|January 21, 2009|
|New US President commits to further LGBT rights|
|Newly sworn-in US President Barack Obama commits to oppose a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, support full civil unions and federal rights of same-sex couples, expand adoption rights, fight workplace discrimination among others.|
|New President Barack Obama called for a ‘new era of responsibility’ as he took the oath of office as the United States’ 44th president – and first African-American president in the country’s history.
In his 20-minute inaugural address, the new president acknowledged how far African Americans had come in the country with one poignant line.
“This is the meaning of our liberty and our creed – why men and women and children of every race and every faith can join in celebration across this magnificent mall, and why a man whose father less than sixty years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath.”
And doubly so as he was sworn in on the steps of the US Capitol Building which slaves helped build from the 1790s until the 1820s.
The 47-year-old president was born in Honolulu, Hawaii to a Kenyan father and a white American mother.
President Obama’s address has been described by news outlets such as the New York Times as a ‘stark repudiation of the era of George W. Bush’ despite being couched in indirect terms. He referenced a wide range of issues from interrogation policies to the invasion of Iraq and the use of its military power and spoke of the need to “restore science to its rightful place.”
He is expected to reverse some of the most contentious policies of the Bush administration such as banning the use of harsh interrogation techniques on suspected terrorists, giving a go-ahead for stem cell research and repealing the military’s Don’t Ask-Don’t Tell policy which bans openly gay and lesbian personnel from serving.
On Tuesday, the White House web site was updated with a list of commitments to further LGBT rights on his civil rights agenda:
THE AGENDA • CIVIL RIGHTS
“While we have come a long way since the Stonewall riots in 1969, we still have a lot of work to do. Too often, the issue of LGBT rights is exploited by those seeking to divide us. But at its core, this issue is about who we are as Americans. It’s about whether this nation is going to live up to its founding promise of equality by treating all its citizens with dignity and respect.” – Barack Obama, June 1, 2007
Expand Hate Crimes Statutes: In 2004, crimes against LGBT Americans constituted the third-highest category of hate crime reported and made up more than 15 percent of such crimes. President Obama cosponsored legislation that would expand federal jurisdiction to include violent hate crimes perpetrated because of race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity, or physical disability. As a state senator, President Obama passed tough legislation that made hate crimes and conspiracy to commit them against the law.
Fight Workplace Discrimination: President Obama supports the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, and believes that our anti-discrimination employment laws should be expanded to include sexual orientation and gender identity. While an increasing number of employers have extended benefits to their employees’ domestic partners, discrimination based on sexual orientation in the workplace occurs with no federal legal remedy. The President also sponsored legislation in the Illinois State Senate that would ban employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
Support Full Civil Unions and Federal Rights for LGBT Couples: President Obama supports full civil unions that give same-sex couples legal rights and privileges equal to those of married couples. Obama also believes we need to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act and enact legislation that would ensure that the 1,100+ federal legal rights and benefits currently provided on the basis of marital status are extended to same-sex couples in civil unions and other legally-recognized unions. These rights and benefits include the right to assist a loved one in times of emergency, the right to equal health insurance and other employment benefits, and property rights.
Oppose a Constitutional Ban on Same-Sex Marriage: President Obama voted against the Federal Marriage Amendment in 2006 which would have defined marriage as between a man and a woman and prevented judicial extension of marriage-like rights to same-sex or other unmarried couples.
Repeal Don’t Ask-Don’t Tell: President Obama agrees with former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff John Shalikashvili and other military experts that we need to repeal the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. The key test for military service should be patriotism, a sense of duty, and a willingness to serve. Discrimination should be prohibited. The U.S. government has spent millions of dollars replacing troops kicked out of the military because of their sexual orientation. Additionally, more than 300 language experts have been fired under this policy, including more than 50 who are fluent in Arabic. The President will work with military leaders to repeal the current policy and ensure it helps accomplish our national defense goals.
