, the leader of the Australian Greens, hopes to win enough seats to hold the balance of power in Australia. (Facebook)

In some ways, the Australian election feels retro, like a British election a quarter-century ago. Australian commentators are still talking about ‘swings’ from the Coalition to Labor in a two-party world. That’s even as the Australian Greens stand to make even more gains in Saturday’s election, under the leadership of Richard Di Natale, a senator from Victoria, who took over the party’s leadership in May 2015. Nick Xenophon, an independent-minded senator from South Australia who came to power initially to oppose gambling machines in the late 1990s, is now leading a centrist ‘Nick Xenophon Team’ that could win seats in both houses.

The stakes are particularly higher in 2016, because Australia is having (for the first time since 1987) a so-called ‘double dissolution’ election, in which all 150 members of the parliament’s lower house, the House of Representatives, and all 76 members of the upper house, the Senate, are up for election. In most elections, only half of the Senate’s members are on the ballot — in other words, half of an Australian state’s 12 senators are up for election.

But the current Senate is deadlocked. While the Coalition has more seats than Labour (an advantage of 33 to 25), 10 members of the Senate belong to the Green Party and another eight senators belong to other small parties or sit as independents.

If Australia’s House of Representatives and Senate twice fail to agree on legislation, the government may prevail upon the governor-general to dissolve both the House and the Senate under section 57 of Australia’s constitution. In the current election, four bills qualify to trigger such a double-dissolution election.

Slovenia’s same-sex marriage rejection shows the dark side of referenda

The pro-LGBT Čas je ZA group advocated a 'yes' vote in Sunday's referendum. (Facebook)

Over 60% of the Irish electorate endorsed same-sex marriage in Ireland six months ago, giving European LGBT activists a cause to celebrate. slovenia

A country with a conservative and highly Catholic pedigree showed that it could also be progressive, and the overwhelming victory was a triumph that gave the fight for marriage equality in the European Union a boost of momentum.

Back in June, however, despite the euphoria, I argued that it’s not necessarily a great precedent to put fundamental human and civil rights matters up to a vote, especially when it comes to matters where a majority of voters can ‘gang up’ against an unpopular minority. Instead, it’s far better to leave fundamental matters that deal with core rights to courts instead. Of course, it’s true that Ireland’s governing framework requires a popular referendum on all constitutional matters (which explains why Ireland essentially votes on every EU treaty change).

Still, every victory at the ballot box for marriage equality, and the embrace of the LGBT community of such popular victories, enhances the credibility of all such referenda, giving far more credibility to even those votes where same-sex marriage fails.

* * * * *

RELATED: After Irish vote, what next for same-sex marriage in Europe?

* * * * *

Invariably, in eastern Europe, where the outlook for LGBT rights remain far less sanguine, the Slovenian electorate has now delivered a strong verdict against marriage quality, overturning a legislative definition of marriage by a margin of 63.53% to 36.47%.

Slovenia’s vote has its genesis in legislation passed by its national assembly in March, defining marriage as a union of two people, not specifically between a man and a woman. Opponents of the law forced a referendum, overriding an attempt by legislators to block a vote and prompting a ruling from Slovenia’s constitutional court that essentially stripped the national assembly of the power to declare a referendum unconstitutional.

Polls throughout the year showed a far closer margin between the two camps, with some polls actually giving supporters of the law a lead. Continue reading Slovenia’s same-sex marriage rejection shows the dark side of referenda

The French far-right’s star is a not-quite-openly gay man

phillipot
The Front national’s vice president, Florian Philippot, is a not-quite-openly gay man at the heart of a socially conservative, anti-immigrant far-right party that previously had little use for France’s LGBT community.

With both the mainstream left and right teaming up to defeat the far-right Front national‘s two most outspoken leaders in Sunday’s second (and final) round of regional elections, party president Marine Le Pen, in France’s far northern region, and her niece, Marion Maréchal-Le Pen, in France’s southeast, it was never likely that anyone from the Le Pen family tree would have won control of any of France’s regional councils. France Flag Icon

Indeed, after the Parti socialiste (PS, Socialist Party) universally withdrew from the two (of six) regions where the Front national (FN, National Front) led after the December 6 first-round results, it made a second-round victory of either Le Pen very unlikely.

Socialist unity fell short in three northeastern regions, where the Front national came far closer to winning:

  • In Bourgogne-Franche-Comté, the Socialists maintained their hold on the region, but only narrowly — with 34.7% to 32.9% for the center-right Républicains (Republicans) to 32.4% for the Front national. 
  • In Centre-Val de Loire, again, the Socialists won 35.4% to 34.6% for the Republicans and 30.0% for the Front national.

But it was Alsace-Champagne-Ardenne-Lorraine where the Front national‘s chances of picking up a region were deemed strongest. The new region cobbles together three very different smaller regions,  much to the disdain of the wealthier Alsatians, lumped into a ‘super region’ with the poorer, industrial Lorraine. (And indeed, the Front national did most poorly within the districts of the former region of Alsace, picking up larger margins in Lorraine).

Florian Philippot, one of the FN’s brightest rising stars, won the first round with 36.1% to the center-right’s 25.8%. In the second round, however, Philippot still won just 36.1% while the center-right consolidated its support (and a wide swath of the center-left and those in the electorate who didn’t bother to vote in the first round) to a whopping 48.4%, easily taking the region.

