Another Victory for Equality for the Global LGBT Community

Slowly, across the globe, attitudes towards the LGBT community are changing, even in the most unexpected regimes.  Earlier this month the highest court in Lebanon, Mount Lebanon Appeals Court, ruled that homosexuality is not a crime.  This groundbreaking decision was taken by the court in a case where it supported a lower court’s decision which effectively stated that homosexuality was not a crime and the law had never intended it to be so, stating that “legislators had not intended to criminalise homosexuality but rather offence to public morals.”

The matter arose from the lower court’s decision not to imprison nine men on a charge connected to Article 534 in the Lebanese penal code which bans and criminalises sexual acts which “contradict the laws of nature”.  A term of one year in prison accompanies such charges.  The lower court stated on acquittal that if Lebanese citizens wanted to have gay sex, it was “a practice of their fundamental rights.”  This view was not shared by the individuals who sought to overturn this decision in the Mount Lebanon Appeals Court.

The very broad terms of Article 534 makes it easy for the police to use it to intimidate the LGBT community.  However the Appeals Court made it clear that homosexuality should not be criminalised unless it took place in public or involved a minor, furthermore suggested that Article 534 was outdated and “no longer reflected social development”. This welcome decision was warmly greeted by the pro-LGBTQ group Legal Agenda which commented “that the lower courts had previously acquitted gay people who had been prosecuted under the Article,  the weight and superiority of the Appeals Court could have repercussions on the way the judges in the lower court will rule on such charges in the future”. 

There is certainly a wind of change in Lebanon, earlier in the year, the Kataeb party, the right-wing Christian Democrat party stated that if they were to win the general election which was being held, they would de-criminalise homosexuality.  Lebanon’s parliament may have to wait a while for that to happen as the Kataeb party did not win and only have three seats in the parliament.

Despite the encouraging ruling homosexuality is not enthusiastically supported.  In a report drafted in 2015 interestingly entitled “As Long As They Stay Away: Exploring Lebanese Attitudes towards Sexuality and Gender Identities” found that 75% of those who responded did not think that it would be beneficial to society to regard homosexuality as normal and only one third thought that homosexuality was a normal part of society.  It also found that half of the respondents actually thought that homosexuality should be illegal but a smaller number, 30%, thought that a prison sentence was a suitable punishment.  Although these statistics may be less than heartening it must be remembered that in Kuwait, Egypt, Oman and Syria homosexually still attracts a prison sentence.  In Iran, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and UAE the death sentence is still applied to such “offences”.  Yemen and Palestine have the death sentence for homosexuality but it is often commuted to a prison sentence.  There is still a long way to go in the Middle East before a truly enlightened attitude is adopted.

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