Expand Adoption Rights: President Obama believes that we must ensure adoption rights for all couples and individuals, regardless of their sexual orientation. He thinks that a child will benefit from a healthy and loving home, whether the parents are gay or not.
Promote AIDS Prevention: In the first year of his presidency, President Obama will develop and begin to implement a comprehensive national HIV/AIDS strategy that includes all federal agencies. The strategy will be designed to reduce HIV infections, increase access to care and reduce HIV-related health disparities. The President will support common sense approaches including age-appropriate sex education that includes information about contraception, combating infection within our prison population through education and contraception, and distributing contraceptives through our public health system. The President also supports lifting the federal ban on needle exchange, which could dramatically reduce rates of infection among drug users. President Obama has also been willing to confront the stigma – too often tied to homophobia – that continues to surround HIV/AIDS.
Empower Women to Prevent HIV/AIDS: In the United States, the percentage of women diagnosed with AIDS has quadrupled over the last 20 years. Today, women account for more than one quarter of all new HIV/AIDS diagnoses. President Obama introduced the Microbicide Development Act, which will accelerate the development of products that empower women in the battle against AIDS. Microbicides are a class of products currently under development that women apply topically to prevent transmission of HIV and other infections.
|September 30, 2008|
|Keep gay sex a criminal offence: India government|
|By News Editor|
|The Union government has supported the stand of the Home Ministry in opposing the plea for decriminalisation of homosexuality, arguing that decriminalisation would promote delinquent behaviour and cause moral degradation in society.|
|Calling sexual relations a “social vice” and “a reflection of a perverse mind”, India’s Union government told the Delhi High Court last Friday it opposed scrapping of Section 377 of Indian Penal Code.
Additional Solicitor General P P Malhotra said the government was not in a position to scrap the law at this time. “It (homosexuality) is a criminal offence,” he was quoted as saying in local media reports.
“Homosexuality is a social vice and the state has the power to contain it… If it is allowed then evils of AIDS and HIV would further spread and harm the people. It would lead to big health hazard. It would degrade moral values of the society,” Malhotra said before a bench of Chief Justice Ajit Prakash Shah and Justice S Muralidhar.
“Why do not you ban sexual intercourse (involving HIV infected person) if you want to contain the spread of HIV?” The bench hitted out at Malhotra’s often used argument that “homosexuality” causes the spread of HIV virus, reported The Indian Express.
Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code provides a punishment of up to life imprisonment for same-sex sexual relations. The hearing is the result of a petition filed by Naz Foundation in 2001 seeking to have Section 377 “read down” so that it does not apply to sexual acts between consenting adults. The same law is used to protect minors and non-consenting adults.
The petition filed by the Naz Foundation reads in part: “Section 377 demeans a gay man. It silences a gay man into accepting the discrimination against him. He will not come out to declare his orientation,” the NGO contended… “It can be criticised on the basis of moral grounds but it is illegal to make homosexual acts between consenting adults an offence.”
Last Thursday, advocate Shyam Diwan, appearing on behalf of Naz Foundation argued that morality cannot triumph over constitutional rights.
“For many homosexuals, their orientation is at the core of their identity… The moral argument cannot triumph over constitutional rights in a democratic society where fundamental rights prohibit any discrimination on the ground of sex.” He added that homosexuals in the country do not have full “moral” citizenship and are being treated as second-class citizens.
The Centre’s stand assumes significance in view of the contradictory stand taken by two of its ministries. The Health and Home Ministries have taken contradicting stands on the issue with the Home Ministry favouring to keep the status quo.
“Indian society strongly disapproves of homosexuality and the disapproval is strong enough to justify it being treated as a criminal offence even where consenting adults indulge in it in private,” the Home Ministry had said in its affidavit earlier.
“Deletion of the section can open the floodgates of delinquent behaviour and be misconstrued as providing unbridled licence for homosexual acts,” it had said.