The surge in turnout among moderate voters in opposition to the Front national‘s first-round success stopped Philippot — as it did the party’s other candidates on Sunday. Still, without that shift, and a generous shift of left-wing voters to the Républicains, Philippot today might be the only Front national figure leading one of France’s 13 councils.

In contrast to the party’s self-cultivated status as an outside force with disdain for the French political elite, the 34-year-old Philippot is a graduate of the École nationale d’administration, as elite an institution as exists in France today. Since July 2012, he has been the Front national’s vice president, in charge of strategy and communication. But he’s really been the chief strategist to Marine Le Pen as she’s worked for the detoxification — or dédiabolisation — of her party, so much so that one of Le Pen’s former foreign policy advisers, Aymeric Chauprade, an MEP, left the party arguing that Philippot had created a ‘Stalinist’ environment among the party’s top guard.

There’s just one problem. For a party with a historical ambivalence to France’s gays and lesbians, Philippot is a not-quite-openly gay man.  Continue reading The French far-right’s star is a not-quite-openly gay man

Why the future of the LGBT rights fight is international — in 20 tweets

WhiteHouse627

Though I wasn’t able to join The Atlantic‘s conference this week on the future of the LGBT civil rights fight, I took to Twitter earlier today to make that case that the future of the LGBT rights fights is largely international in character.

Without prejudice to the ongoing fights, legal and political, across the United States, I would argue the LGBT outlook should be much more global in 2015 — and as we look to the future and the kind of world we want to see in 2025 for both LGBT rights and human rights more generally. Continue reading Why the future of the LGBT rights fight is international — in 20 tweets

Don’t be surprised by papal meeting with Kim Davis

Former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi meets former Pope Benedict XVI. (Alessia Giuliani/Getty)
Former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi meets former Pope Benedict XVI. (Alessia Giuliani/Getty)

Days after Pope Francis left a historic visit to the United States, news emerged that he spent part of his time at an unannounced meeting with Kim Davis, the Kentucky county clerk waging a fight to withhold marriage licenses to same-sex couples on religious grounds.USflagItaly Flag Iconvatican flag

As The New York Times reported earlier this morning, Francis met with the Kentucky woman last Thursday at the Vatican embassy in Washington, D.C.:

On Tuesday night, her lawyer, Mathew D. Staver, said in a telephone interview that Ms. Davis and her husband, Joe, were sneaked into the Vatican Embassy by car on Thursday afternoon. Francis gave her rosaries and told her to “stay strong,” the lawyer said. The couple met for about 15 minutes with the pope, who was accompanied by security guards, aides and photographers. Mr. Staver said he expected to receive photographs of the meeting from the Vatican soon. On Wednesday, the Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, confirmed that the meeting took place, but he declined to elaborate. “I do not deny that the meeting took place, but I have no other comments to add,” he said.

Noah Feldman, a professor of constitutional and international law at Harvard University, argues that the meeting undermines the rule of law:

When Francis met with Davis — who let it be noted is an evangelical Protestant, although her parents apparently are Catholic — he was sending the wrong message, namely that there’s something sympathetic or even legitimate about public official refusing to do his or her job when religious teaching goes the other way.

Running for president, John F. Kennedy had to overcome the Protestant allegation that as a Catholic he would obey the pope and not the laws and Constitution of the U.S. In a famous speech, Kennedy made it clear that he wouldn’t take instructions from Rome. And he said he would be a president “whose fulfillment of his presidential oath is not limited or conditioned by any religious oath, ritual or obligation.” That’s exactly what’s required of all public officials. And no one should undercut it, pope or otherwise.

For better or worse, the Vatican City is a state (albeit a very small one), and both the Vatican City, a traditional jurisdictional-based sovereign, and the Holy See, the universal ecclesiastical government of the Catholic Church have their own versions of the ‘national interest.’ That is, the Vatican and the Holy See both work to perpetuate their global power and influence, chiefly by maintaining and growing the base of 1.2 billion Catholic believers worldwide.

So it should come as no surprise that any pope, Francis or otherwise, would seek to empower the religious influence of Christians, including Protestants like Davis, even if it means trashing the rule of law. It’s no shock to learn that the Catholic Church has often joined the side of illiberalism in history.

The Vatican City came into existence on in 1929 as a sovereign entity when Italy’s Fascist leader at the time, Benito Mussolini, signed the Lateran Treaty with the Holy See, settling a long-running question that followed Italy’s unification in the 1860s. The support that the Catholic Church provided to Italy’s Fascist government is well-documented. Moreover, the Church played an important postwar role in bolstering the essentially one-party rule of Democrazia Cristiana (DC, Christian Democracy), making the Church all too often bedfellows with the Sicilian Mafia and other uncomfortable backers of the Christian Democrats.

As recently as 2008, the Vatican helped pressure senators in Italy’s parliament to bring down the elected government of center-left prime minister Romano Prodi because it fiercely opposed Prodi’s effort to introduce same-sex civil unions. Prodi, it’s true, pushed ahead with the vote despite warnings from many politicians that it would cause his government to collapse. The Church, for what it’s worth, did not force anyone in Italy to vote for Silvio Berlusconi in the resulting election, who won and would serve as prime minister until 2011. But it’s impossible to avoid the uncomfortable conclusion that the Vatican played a significant role in Prodi’s fall. Moreover, Italy today remains one of the only western European countries that lacks marriage equality. That’s almost entirely due to the Vatican’s influence.

