Wednesday, December 20, 2006

2006 in review - LGBT

Amidst all the wrangling (still ongoing) in the UK over goods and services legislation, it's worth pausing to recall - especially as 2007 has been designated as the Year of Equal Opportunities for All by the European Union - what kind of a vintage 2006 has been (all references here are to the informative wikipedia LGBT timeline and the pages of ILGA).

From the LGBT standpoint - and in no particular order here are a few of the significant events-

Same sex marriage laws passsed in South Africa - the only country in Africa with partnership recognition of any kind and also demonstrating that allowing same sex couples to marry doesn't cause the sky to fall in.

The Hong Kong Government accepts a Court ruling that the ages of consent should be the same for gay and straight.

ILGA-Europe and 2 other NGO's get ECOSOC consultative status at the UN after a long struggle and 54 member states supported a statement on LGBT human rights issues by Norway - also supported by very many NGO's.

On the smaller side of things the Faroe Islands vote (narrowly) in favour of a discrimination law covering sexual orientation, and the age of consent is equalised in Jersey and Isle of Man.

The Czech Republic and Slovenia adopt a partnership law, meanwhile Uruguay, Italy and Ireland are in the process of considering some kind of partnership recognition.

At the same time the Canadian Parliament voted against reopening the issue of same sex marriage, with the Conservative Party now accepting that the issue is closed.

The Scottish Parliament votes by a large majority in favour of allowing same sex coupels to adopt.

Discrimination laws were passed in Washington and Illinois and the New Jersey legislature voted to enact a form of Civil Union in response to a unanimous ruling from the State Supreme Court.

A lot of the stories are about marriage, civil unions and partnership recognition. There is a clear trend here. Whereas opponents have been saying that this will be the end of civilisation as we know it, they have been proved wrong.

The trend is of timid legislatures (at least initially), but when obliged to act as in New Jersey, South Africa or Canada they tend to gain in conviction and the ability to be able to do the right thing.

In spite of all this progress the downside of the year is that human rights abuses still continue.

Nigeria - supported by the Anglican Church there is still in the process of debating a law which entails a 5 year prison sentence for belonging to a gay organisation, being a witness to a same sex marriage or for any positive portrayal of homosexuality.

Moscow, Latvia, Jerusalem - Pride events still encountering different forms of resistence including violence, opposition from politicians and religious groups.

Cameroon - people continue to face detention without being charged with an offence linked to homosexuality.

All of the above have in common that they are basic human rights abuses - right to a fair trial, right to freedomn of assembly and freedom of expression.

This emphasises why we need to have much more international solidarity in the coming years if we are to ensure that the kind of progress we see in some countries becomes available all over the world - and never let our guard down.

For more information see pages on the ILGA (International Lesbian and Gay Association) website.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Goods and Services - Sexual Orientation

The Govt has published the regulations for Northern Ireland covering discrimination in goods and services here.

They match the Government's original intention of legislating in this area while provising tightly drawn exemptions for 'doctinal reasons' i.e. organisaitons pertaining to religious belief and practice.

As well as substantially exempting religious organisations (but not in terms of commercial activity, education, activity undertaken on behalf of a public body and goods and services generally offered - i.e. not inclusively for members of a particular religion etc) it also includes protection against harassment.

Various organisations of the religious right in the UK have gone ballistic and are mounting a massive camapign effort to try to get the Government to withdraw the NI regulations as well as to water them down when introduced in the rest of the UK.

For UK (and slightly hysterical) reaction see here

In addition the issue has been debated by the Northern Ireland Assembly (the debate makes fascinating reading and really does very well capture the issues at stake).

Further to this the various parties opposed are taking the issue to the High Court BBC news report

Further interesting coverage can be seen in the rather interesting written questions put down by Lord Lester, which can be seen on the web site 'They Work for You'

From a religious angle a lot of the debate can be seen on the Thinking Anglican blog site (as opposed the other kind of Anglican......) for a summary see here

The Government aren't really saying much if anything at the moment. They are though (presumably) going to defend the regulations for Northern Ireland in the High Court. The GB regulations are due to come into force at the beginning of April.

My view is that where LGB people are and have a history of facing discrimination, equality law should bve there to afford a measure of equality - broad exemptions (anything other than a tightly drawn exemption like the one announced for Northern Ireland) have the effect of nullifying the effectiveness of the law - which is to create a general expectation that in the provision of goods and services, discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientaiton is unlawful.

The purpose of an equality law is to actually provide for equality, not to protect discriminatory attitudes but to combat them. Anything else is what the Bible would refer to as a "bag with holes in it" Haggai Chapter 1 verse 6.