In referencing a judgment in a child sexual case by an Orissa court passed more than two decades ago, Malhotra’s attempts to link homosexuality as being “reflection of a perverse mind” failed to impress the court.
Justice S Muralidhar said, “We are concerned about homosexual acts among consenting adults in private so that judgement is not relevant here.
“Much water has flown under the bridge during last 25 years.”
The case continues this week.
For detailed court reports (filed by Lawyers’ Collective, India), visit www.lawyerscollective.org and media reports listed below.
Five Convictions in Fear-Driven Crackdown a Blow to Health and Justice
Cairo, May 29, 2008
A Cairo appeals court’s decision to uphold the sentences imposed on five men jailed in a crackdown on people living with HIV/AIDS underscores the Egyptian government’s dangerous indifference to public health and justice, Human Rights Watch said today. The May 28 ruling upheld the maximum three-year prison terms for each of the five, following a months-long campaign targeting men with HIV/AIDS. A total of nine men have been sentenced to prison so far.
“To send these men to prison because of their HIV status is inhuman and unjust,” said Joe Amon, director of the HIV/AIDS program at Human Rights Watch. “Police, prosecutors, and doctors have already abused them and violated their most basic rights, and now fear has trumped justice in a court of law.”
On May 7, a court of first instance in Cairo had convicted the five men on charges of “habitual practice of debauchery,” a phrase that in Egyptian law encompasses consensual sexual acts between men.
Before their first trial, a prosecutor told the men’s lawyer that they should not be allowed to “roam the streets freely” because the government considered them “a danger to public health.”
Since October 2007, Cairo police have arrested a dozen men on suspicion of being HIV-positive. The crackdown began when one man, stopped on the street during an altercation, told officers he was HIV-positive. Police arrested him and the man with him, beat and abused them, and interrogated them to name sexual contacts. Police then began picking up others based on information from those interrogations.
On January 14, 2008, a Cairo court sentenced four of those men to one-year prison terms on “debauchery” charges. An appeals court upheld those sentences on February 2. The present five defendants were referred for trial separately in March. Authorities released three other men, who tested negative for HIV, without charge, after months in detention.
While the 12 were in detention, doctors from the Ministry of Health forcibly subjected all of them to HIV tests without their consent. Doctors from Egypt’s Forensic Medical Authority performed abusive anal examinations on the men to “prove” they had had sex with other men. Human Rights Watch has documented that such examinations conducted in detention constitute torture. Police and guards beat several of the men in detention. A prosecutor told one of the men that he had tested positive for HIV by saying, “People like you should be burnt alive. You do not deserve to live.”
The prisoners who tested HIV-positive were chained to their beds in hospitals for months. After a local and international outcry, the Ministry of Health ordered the men unchained on February 25.
“Putting these men in prison serves neither justice nor public health,” Amon said. “The Egyptian government and the country’s medical profession must act to end this campaign of intolerance.”
Posters in Lambda offices, Turkey
Lambda’s are the only gay-group headquarters in Istanbul
A leading Turkish gay rights group will fight a court ruling that ordered it be closed for “violating morality”.
Lambda, which has become increasingly vocal in calling for gay, lesbian and transgender rights in Turkey, says it will appeal against the decision.
Homosexuality is not illegal in Turkey, but many gay and transgender people complain of discrimination.
A report last week by Human Rights Watch highlighted extensive harassment and called for legal reforms.
The court said the group must be closed, following a complaint, initiated by the Istanbul governor’s office, that Lambda violated laws on the protection of the family, and an article banning bodies “with objectives that violate law and morality”.
“This is a mistake and we hope that the Appeals Court will correct it,” the group’s lawyer, Firat Soyle, told the AFP news agency.
The group can continue to operate in the mean time.
Transgender woman in Turkey
They dragged me into the basement of the police station and they hit me in the face
Transgender woman, Istanbul
Facing hate crime in Turkey
Mr Soyle said a prosecutor threw out a similar application against another gay rights advocacy group, KAOS-GL in 2005, saying that homosexuality does not amount to immorality.