Throughout most of the world, the Vatican’s power is limited to ‘soft power’ — that is, the authority that it commands as an arbiter of moral and ethical standards for 1.2 billion Catholics and, likely, throughout all of Christendom. Sometimes, a pope’s influence is political, like John Paul II’s particular experience and anti-Communist credentials as a Polish national serving at the height of the Cold War. Francis, the first Latin American pope, has a particular hold in South America, especially in Brazil and his native Argentina, that mixes religious belief with national pride.

But in Italy, the Vatican actually has quite a bit of ‘hard power’ — according to a recent article in The New Yorker, the Church owns around 20% of all real estate in Italy and 25% of the property in Rome, Italy’s capital and home to the Vatican City itself: Continue reading Don’t be surprised by papal meeting with Kim Davis

Why the Supreme Court’s ruling is so important to marriage equality worldwide

joe2Photo credit to Joe Henchman.

With today’s breathtaking victory for marriage equality in the case of Obergefell v. Hodges, the U.S. supreme court, the United States of America joins the ranks of less than two dozen countries across five continents that recognize full equality as between opposite-sex and same-sex marriages.USflag

Generally speaking, there are three ways that countries have gone about enacting same-sex marriage. The first and, by far, the most popular route is through direct legislation, as the United Kingdom, France and many other countries have done. The second is through popular referendum — Maryland and Washington took this path within the United States in 2012 and Ireland, most recently, did so in a near-landslide victory on May 22. The third route is when constitutional courts find that the refusal to provide state-sponsored marriage benefits to a same-sex couple violates a country’s fundamental governing charter.

In that regard, the US path to universal marriage equality is unique. South Africa’s constitutional court in 2005 essentially forced the country’s parliament to enact legislation in 2006, and Brazil’s constitutional court ruled in favor of marriage equality in 2013.

* * * * *

RELATED: After Irish vote, what next for same-sex marriage in Europe?

* * * * *

The problem with the legislative path — and especially with the referendum path — is that they both set the precedent in world politics that it’s perfectly fine to leave the rights of a minority group up to the whims of everyday politics. Marriage equality supporters may love that Irish voters delivered such a strong verdict for same-sex marriage, but it subtly validates votes in places like Croatia in 2013, where voters rejected marriage equality by vote. If, in 2019, Poland decides to hold a referendum and Polish voters reject same-sex marriage, the 2015 Irish referendum will nevertheless validate the direct democracy approach — namely, that a popular vote should be able to establish or deny fundamental rights.

Instead, here’s a sampling of what Anthony Kennedy wrote in his ruling today:

Laws excluding same-sex couples from the marriage right impose stigma and injury of the kind prohibited by our basic charter….

These considerations lead to the conclusion that the right to marry is a fundamental right inherent in the liberty of the person, and under the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment couples of the same-sex may not be deprived of that right and that liberty.

Not only does the ruling mean that the United States is now more progressive on LGBT rights than much of Europe and the rest of the Western world, it also sets a precedent with which constitutional courts worldwide will now have to grapple.

The decision stands for the idea, long applied to protection on the basis of race, ethnicity and gender, that there are certain principles in a liberal democracy that are ‘above’ petty political fights. Legal scholars will recognize this idea as a principle that flows back to famous footnote in a 1938 ruling, United States v. Carolene Products Company:

There may be narrower scope for operation of the presumption of constitutionality when legislation appears on its face to be within a specific prohibition of the Constitution, such as those of the first ten amendments, which are deemed equally specific when held to be embraced within the Fourteenth. . . . whether prejudice against discrete and insular minorities may be a special condition, which tends seriously to curtail the operation of those political processes ordinarily to be relied upon to protect minorities, and which may call for a correspondingly more searching judicial inquiry…

The bottom line is that constitutional courts — for example, those in Australia and Israel, Germany and Italy, or even the European Court of Human Rights, will feel significantly greater pressure as a result of today’s holding in Washington, D.C. Germany’s constitutional court, the Bundesverfassungsgericht, for example, has been nudging the country ever so closely to marriage equality in a series of rulings that have almost eliminated the difference between ‘life partnerships’ and marriage.

Honduran LGBT activists fear ongoing threat upon Hernández inauguration

martinez1

NOTE: This post originally appeared at Huffington Post’s Latino Voices blog.
For more of
 Suffragio‘s coverage and reporting on Honduras, click here

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras — Erick Martínez remembers exactly where he was when Erick Martínez was killed.honduras flag icon

Erick Vidal Martínez, today one of Honduras’s most high-profile LGBT activists, was supposed to meet Erick Martínez Avila at one in the afternoon on an otherwise temperate spring day in May 2012. Martínez Avila had been selected to be the representative of the LGBT community in the congressional primaries for Honduras’s new leftist political party, the Party of Liberty and Refoundation (known by its acronym, LIBRE, which is Spanish for “free”). But the LGBT community had planned to meet on May 6, 2012 to hold a full assembly in order to ensure that all voices, including transsexual and transgender members of the community, could provide input on the campaign ahead.

