As the Supreme Court hears arguments over gay marriage, the debate over the rights of couples of the same sex has also reverberated around the globe.
Wedding bells are still a distant dream for gays and lesbians in many countries, especially in Africa and the Middle East, where couples of the same sex often face persecution and arrest.
In the Sudan, for instance, sodomy--a catchall category that encompasses gay and lesbian sex--is punishable by death after multiple offenses. Saudi Arabia whips or sometimes stones to death people for the same crime, according to the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association. The Malaysian criminal code decrees lengthy prison terms for “carnal intercourse against the order of nature,” which includes anal and oral sex.
Russia has also garnered attention for a proposed law criminalizing the promotion of homosexuality to minors, based on a similar law in the city of St. Petersburg roundly criticized by rights activists for effectively stopping sexual minorities from talking about lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights.
“I won’t be able to talk freely on the topic and I won’t be able to write on the topic either without exposing my paper to ridiculously huge fines,” activist and Novaya Gazeta reporter Yelena Kostyuchenko told the Los Angeles Times in January. “The law reduces me and millions of gays in Russia to the hidden life of speechless beings deprived of a right to even publicly hold hands or kiss each other.”
Some countries have begun to dismantle or abandon such laws: Malawi decided to suspend enforcement of laws criminalizing intimacy between gay or lesbian couples in November, for example, winning applause from human rights groups. Beyond stopping punishments for gay couples, marriage and other forms of legal recognition have been making strides in other parts of the world, particularly Europe and the Americas.
Spain legalized same-sex marriage eight years ago, but the law was still being debated in its courts until November, when its highest court turned down an appeal brought by conservatives. Denmark approved a same-sex marriage law last year.
The issue is still being debated in France, where protesters against gay marriage battled with riot police on Sunday, trying to avert a pending bill that would allow same-sex couples to marry and adopt children. The bill goes up for a final vote in April and is backed by the government of President Francois Hollande.
Argentina became the first Latin American country to legalize same-sex marriages nearly three years ago. Colombia is on the road to do so, with a court ruling stating that its Congress must create specific laws to protect gay unions, or they will be automatically recognized in June. Uruguay is slated to vote on gay marriage in April; local media report it appears to have enough support to become law.
In China, the debate over gays and marriage has taken a somewhat unusual turn: Women who unwittingly married gay men, dubbed “gay wives,” have pleaded to be able to annull their unions and then be labeled as “single” rather than “divorced,” the official Xinhua News Agency reported in January. Gay rights advocates countered the real solution was to allow same-sex marriage.
Elsewhere in Asia, Vietnam has suggested it might consider gay marriage, though the idea was later put off, an advocate told Gay Star News. Taiwan held its first hearings on the issue this year, raising speculation that it could become the first Asian nation to legalize same-sex marriage.
Gay marriage is also legal in Belgium, Canada, Iceland, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, South Africa and Sweden. In Brazil and Mexico, same-sex couples can wed in some parts of the country, but not others, much like in the United States.