To most of us, in fact I would expect a large majority of us, the news this week that Brunei is introducing penalties which include stoning to death gay people, is difficult to comprehend to say the very least.
Under the new penal code, based on Islamic Sharia law and upheld by the Sultan who has absolute power, there are a range of punishments not limited to the stoning of gays, severing of limbs for robbery and many other torturous and inhumane sentences. The last time that a crime would result in the risk of the death penalty in Brunei was 1957 yet May 1st 2014 brings the reintroduction of this penalty. The link below details what is happening in Brunei.
This change in the law in Brunei has left me thinking. I expect ‘we’ are horrified by this news and probably many of us do a good job of disregarding it as something happening far away, underpinned by religion in a patriarchal society in South East Asia. Not on our doorstep. I expect even those who do not support marriage equality, hate crime laws and other protections for gay people would still consider this punishment abhorrent. How do we allow this to happen in our world and, if we find this unacceptable, what is acceptable? The laws in Uganda, Russia, Iran, Pakistan and so on have penalties ranging from imprisonment to death. I’ve included a link below which shows the status of gay rights globally.
Where is it illegal to be gay? Millions of people continue to live in places that outlaw same-sex relationships and prosecute people for being gay. In five countries and in parts of two others, homosexuality is still punishable with the death penalty, while a further 70 imprison citizens because of their sexual orientation.
Back to my questioning about what is acceptable as global citizens and what is the impact of these laws more broadly. If we would consider the death penalty to be unacceptable, that it represents an inhumane punishment for being gay and these laws are based in deeply religious beliefs what then do we think of the countries laws where the penalty isn’t death but instead imprisonment such as Africa and the Middle East? Is this an acceptable option for a country to uphold? Let’s take a look at other countries such as Russia. The Russian laws are against gay expression. Next we move to Indonesia and Angola these are countries with contradictory laws including age of consent laws which are different to the heterosexual community. Venezuela and Bolivia are my next examples and these countries are an example of countries which have anti-discrimination laws.
This brings me to the USA, Canada, the UK and last but not least Australia. Arguably some of the most progressive countries in relation to rights for people in the LGBTI community especially in comparison to the laws I have mentioned above. Marriage laws, domestic partnerships, civil unions, relationship registers through to legal protections in relation to defacto relationships and some hate crime legislation and antidiscrimination laws with various caveats. I’d like to note Australia is at the very lowest level when it comes to rights in comparison to USA, Canada and the UK.
While the countries and laws I have included are not exhaustive it demonstrates something very interesting to me. There is a spectrum when it comes to rights and liberties for LGBTI people. Starting will full equality such as in Canada all the way through to the death penalty in Brunei and every variation and step in between.
How can this be justified? If countries find some of the torturous punishments unacceptable how can they justify any level of discrimination for the same ‘crime’. The discrimination is the same, the rationale is the same and the ’cause’ is the same. Each of these laws or lack of equality and protective laws come down simply to the fact that a person is gay the only difference as I have outlined is the severity of the punishment.
Our 10 year old daughter was in tears this morning when she heard the news about the Brunei laws. Why was she upset? As the tears fell she explained to us that it is because she was frightened. Frightened because she has two mums and people can be killed in a country for being gay. For her it isn’t foreign people, in foreign countries, with foreign religions creating and upholding laws that are unbelievable to most of us. For her it is the killing of people for being themselves, just like her mums.
Copyright Adele Fisher 2014