Before 2017: Equal Marriage in South Africa, French overseas territories (Reunion, Mayotte), Spanish exclaves Cueta and Melilla;
Developments in 2017: Equal Marriage UK territory Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha. Homosexuality criminalized in Chad.
Looking ahead: Namibia, Angola, The Gambia, Zimbabwe
Trouble spots: Uganda, Burundi, Nigeria, Ghana, Liberia, Egypt
UK territory Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha: The three islands all achieved equal marriage this year in different steps. Ascension Island (pop. 800) passed a bill in 2016, but it was brought into effect on Jan. 1 2017 when it looked like Saint Helena wasn’t going to legalize same-sex marriage. Tristan da Cunha (pop. 300) followed in August 2017. The main island Saint Helena (pop, 4,500) saw a lawsuit brought to its Supreme Court to legalize same-sex marriage, but a newly elected government passed a same-sex marriage bill in December 2017 before the court ruled. Same-sex couples can now marry and adopt throughout the territory.
NAMIBIA: A court case was brought to force the government to recognize a same-sex couple who were married in South Africa and their adopted son in December 2017. In 2016, the government had reiterated its opposition to same-sex marriage, and to repealing its vague colonial anti-sodomy law, though the country’s human rights ombudsman called for the law to be repealed and an anti-discrimination ordinance added to the constitution.
ANGOLA: A long-delayed overhaul of the 19th-century colonial penal code was delayed further in 2017. Though it would eliminate the vague laws banning sodomy, it also would forbid abortion in all circumstances. That provision led to some large protests in the country. A newly elected government (led by the same party) has pledged to have the bill passed in 2018. Southern Africa has been a relative hotspot of the decriminalization movement this decade, with victories in Lesotho, Seychelles, and fellow former Portuguese colonies Sao Tome & Principe and Mozambique, along with discussions in Malawi and Botswana.
The GAMBIA and ZIMBABWE: Both these countries deposed their incredibly anti-gay leaders after widespread protests and military intervention. The new leader of The Gambia, Adama Barrow has seemed less vocally intolerant of gays than his predecessor, but while he has undone some of the old guy’s more troublesome anti-democratic and anti-human rights actions (returning to the International Criminal Court, and applying to return to the Commonwealth), he hasn’t undone any of the country’s anti-gay laws. It’s early days in Zimbabwe’s post-Mugabe era, but there’s no news yet on LGBT rights there either. It will be interesting to watch if any developments follow, but given the widespread public antipathy in these countries, don’t hold your breath.
GHANA: The President has face wide criticism in the last few weeks after suggesting that an LGBT rights movement and decriminalization in Ghana were inevitable.
MAURITIUS: The government declined the UN Human Rights Committee’s suggestion that it decriminalize sodomy in its universal periodic review.
CHAD: Although I reported on Chad passing a bill criminalizing sodomy as a misdemeanor in 2016, it apparently did not pass into law until 2017. The new penal code includes jail terms and fines as punishment.
Crackdowns on LGBT people. continued or worsened in Egypt, Nigeria, Uganda, and Burundi in 2017.
ASIA, OCEANIA, and the rest
Before 2017: Equal Marriage in New Zealand, French overseas territories (French Polynesia, Wallis and Futuna, New Caledonia), UK overseas territories (Pitcairn Islands and British Indian Ocean Territory), parts of Antarctica (see below), US territories (Guam and Northern Mariana Islands Territory); limited recognition in American Samoa, Israel; civil union in Chilean territory (Easter Island); limited civil partnerships in some Japanese cities, some Taiwanese cities.
Developments in 2017: Equal Marriage in Australia. Court ruling in Taiwan.
Looking ahead: Taiwan, Japan, Hong Kong/China, India, Nepal, The Philippines, New Caledonia, Sri Lanka, Cook Islands.
Trouble spots: Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, the usual places in Central Asia and the Arab world
AUSTRALIA: Fifteen years of campaigning finally paid off in Australia following the successful postal plebiscite and a near-unanimous vote in Parliament for marriage equality. I won’t go much further with this as so much digital ink has already been spilled, but Australia became the 24th equal marriage country on Dec. 9, 2017. With the last of the large anglo-settler countries passing equal marriage, I wonder if English-language media will lose interest in the equal marriage battles going on in the rest of the world. Still, Australia’s Northern Territory is the only part of the country where same-sex couples do not have the option of entering a registered partnership other than marriage and cannot adopt children. A bill to change that has been proposed.
Australia is the sixth Commonwealth country (out of 52 — 53 when The Gambia rejoins later this year) to pass equal marriage, after Canada, South Africa, the UK, New Zealand and Malta.