“The meeting was scheduled at 2:00 p.m., but we had talked about getting together beforehand.,” Martínez said. “Then 3 o’clock came around, then 3:30, and he didn’t show up. People started to believe that he didn’t want to become the candidate. So people said, ‘well, we’ll just have to find somebody else.'”

The next day, May 7, was Erick Vidal Martínez’s birthday. When the other Erick didn’t send so much as a text message to mark the occasion, the community’s brief annoyance deflated quickly into concern. Later that day, they learned the news — Erick Martínez Avila had been kidnapped off the streets of Tegucigalpa, the capital city of Honduras. His kidnappers ultimately strangled him to death and discarded his body in a ditch on the outskirts of town.

“My world completely changed that day, it was a 360-degree turn,” he said. “I didn’t have time to mourn him, I didn’t have time to cry.”

It was among the more high-profile of dozens of assassinations within Honduras’s struggling LGBT community — another top LGBT activist, Walter Tróchez, was shot while walking down the street in December 2009. Erick Vidal Martínez knew both of them well — as friends, as political allies, as part of his support network in a country where dissent of any stripe has become increasingly perilous. No one would have blamed him for packing his bags, filing an asylum application and catching the next flight to Ottawa. Or Brussels. Or London.

Instead, just days before Hondurans voted in a landmark general election, Erick met with me for coffee in downtown Tegucigalpa to explain why he’s picked up the fight where the other Erick, Walter and other murdered LGBT activists left off, and why he’s willing to risk his life to fight for greater rights for the diversity community in Honduras, a task that could become ever more treacherous in the years ahead, when Honduras’s new conservative president, Juan Orlando Hernández, will be inaugurated Monday, January 27.

“Everyone in Honduras has fear, but you can’t make decisions through fear and the past,” Martínez said. “I have to be smart. It would be foolish of me to expose myself. My advantage is my profile as a human rights activist. This is not a bulletproof vest, but it helps… After Erick’s murder, I gave up my social life; I gave up my private life.” Continue reading Honduran LGBT activists fear ongoing threat upon Hernández inauguration

A treasury of comments about Uganda’s anti-homosexuality bill

uganda gay rights

How much do Ugandans hate gays and lesbians?uganda

A lot, as it turns out.  My post from last week, which recounted the final enactment of Nigeria’s anti-gay law and the decision by Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni to veto the anti-gay bill passed in December 2013 by the Ugandan parliament, attracted more attention than nearly any post I’ve written since I started Suffragio in early 2012.

So I thought it was worth sharing some of the reactions — and they’ve been jarring.

In the past month alone, I’ve argued that the United States is engendering sympathy for al-Qaeda forces in Yemen, that the US Senate would commit policy malpractice by enacting a new Iran sanctions bill and that the late Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon’s most enduring legacy is empowering Hezbollah.  Just yesterday, I entertained the notion that the United States and Canada should merge into a superstate.  These aren’t easy issues, and others won’t always share my  interpretations and conclusions.

But nothing has caused quite as much blowback as a relatively straightforward piece examining Museveni’s veto in the context of a rapidly worsening climate for LGBT rights throughout sub-Saharan Africa.

The (unintentionally hilarious) Anel Tunes, who’s from Kampala, shared my post on Facebook — with the following preamble:

All homosexuals need to be shot dead on site. We don’t need to spend tax payers money by taking such beasts to court. We just need to slay their throats without a question.

He’s not alone — the comments on both my blog and on Facebook run very heavily anti-gay.  I’d expect that because Uganda’s culture is relatively conservative.  There are plenty of good people in the United States who oppose same-sex marriage and believe, for religious or other reasons, that same-sex relationships are wrong, and the battle for wider acceptance of sexual minorities (including, for the record, transsexual and transgender individuals) can’t be legislated or enacted by judicial fiat.  I can understand that.

What I can’t understand is the desire to kill fellow citizens.  The virulence of hatred is staggering.  I’m used to a hostile or critical comment (or dozen) from time to time, but these comments are extraordinarily hateful.

Rogers Mover M adds simply:

We HATE HOMOSEXUALITY

From Ssebbaale Henry Wise:

rubbish !!!! it doent matter whether he voted other wise, remember this is africa, we act as we please, we will contiue to kill the Gays until when they are totally finished

From Tonny Bulletslinger Tomeeo Lazyeye:

Homo??? you even have time to debate on that??? we have machetes

Jjemba Mathew disapproves of the Ugandan parliament’s decision to reduce the penalty from ‘death’ to merely life imprisonment:

Life imprisonment can not end gay habits.They need Gun fire in the stadium.

Black Panther argues that Ugandan gays should be fed to the crocodiles:

 This is abusing our President.Its such a shameful act that it shldnt hv even been discussed in our Parliament.They shld hv just rounded up all homosexuals at night and thrown them into River Nile for our more honourable and profitable crocodiles to feast on as they are more useful at least they attract tourists and earn the country the much needed foreign currency.

