Progress and evo­lu­tion are in­evitable on global gay rights

The Peterborough Examiner - - Opinion - GWYNNE DYER Dyer’s new book is ‘Grow­ing Pains: The Fu­ture of Democ­racy (and Work)’.

Is there re­ally such a thing as a global cul­ture? Con­sider gay rights.

Last Thurs­day the In­dian Supreme Court de­crim­i­nal­ized ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity. Last April a court in Trinidad and Tobago found colo­nial-era laws ban­ning gay sex to be un­con­sti­tu­tional. And late last year, Aus­tralia be­came the umpteenth state to le­gal­ize same-sex mar­riage. There is a slow-mo­tion avalanche go­ing on.

Yes, 35 of the 63 Com­mon­wealth coun­tries, mostly in Africa or the West Indies, still make ho­mo­sex­ual acts a crim­i­nal of­fence. Yes, some coun­tries, in­clud­ing Nige­ria and Uganda, have even tight­ened their anti-gay laws. And in the ul­tra-con­ser­va­tive Malaysian state of Tereng­ganu last week, two women were lashed six times with a cane and fined $800 for ‘try­ing to have sex’ (what­ever that means) in a car.

Change was never achieved eas­ily, and it still isn’t. Sec­tion 377, the 19th-cen­tury law that made a same-sex re­la­tion­ship in In­dia an “un­nat­u­ral of­fence” pun­ish­able by a 10-year jail term, was struck down by the Delhi High Court in 2009. The In­dian gay com­mu­nity, as big as any­where else but more op­pressed than most, cel­e­brated, and many peo­ple came out of the closet, es­pe­cially in the big cities.

Some of them paid a high price when the In­dian Supreme Court then re­in­stated Sec­tion 377 in 2013, say­ing that only par­lia­ment could change the law. This year the very same court re­viewed that de­ci­sion and re­versed it. Why did it do that? Af­ter all, the In­dian Con­sti­tu­tion hadn’t changed in the mean­time.

No­body on the In­dian Supreme Court will ad­mit this in pub­lic, but the real rea­son for the about-face was that the con­sen­sus global def­i­ni­tion of hu­man rights has ex­panded far enough to make its pre­vi­ous rul­ing un­ten­able. No grown-up coun­try that is fully en­gaged with the rest of the world wants to be em­bar­rassed by laws that make it look medieval.

Con­ser­va­tive re­li­gious and po­lit­i­cal lead­ers in de­vel­op­ing coun­tries of­ten con­demn the re­peal of anti-gay laws as an un­wel­come im­port from the West, some­how con­trary to the lo­cal cul­ture, but they should know bet­ter. It was West­ern coun­tries that im­posed anti-gay laws on their em­pires in the first place, in the 19th cen­tury, and it’s lo­cal ac­tivists, not for­eign gays, that are strug­gling to get rid of them.

This is not to say that the sit­u­a­tion of gays out­side the West was good be­fore the rise of the Euro­pean em­pires. On the con­trary, very few cul­tures, West­ern or oth­er­wise, have ever ac­corded gays the same rights and re­spect as the rest of the pop­u­la­tion. The ac­tivists are break­ing new ground in the West as much as they are in the de­vel­op­ing world.

What we are re­ally see­ing here is the halt­ing but prob­a­bly un­stop­pable emer­gence of a global stan­dard on hu­man rights. It has been un­der­way for at least 250 years and it may have an­other cen­tury to go, but gay rights be­long to the same cat­e­gory of so­cial in­no­va­tion as the end of slav­ery and the rise of fem­i­nism.

None of these changes are hap­pen­ing be­cause they cor­re­spond to some nat­u­ral law. They are be­ing con­sciously cre­ated by peo­ple who want there to be more jus­tice and more eq­uity in the world. The ac­tivists are a small mi­nor­ity, but they are mak­ing progress be­cause their ideas res­onate with a much larger group in ev­ery so­ci­ety who share their ideals if not their en­ergy.

This is long-wave change. The rise of democ­racy was part of it. De­col­o­niza­tion was part of it. The strug­gle against racism is part of it. The goal is equal­ity of rights, and this decade is turn­ing out to be the decade when the gays get it.

Or rather, it’s the decade when they get it in le­gal terms, al­though they will have to wait awhile longer be­fore sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion be­comes a com­pletely neu­tral at­tribute like hair colour. Ba­si­cally, they have to wait un­til the older gen­er­a­tion dies off. Most of the ur­ban young get it al­ready.

Mean­while, you might like to note that with the change in In­dia, five-sixths of the world’s peo­ple now live in coun­tries where ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity is not a crime.

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