‘Visibility breeds violence’
Lambda says the state wants to pressure it into silence, pointing to a police raid on its offices last month.
Gay, lesbian and transgender people have been becoming more visible in Turkey – last Saturday the first ever gay rights march was held in the capital, Ankara.
But, they say, the more visible they are, the more they are encountering hostility in what remains a conservative society.
“Things were tough before, but they’re getting worse,” Demet, who is transgender, told the BBC.
“One thing we have learned is that visibility breeds violence,” says Scott Long, of Human Rights Watch.
May 21, 2008
By Mayur Suresh
On Wednesday, the Delhi High Court will begin final arguments in the constitutional challenge to Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860, which criminalises ‘carnal intercourse against the order of nature’. Filed in 2001 by the Naz Foundation, a NGO working on HIV/AIDS and sexual health issues, the petition points to that the provision criminalises private sexual acts between consenting adult men. Naz Foundation is broadly arguing that this provision is hampering efforts at HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment since it drives gay men underground, and that it violates the constitutionally protected rights of equality and privacy.
The petition has attracted its fair share of attention. In 2003, an association of AIDS-denialists, The Joint Action Council, Kannur, made them selves parties to the case and in their written submissions argued that there is no evidence that HIV/AIDS exists and that it is spread through sexual activity. Soon after, Mr. B.P. Singhal, a member of Parliament from the far-right Bharatiya Janata Party entered the fray and in his written petition before the Court argued that homosexuality was unnatural and against Indian culture.
In October 2007, a coalition of human rights, LGBT rights, women’s rights and child rights organisations, known collectively as ‘Voices Against 377’ became a party to the case. They argued that Section 377, while rarely used in actual prosecutions, is used to target lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people, and that sexual minorities face discrimination, harassment, blackmail, violence, rape and even murder as a result of this law.
Seven years after it was filed, final oral arguments began on Monday, May 19 before Justices Sikri and Midha of the Delhi High Court.
The proceedings began on an amusing note with the federal Home Ministry upholding the law and the federal Health and Family Welfare Ministry all but supporting Naz Foundation against Section 377. The Home Ministry, in its affidavit, says the law is right as Indians largely disapprove of homosexuality and that the law should continue as a deterrent for such kind of “immoral” acts.
The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare however, in its affidavit, says it is against enforcement of Section 377 as it pushes homosexual men underground, hampering efforts to control the spread of HIV/AIDS among this high risk population.
Monica Garg, the lawyer for the federal government, told an amused Court that she would argue the brief of the Home Ministry but also draw from arguments made by the Health and Family Welfare Ministry.
Anand Grover, lawyer for the Naz Foundation, introduced the case to Justices Sikri and Midha. Before a packed courtroom, he set out the structure of his case and said that the Naz Foundation challenges the constitutional validity of Section 377, on the grounds that it violated certain fundamental rights guaranteed under the Indian Constitution, namely Articles 14 (equality), 15 (non-discrimination), 19 (freedom of speech and expression) and 21 (life and liberty).
The anti-sodomy law presently on the statute books in India, was taken by the British to all its colonies. Mr Grover pointed out however, that not only has the law been repealed or struck down in many of its former colonial possessions, like Canada, Australia and more recently Fiji and Hong Kong, but was also repealed by the United Kingdom, the birth place of the law, more than 40 years ago. He began his arguments by drawing upon the history of the section 377 and traced it back to biblical injunctions against buggery, and which found expression in British law as the ‘vice to horrible to be named.’
The apparent disgust with even naming or describing sodomy, is similarly expressed by Lord Macaulay, who drafted the provisions of the Indian Penal Code in the middle of the nineteenth century. He said that the provisions “relate to offences respecting which it is desirable that as little as possible be said… we are unwilling to insert either in the text or in the notes anything which could give rise to public discussion on this revolting subject, as we are decidedly of the opinion that the injury which could be done to the morals of the community by such discussion would more than compensate for any benefits which might be derived from legislative measures framed with greatest precision.”