Continue reading A treasury of comments about Uganda’s anti-homosexuality bill

Museveni vetoes Ugandan anti-gay bill after Nigeria law takes effect

London, 11th July 2012. London Summit on Family Planning

You know it’s been a bad week for LGBT rights in sub-Saharan Africa when the best news came from a leader who referred to gays and lesbians as ‘abnormal persons,’ with an illness to be treated.nigeria_flag_iconuganda

But considering that Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan signed into law on Monday the Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Act, which criminalizes not only ‘amorous’ same-sex relationships, but also registration, operation or participation in gay clubs, societies or organizations (including, potentially, US and other Western human rights organizations active in Nigeria), Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni’s decision to veto an anti-gay bill on Friday was somewhat of a triumph, even if the veto was shrouded in a bizarre — and still virulently anti-gay — message:

The President said a homosexual is somebody who is abnormal because the normal person was created to be attracted to the opposite sex in order to procreate and perpetuate the human race. He said, nature goes wrong in a minority of cases.  While in the Bill passed by Parliament there is no provision for killing homosexuals; the President said, “The question at the core of the debate of homosexuality is; what do we do with an abnormal person? Do we kill him/her? Do we imprison him/her? Or we do contain him/her?”

While the President said homosexuality is an abnormal condition that can be cured, he disagreed with the position of Western countries that homosexuality is an “alternative sexual orientation”. “You cannot call an abnormality an alternative orientation. It could be that the Western societies, on account of random breeding, have generated many abnormal people,” he said, adding that his acid test for rejecting Western position is that nature is purposeful.

Uganda and Nigeria are at the heart of an increasingly widening debate within sub-Saharan Africa over homosexuality, and Uganda’s proposed anti-gay laws have been widely covered in the international media.

The current bill, passed in December 2013 by Uganda’s parliament, which is dominated by the National Resistance Movement that’s controlled Uganda since Museveni (pictured above) came to power in 1986, would criminalize same-sex sexual intercourse, with penalties of life imprisonment for Ugandans convicted of ‘homosexuality.’  The bill also creates obligations for Ugandan citizens to report suspected gay and lesbian individuals to the police, and it criminalizes providing advisory services to gay and lesbian individuals.  The latter provision could endanger all sorts of public health initiatives in Uganda, especially with respect to HIV/AIDS.

Earlier versions of the bill mandated the death penalty for gays and lesbians, which number an estimated 500,000 people among Uganda’s population of over 36 million. Continue reading Museveni vetoes Ugandan anti-gay bill after Nigeria law takes effect

Is there a potential parliamentary path to amending Section 377 in India?

soniagandhi

Sonia Gandhi, the leader of India’s largest party, and a massively influential voice in Indian government, has strongly denounced the Indian Supreme Court’s ruling on Section 377 of the Indian penal code, which effectively re-criminalized same-sex relationships yesterday.India Flag Icon

The Supreme Court rejected the earlier 2009 decision of the Delhi High Court, which had interpreted that Section 377 violated several rights guaranteed under India’s constitution, thereby effectively decriminalizing same-sex conduct.  India’s Supreme Court yesterday instead ruled that it was up to India’s parliament, not its judiciary, to address Section 377.

Gandhi forcefully called on India’s parliament to take up the issue by amending Section 377 in a way that makes it clear that she believes same-sex conduct should not be criminalized:

“The High Court had wisely removed an archaic, repressive and unjust law that infringed on basic human rights enshrine din our Constitution. This Constitution has given us a great legacy, a legacy of liberalism of openness, that enjoin us to combat prejudice and discrimination of any kind. We are proud that our culture has always been an inclusive and tolerant one. The Supreme Court also suggested another course. I hope the Parliament will address this issue and uphold the constitutional guarantee of life and liberty to all citizens of India, including those affected by this judgement.”

As the leader of the governing Indian National Congress (Congress, भारतीय राष्ट्रीय कांग्रेस), her strong condemnation makes it possible that India’s parliament just might enact a legislative fix.

Gandhi’s statement cleared the way for several high-profile members of India’s government to attack the decision.  Finance minister P Chidambaram said he was extremely disappointed with the decision, and he argued that the decision, by upholding a law enacted in 1860, embodies  colonial-era reasoning.  Kapil Sibal, India’s minister for law and justice, after a somewhat non-committal statement yesterday, today issued a call clearly supporting government action to neutralize the Supreme Court’s decision:

“I am disappointed, and, it is unfortunate that the Supreme Court has upheld the legality of Section 377. The High Court was right on this issue. Right now, there are several options before the government, and, we are exploring all of them. This government believes in firm and quick action, and, we will do that. We will adopt a policy that will provide relief at the earliest,” he said.

Congress, which likes to wrap itself in its legacy as the party that delivered Indian to independence in 1947 under Jawaharlal Nehru, a leader of the independence movement and later, India’s first prime minister, would jump at the chance to attack Section 377, above all, as a relic of Victorian-era repression inflicted upon India by its British colonial rulers.

Fresh off its massive political victory in regional elections earlier this month in Delhi, the anti-corruption Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) also announced its disapproval of the decision and its support for repealing or amending Section 377.

In contrast, the center-right Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (the BJP, भारतीय जनता पार्टी) and Narendra Modi, the chief minister of Gujarat state, and the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate in next spring’s parliamentary elections, have been silent since yesterday’s decision.  Sushma Swaraj, the BJP opposition leader in the Lok Sabha (लोक सभा), the lower house of India’s parliament, has called for an all-party meeting to determine whether there’s support to amend Section 377 in the Lok Sabha.