Australia’s same-sex marriage bill applies to its external territories, which are not autonomous: Christmas Island (pop. 2,000), Norfolk Island (pop. 2,000), Cocos (Keeling) Islands (pop. 600), and the uninhabited Coral Sea Islands, Ashmore and Cartier Islands, Heard Island and McDonald Islands, and Australian Antarctic Territory.
ANTARCTICA: In a strictly academic sense, marriage equality is almost complete in Antarctica, since all of the claiming countries except Chile have passed a same-sex marriage law that applies to their Antarctic claims. However, the claims are not generally recognized internationally, except by each other (and even then, not completely – Argentina, Chile, and the UK claims all overlap). A quarter of Antarctica is not claimed by any country. Many countries have research bases in other countries claimed areas, and in practice, it is the base country’s laws that apply. Australia, France, Norway, New Zealand, UK, and Argentina are all equal marriage countries, and their law applies within their claim areas. Should Chile’s equal marriage bill pass, same-sex couples will have theoretical marriage rights throughout the claimed territory of Antarctica.
TAIWAN: In May, the Judicial Yuan ruled in favor of same-sex marriage, and gave the Legislative Yuan two years to pass a law to allow it. The government has been stalling, and given local elections coming in 2018, some predict they won’t pass a bill until 2019. Same-sex marriage becomes legal regardless on May 24, 2019. Several couples have filed suits hoping to get married in advance of that date, but the courts have repeatedly shot them down. In the meantime, all but four of Taiwan’s 22 counties, representing 94% of the population, have passed civil partnership registries. (By the way, unlike Austria’s court ruling, no one is getting married yet, and there appears to be a chance the legislative change may get gummed up, so I’m not counting it yet).
HONG KONG: The government appealed a court ruling finding that a binational married lesbian couple had to be recognized for immigration purposes, while the territory continued to discuss equal marriage in the wake of the Taiwan ruling. Discussions also appeared in mainland CHINA but no actual progress.
NEW CALEDONIA: This French territory is scheduled to hold an independence referendum in November 2018. If it passes, and independence is achieved (likely after another couple of years of transition), it would become a new equal marriage country from birth (the first, unless Catalonia beats it). A successful referendum could spark similar independence drives in Wallis and Futuna and French Polynesia territories.
Speaking of new states, the Bougainville Autonomous Region of Papua New Guinea is meant to hold an independence referendum in June 2019. If successful, it could be a new criminalizing state, unfortunately. Similarly, there is a bourgeoning independence movement in Papua/West Papua in Indonesia, but it doesn’t appear to have the momentum of either other regional movement.
EASTER ISLAND: This Polynesian territory is part of Chile, and would gain equal marriage if Chile’s law passes.
JAPAN: As the country continued to debate expanding LGBT rights ahead of hosting the 2020 Olympics, Sapporo became the largest city to establish a same-sex partner registry.
PHILLIPINES: A civil unions bill and a sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination bill were introduced in the Congress this year, but have not advanced far in debate. In December, President Duterte once again declared himself in favor of same-sex marriage (flipping back to a previous position he’d flopped from), but LGBT activists and legislators don’t believe there is enough support for that in Congress. The civil union bill passing would be a first for an Asian country.
COOK ISLANDS: A revision of the territory’s Crimes Bill, which would strike the sodomy law, has been in consultations since the summer. It is expected to pass in 2018. The Cook Islands is a sovereign country within the Realm of New Zealand. The South Pacific has been a specific focus of UN action on decriminalization recently, with decriminalization passing in Palau, Nauru, and Fiji this decade. Still to go: Solomon Islands, Samoa, Kiribati, Tuvalu, Tonga, and Papua New Guinea.
INDIA: India’s Supreme Court gave very strong indications that it would re-overturn the country’s sodomy law in a related decision that established constitutional privacy rights India’s people. The court also discussed that homosexuals should also be free from discrimination. In an underreported note, the Court also decided that marriage and family life ought to be subject to privacy, so it’s possible the decision could have even broader impact on marriage/family rights for same-sex couples.
SRI LANKA: The government told the UN Human Rights Council that it plans to decriminalize sodomy, but has not revealed any further details.
NEPAL: More discussion about same-sex marriage, now ten years after the Nepali Supreme Court ruled in favor of it. No action yet.
SOUTH KOREA: An anti-LGBT conservative was elected to the presidency, and marriage equality became an issue in vetting supreme court nominees. A more immediate issue was the crackdown on gays in the military – South Korea’s military code has a criminal prohibition on gay sex. Because military service is compulsory, it’s worth debating whether the country should be listed among the criminalizing states. The government has not announced plans to change the law. It’s worth wondering if South Korea’s middling record on LGBT rights may be brought into focus when it hosts the Winter Olympics in February.
Crackdowns on LGBT people continued or worsened in Indonesia, Tajikistan and Turkey, while continuing in the usual hotspots in the region. The Islamic State was finally defeated, technically reducing the number of criminalizing states by one.