Mr Grover, stated that it is this refusal to define the offence clearly is what rendered the provision unconstitutional. The offence criminalises ‘carnal intercourse against the order of nature’ and he argued that it is not clear, on the face of it, of what this means. He argued that the section 377’s vagueness runs counter to any basic principle of modern criminal and constititonal law that a penal law must be clear and precise and everyone should know exactly what the law penalises. In its 148-year history, there have been a few reported cases and even in those cases there has been considerable debate on what sexual acts the section covered.
He further argued that the law was unconstitutional because it did not take into account elements of consent. He said that the law was problematic particularly because it criminalised homosexual acts between adults even where the people involved consented to these acts.
He then referred to the Wolfenden Committee report of the United Kingdom, which recommended the repeal of the British sodomy laws. Relying upon the point in that report that the enforcement of morals on acts committed in private was not the domain and proper function of criminal law, he stated that the very same question now presented itself before the Delhi High.
Mr Grover is expected to continue his oral arguments till early next week. With Court holidays starting at the end of June for a month, a decision is not expected within the immediate future. The Court adjourned the matter and set the next date of hearing on May 21.
Mayur Suresh is a lawyer in New Delhi. He will continue to report on the case.
May 16, 2008
Lesbian talkshow host Ellen DeGeneres and her long-time partner Portia de Rossi are among those planning on wedding bells, as the California Supreme Court overturned the ban on same-sex marriage on Thursday.
In a 4-3 ruling, the California Supreme Court ruled Thursday that same-sex couples should be permitted to marry, rejecting state marriage laws as discriminatory. The broadly worded decision is also expected to have the effect of invalidating virtually any law that discriminates on the basis of sexual orientation.
Lesbian talkshow host Ellen DeGeneres announced her plans to wed her long-time partner Australian actress Portia de Rossi during the taping of her talk show on Thursday (to be aired on Friday in the US), the day the California Supreme Court announced its ruling.
The long awaited court decision stemmed from San Francisco’s Mayor Gavin Newsom’s highly publicised move to allow same-sex weddings in 2004. Four-thousand gay couples wed before the Supreme Court invalided the marriages and put a halt to the practice after a month.
Two dozen gay couples along with the city and gay rights organisations then sued.
The turn of events spurred a national dialogue over gay rights and a conservative backlash in a presidential election year which resulted in several states passing constitutional amendments banning gay marriage. Today, 27 states have such amendments.
Chief Justice Ronald George, who wrote the 121-page majority opinion, said the state Constitution’s guarantees personal privacy and autonomy which protects “the right of an individual to establish a legally recognised family with the person of one’s choice.”
He said the Constitution “properly must be interpreted to guarantee this basic civil right to all Californians, whether gay or heterosexual, and to same-sex couples as well as opposite-sex couples.”
Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who previously has vetoed two bills in favour of gay marriage, issued a statement saying he “respects” the decision and “will not support an amendment to the constitution that would overturn” it.
However religious and social conservatives who oppose same-sex marriage said the court had overstepped its bounds and are seeking to override the court ruling in favour of same-sex marriage.
Until that happens, same-sex couples are likely to be able to tie the knot in as little as a month. And unlike Massachusetts – the only other state where same-sex marriage is legal, California has no residency requirement for obtaining a marriage license; meaning gays from around the country are able to go to California to be wed.
Prior to the ruling, California, New Jersey and Vermont have legislation which grants same-sex partners many of the same legal rights as married couples.
The ruling is considered monumental by virtue of the state’s size – 38 million of the total population of 302 million are Californian residents. According to U.S. census figures, there are some 100,000 same-sex couples in California, about a quarter of whom have children.
The California Supreme Court was the first state high court to strike down a law barring interracial marriage in a 1948. The United States Supreme Court did not follow suit until 1967.