While Muslim and Christian groups have been more active on Section 377 in India than Hindu groups, the conservative BJP doesn’t exactly fit the mould of a party willing to take a progressive stand in favor of LGBT rights.  Baba Ramdev, a top Indian yoga guru, and a leading Modi supporter, has been outspoken in his virulent opposition to homosexuality.

Either way, Gandhi and Congress will find that time is rapidly running out, with the Lok Sabha expected to be dissolved next spring in advance of parliamentary elections that must be held before May 2014.

While Congress could push to amend 377 through legislative action, there’s a chance that the government could also support a ‘curative petition’ that calls on the Supreme Court to reconsider its ruling — such petitions rarely succeed, but such petitions rarely have the full support of Sonia Gandhi behind them.

Both the Congress-led government and the BJP have at least some reason to pull together to support legislation essentially decriminalizing same-sex conduct (once again) in India.  Continue reading Is there a potential parliamentary path to amending Section 377 in India?

Was it a mistake for the European Union to admit Croatia earlier this year?

CROATIA-GAY-RIGHTS-RELIGION-REFERENDUM

It hasn’t been an incredibly distinguished first six months for the European Union’s 28th member.croatia

Croatia, which entered the European Union on July 1, is only the second state to do so from the former Yugoslav union, but it’s already proving to be somewhat of a problem child — as some Europeans feared openly before its accession.

Most of those fears relate to economics and, given the eurozone’s economic crisis over the past four years, you might have thought that Croatia’s growing pains would be economic in nature, but that’s not the case.

Instead, Croatia’s difficulties have more to do with social issues and historical legacies — in its first six months of EU membership, Croatia caused a showdown almost immediately with EU leaders over the potential extradition of Josip Perković, the former Yugoslav-era director of Croatia’s secret police, and it signaled to the world its relative intolerance for LGBT freedom by conducting a referendum that resulted in a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage at a time when much of Europe is embracing equal marriage rights for LGBT individuals.

Those experiences could shape future EU appetite for further expansion in the Balkans, at a time when the European Union has deftly dangled the carrot of EU membership in exchange for a more permanent peace between Serbia and Kosovo, and at a time when EU membership might be the only thing that can save the triple-fractured union of Bosnia and Herzegovina, while also integrating smaller countries like Macedonia and Montenegro into the global economy.

The most serious rupture began three days before Croatia even joined the European Union when it passed the ‘Perković law,’ which purported to prevent the extradition of anyone for crimes committed before August 2002.  That caused an almost immediate backlash against Croatia from EU leaders and the other 27 EU member-states, and by September — less than 90 days after Croatia had joined the European Union — EU justice commissioner Viviane Reding, was threatening economic sanctions.  Germany, in particular, is interesting in extraditing Perković in relation to his role in the assassination of Croatian defector Stjepan Đureković, who was killed in 1983 in what was then West Germany.

Ironically, it’s the center-left government of Zoran Milanović, who leads the four-party Kukuriku coalition and its largest member, the Social Democratic Party of Croatia (SDP, Socijaldemokratska partija Hrvatske), that dug in its heels over the Perković law, not the more conservative, nationalist opposition party, the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ, Hrvatska demokratska zajednica), which governed Croatia through much of the EU harmonization period, from 2003 through the December 2011 election.  The HDZ, as well as several top government officials opposed the law from the beginning, including Croatia’s foreign minister and deputy prime minister Vesna Pusić, the leader of the second-largest party in the Kukuriku coalition, the Croatian People’s Party/Liberal Democrats (HNS, Hrvatska narodna stranka/liberalni demokrati).

Milanović and the Croatian government eventually backed down in late September by amending the law in a way that complied with EU requirements, but only after Reding instituted formal EU proceedings, needlessly undermining Croatian credibility almost immediately after its EU accession.

Yet almost as soon as the extradition crisis ended, Croatia found itself embroiled in another difficult debate in holding the December 1 constitutional referendum on same-sex marriage.   Continue reading Was it a mistake for the European Union to admit Croatia earlier this year?

India’s Supreme Court re-criminalizes same-sex conduct in LGBT setback

indiansupremecourt

In a setback for human rights in the world’s largest democracy, the Supreme Court of India early Wednesday re-criminalized same-sex conduct in a decision that directly affects millions of LGBT individuals.India Flag Icon

The court was considering a 2009 decision by the Delhi High Court, Naz Foundation v. Govt. of NCT of Delhi, that found much of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code unconstitutional.  Section 377 dates from the British colonial era in India — its origin lies in an 1860 law that prohibits ‘carnal intercourse against the order of nature,’ essentially criminalizing same-sex conduction.  When the Delhi High Court handed down its ruling in 2009, it narrowed its reading of Section 377 to exclude adult consensual same-sex conduct, though the law continued to apply to sex with minors and non-sexual conduct.

Today’s decision by India’s Supreme Court, however, invalidates that interpretation, making same-sex conduct once again a criminal offense — think of it as the reverse of the US Supreme Court’s 2003 landmark decision in Lawrence v. Texas, in so much as the Supreme Court of India had the opportunity to decriminalize same-sex conduct in one fell swoop.  Instead, India’s Supreme Court ruled that it was up to the parliament, not India’s courts, to invalidate Section 377.  The effect is to criminalize same-sex relations at a time when most countries are moving toward greater LGBT rights in both judicial and legislative terms.

