The United States Supreme Court recently ruled that the recognition of same-sex marriage is a fundamental right under the Equal Protections Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The court’s decision “will end the patchwork system we currently have”, as President Obama put it, by fully legalizing same-sex marriage in all 50 states. Champions of love and equality the world over have rejoiced at the court’s decision, and while this ruling is a victory for all people of all sexualities and creeds, we must not forget the progress still to be made the world over.
There remain regions of the world where same-sex marriage is a non-issue not because it is a fundamental right, but because gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people continue to have their most dearly held freedoms, as well as their lives, threatened on a daily basis. Five countries still retain laws that punish homosexuality with death; they are Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Sudan, Iran, and Mauritania. In many African nations (with the exception of South Africa which recognizes marriage) homosexuality remains a crime where the penalty carries up to life imprisonment. These laws are not just antiquated, but reflect the extremely bigoted and intolerant views of many of these nations; a poll found that 97% of Nigerians believe society should not accept homosexuality.
That so many countries across the world still condone the criminalization of sexual preference is a dark mark on humanity, yet even in countries where the government does not criminally punish homosexuals there remains both legal and cultural prejudice. In Russia public LGBT events have been banned and police “routinely fail to protect LGBT individuals from attacks”. In Haiti religious groups blamed homosexuals for the earthquake, and in 2013 “men armed with machetes and handguns beat up two members of an LGBT group”. Such hate crimes are uncomfortably familiar around the world, and more should be done to recognize and criticize nations that condone such discrimination and violence.
Even in the more liberal parts of the world there is still much that needs to be done for LGBT rights. In Western Europe homophobia is a growing problem as was evidenced by the hundreds of thousands who rallied against gay marriage in Italy last weekend following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision. In the same week that the United States enshrined marriage equality into law, Austria’s government overwhelmingly voted against allowing same-sex marriages, demonstrating that much of the continent is not as progressive as nations such as Ireland. There same-sex marriage was recently adopted by popular vote, making it the only country in the world to do so by referendum. Coming back to the United States, there are a number of conservative states with anti-“gay propaganda” laws that sound eerily familiar to Russia’s own laws.
The purpose of this article is not to paint an overly grim picture, or to suggest that what happened in the U.S. is not momentous. The Supreme Court’s ruling has undoubtedly improved the lives of millions and should rightly be heralded as a landmark in civil rights legislation, and celebrated accordingly. Yet the fact still remains that in much of the world being openly gay is a threat to one’s job security, legal status, and possibly life. The battle for marriage equality in the United States was a noble one, and the battle at home is far from over, yet there are many parts of the world where marriage is the last thing on people’s minds, as their very lives may be at risk. We should take this win in the United States as motivation that real change can and does happen faster than we may have thought possible, and while rejoicing this victory begin to cast our eyes on the work that lies ahead.