The 2009 decision was a landmark moment at the time for LGBT activists in India, who believe that the legacy code violates the guarantees to equality, freedom of expression and personal liberty in the Indian constitution.  The Delhi High Court (think of it as a kind of cross between a state supreme court in the United States and the federal DC Circuit Court of Appeals) itself took seven years to hold hearings in the Naz Foundation case, and the verdict was delivered eight years after the case was originally filed.  Here’s a portion of the Delhi Supreme Court’s ruling from 2009:

If there is one constitutional tenet that can be said to be underlying theme of the Indian Constitution, it is that of ‘inclusiveness’. This Court believes that Indian Constitution reflects this value deeply ingrained in Indian society, nurtured over several generations. The inclusiveness that Indian society traditionally displayed, literally in every aspect of life, is manifest in recognising a role in society for everyone. Those perceived by the majority as “deviants’ or ‘different’ are not on that score excluded or ostracised.  Where society can display inclusiveness and understanding, such persons can be assured of a life of dignity and non-discrimination. This was the ‘spirit behind the Resolution’ of which Nehru spoke so passionately. In our view, Indian Constitutional law does not permit the statutory criminal law to be held captive by the popular misconceptions of who the LGBTs are. It cannot be forgotten that discrimination is antithesis of equality and that it is the recognition of equality which will foster the dignity of every individual.

It’s difficult to categorize the state of LGBT rights in a country as diverse as India with over 1.2 billion people across 1.2 million square miles, but LGBT individuals face myriad challenges in a country where same-sex marriage and adoption are not recognized and no anti-discrimination laws exist.  India’s relatively conservative culture means that there’s a lot of opposition to same-sex attraction, both culturally and religiously.  Religious groups, for example, especially within India’s Muslim and Christian communities, applauded today’s decision.

While Section 377 was never regularly enforced, it was nonetheless widely used to harass LGBT individuals.

As supreme courts often like to do, India’s supreme court lobbed the issue back to the elected branch of government:

However, keeping in mind the importance of separation of powers and out of a sense of deference to the value of democracy that parliamentary acts embody, self restraint has been exercised by the judiciary when dealing with challenges to the constitutionality of laws. This form of restraint has manifested itself in the principle of presumption of constitutionality. Continue reading India’s Supreme Court re-criminalizes same-sex conduct in LGBT setback

Rudd’s same-sex marriage pledge biggest surprise in bland Australian leaders debate

firstdebate

After six years of government defined in large part by the bickering of one odd couple of Labor leaders, current prime minister Kevin Rudd is betting that his push to recognize all Australian couples will push his center-left Australian Labor Party to a third term in government. Australia Flag Icon

In what most commentators agree was a bland performance by both leaders in the first debate between prime minister Kevin Rudd (pictured above, left) and opposition leader Tony Abbott (pictured above, right) in Australia’s election campaign, the biggest news of the night was Rudd’s announcement to take up the cause of full same-sex marriage equality.  When Rudd announced in the debate that he would, if reelected, call a vote within 100 days to enact same-sex marriage equality in Australia, his campaign team was ready to go with a fully-formed campaign-in-miniature (with its own website and Twitter handle) and a nifty slogan, ‘It’s time,’ that draws on Labor’s popular slogan from the 1972 election campaign that brought prime minister Gough Whitlam to power.  Arguing that ‘folk out there want this to happen,’ especially young voters, Rudd pledged a full vote of conscience if Labor wins the September 7 national elections.

In one sense, it marks a step forward for Australian marriage equality, especially after New Zealand enacted a same-sex marriage statute with the support of prime minister John Key, nearly half of his governing National Party and virtually all of the opposition Labour and Green Parties.  Rudd announced earlier this year that he supported full same-sex marriage rights, which put him at odds with the Labor prime minister at the time, Julia Gillard, and it meant that when Rudd replaced Gillard in June after a Labor Party leadership contest, Australia had its first pro-gay marriage prime minister.

Rudd, who came to power for the first time after the November 2007 elections, enacted reforms in December 2008 as prime minister to provide that same-sex couples in Australia would have the same rights as ‘de facto partners’ as cohabitating opposite-sex couples, including inheritance rights, joint tax rights, employment rights, and joint entitlement rights.  The reforms received support at the time not only from Labor, but from the center-right Liberal Party of Australia and the Australian Green Party as well.

But though LGBT rights groups welcomed Rudd’s statement, it has more than the whiff of a gimmick to it, coming less than a month before Australians go to the polls and with Rudd either tied or narrowly behind Abbott in the polls.  Moreover, there’s no guarantee that holding a vote would actually enact gay marriage.  Labor MP Stephen Jones introduced a bill to legalize same-sex marriage in September 2012, and it lost in the House of Representatives on a vote of 98 to 42.  A similar vote in Australia’s Senate lost by a vote of 50 to 26.

Abbott, who leads not only the Liberal Party, but the broad Liberal/National Party ‘Coalition’ in Australia’s parliament, has not committed to hold a free vote on same-sex marriage if he becomes prime minister — despite the fact that his sister, Christine Forster, is a lesbian.  Abbott, who supported the 2008 reforms, currently opposes changing Australia’s Marriage Act, which currently defines marriage as between one man and one woman:  Continue reading Rudd’s same-sex marriage pledge biggest surprise in bland Australian leaders debate

Why Dan Savage’s campaign against Russian vodka is naive and counterproductive

moscowprideattack

Dan Savage, when he’s not answering the love and sex queries from anguished writers to his column, has now taken it upon himself to become the arbiter of outrage about Russian treatment of LGBT rights.Russia Flag Icon  Savage, taking on the burden of activist-in-chief for the U.S. LGBT community, has started a campaign demanding that bars throughout the United States start boycotting all Russian vodkas:

If you drink a Russian Vodka like Stoli, Russian Standard, or any of the other brands listed above, switch to another brand from another country, or even a local brand from a local distillery. Stoli is the iconic Russian Vodka and it’s returning to Russian ownership in 2014. Other brands like Russian Standard should also be boycotted. Do not drink Russian vodka. Do not buy Russian vodka. Ask your bartender at your favorite bar—gay or otherwise—to DUMP STOLI and DUMP RUSSIAN VODKA.

The SPI Group, which owns Stolichnaya*, responded with a defensive letter to The Advocate and other sources earlier today, outlining its ongoing outreach to the LGBT community and noting that, at least as of today, their vodka is produced from Russian ingredients in Latvia, which is of course a NATO and European Union member, and earlier this month secured its entry early next year to the eurozone single currency:

Stoli’s production process involves both Russia and Latvia. Stoli is made from Russian ingredients (wheat, rye and raw alcohol) blended with pure artesian well water at our historic distillery and bottling facility Latvijas Balzams in Riga… We fully support and endorse your objectives to fight against prejudice in Russia. In the past decade, SPI has been actively advocating in favor of freedom, tolerance and openness in society, standing very passionately on the side of the LGBT community and will continue to support any effective initiative in that direction.

There’s some debate over whether the brand will revert to Russian ownership in 2014, but that really doesn’t matter — neither Stoli, the SPI Group or any other major Russian vodka company is owned by the Russian government.  It should miss no one’s attention that much of public-owned industry from the Soviet era was privatized for fire-sale prices in the first years of Russian president Boris Yeltsin’s administration.  Whether you think that the oligarchs that benefitted from those poor Yeltsin-era decisions are culpable for their own economic sins, they are not the ones setting anti-gay policy today in Russia.  Many oligarchs, such as Mikhail Prokhorov, the owner of the New Jersey Nets (now Brooklyn Nets) basketball team, who made his fortune chiefly in nickel mining in the 1990s, actively supports the opposition and ran himself as a candidate against Putin for president last year.  Earlier today, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that aspects of the trial against Russian oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky were unfair (though the court avoided the legal finding that the trial is politically motivated, as been widely alleged for a decade).

Savage’s campaign would be like Russian bars boycotting Coca-Cola in 1996 in retribution for the U.S. Congress’s decision to pass the Defense of Marriage Act.  If Coca-Cola happened to be a Canadian company.  And that doesn’t make an incredible amount of sense.

The latest kerfuffle reached a roar in the United States following an op-ed by Harvey Fierstein in The New York Times last Sunday accusing Russian president Vladimir Putin of scapegoating gays and lesbians following the passage of high-profile legislation that bans the adoption of Russian children by gay parents and that allows the harassment and detention of gay and lesbian foreign nationals in Russia:

Mr. Putin’s campaign against lesbian, gay and bisexual people is one of distraction, a strategy of demonizing a minority for political gain taken straight from the Nazi playbook. Can we allow this war against human rights to go unanswered? Although Mr. Putin may think he can control his creation, history proves he cannot: his condemnations are permission to commit violence against gays and lesbians. In May a young gay man was murdered in the city of Volgograd. He was beaten, his body violated with beer bottles, his clothing set on fire, his head crushed with a rock. This is most likely just the beginning.

Nevertheless, the rest of the world remains almost completely ignorant of Mr. Putin’s agenda. His adoption restrictions have received some attention, but it has been largely limited to people involved in international adoptions.

It should be no surprise to anyone that Russian policy — and representative Russian views — on homosexuality is troubling, and that’s something we should all be concerned about, and many of us have been concerned about it for years.  Former Moscow mayor Yuri Luzhkov initiated a tradition of using police violence to shut down Moscow’s annual pride parade that’s now seven years running (attacks on the 2011 parade pictured above).

It’s fair to say that Russia is one of the least LGBT-friendly countries in the world, let alone in Europe.

But it’s also one of the least friendly countries in the world to be a journalist, to serve in the armed forces, to have too dark a skin tone, to speak out against the government, to be relatively poor, to be too rich for your own good (in the eyes of the government, at least), or to be unfortunate enough to serve time in prison.

And it’s been that way — for gays and for everyone else — long before the decision that Sochi would host the 2014 Winter Olympics.

That the latest LGBT protests in the United States follow the promulgation of two laws that are particularly geared toward discrimination against gays and lesbians outside Russia leads to the uncomfortable possibility that the Johnny-come-lately crusade against Russia’s laws is motivated by a mostly self-serving, nazel-gaving campaign that’s based less on protecting Russian gays and lesbians and indignation about the treatment of U.S. gays and lesbians — and it’s not clear that kind of effort won’t be even more harmful in the long run by giving Putin a new reasons (anti-American nationalism) to persecute Russian gays and lesbians further. Continue reading Why Dan Savage’s campaign against Russian vodka is naive and counterproductive