Gay and Lesbian Humanist

Summer 2001

Equality and Beyond

by Brett Humphreys

As predicted (see Web Watch, Autumn 1999), the Netherlands has jumped ahead of the growing number of European states adopting Danish-style registered partnership laws to become the first country in the world to give legal recognition to same-sex marriage. The Dutch fortnightly Gay Krant carries a lengthy feature entitled The Long Road to Civil Marriage on its website, relating (in English) the story of the 15-year-long effort that went into achieving this. One of the key players has been the humanist academic lawyer Kees Waaldijk who served on the Kortmann Commission which recommended the reform to the Dutch government in 1997. His personal website at Leiden University provides information on the new law, including his own summary translation into English of the relevant Acts passed by the Dutch Parliament on 21 December 2000. The Dutch Ministry of Justice website has a useful series of fact sheets – again available in English – explaining the implications of the new marriage and adoption laws.

As equal rights for lesbians and gay men start to become a reality in parts of Europe and North America, it’s clear from the International Lesbian and Gay Association’s website that for most of the world they remain just a dream. Since I first mentioned ILGA’s site at the end of 1997 it has been transformed from a luxuriant presentation of little substance into a plainer but practically-designed structure of nearly 700 pages. Perhaps its most important feature is the ILGA World Legal Survey, an online update and extension of the series of Pink Books published in 1985, 1988 and 1993, with additional input from several other sources. Despite its name, the survey covers social as well as legal information. It has a separate page for almost every internationally-recognised sovereign state and dependent territory, ranging in population from the Holy See to China and in name from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe. Coincidentally, these four neatly epitomise four of the most potent sources of worldwide homophobia today – Catholicism, Communism, Islam, and the peculiar Christian-inspired brand of Africanism espoused by the likes of Presidents Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe and Daniel Arap Moi of Kenya. By far the most brutal of these is Islam with its Shari’a Law system of execution or prolonged flogging of lesbians and gay men, practised most severely in Iran, Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia.

ILGA describes the World Legal Survey as “the most comprehensive data on laws affecting lesbians and gays around the world ever published”. Nevertheless, huge gaps remain, particularly across large swathes of Africa and Asia. More surprising is the omission of any information on the United States, “partly because of the scale of the work and partly because it is already so well documented on the WWW”, without so much as a link to resources like the Age of Consent Website where specific and detailed information on particular aspects might be found. The survey unfortunately also suffers somewhat from staleness, the bane of web-based publishing in fields of fast-changing information. The UK and Netherlands pages, for example, have not been updated for nine months despite subsequent historic developments. This is not so much a criticism of the survey’s authors as a sign of the sheer immensity of work needed to keep such a document current.

Some more detailed and up-to-date information on progress towards equality in Europe can be found on ILGA-Europe’s website (which is completely separate from the ILGA site). Among other things it includes an archive of the monthly EuroLetter bulletin going back several years and three major reports: After Amsterdam: Sexual Orientation and the European Union [PDF, 258 Kbytes] (September 1999), a guide to the implications of the first ever international treaty to refer explicitly to sexual orientation; Equality for Lesbians and Gay Men: a Relevant Issue in the Civil and Social Dialogue (June 1998), a detailed review of the situation for lesbians and gay men in the 15 existing members of the European Union; and now Equality for Lesbians and Gay Men: A Relevant Issue in the EU Accession Process [PDF, 925 Kbytes] (March 2001), a similar review of the 13 would-be new EU members (see World Watch, this issue). One item I cannot recommend trying to view is the first issue of the newly-launched ILGA-Europe Newsletter [PDF, 5.6 Mbytes] – downloading a 5.6-megabyte PDF file is likely to stretch most people’s patience! [Postscript (2003-03-16): the newsletter PDF files are now a reasonable size.]

Equality may be the watchword for most of the lesbian and gay movement, but not everyone sees it as the primary goal, or even in all cases desirable. One of the most vocal advocates of an alternative view is Peter Tatchell, a longtime torchbearer for the ideals of gay liberation. Britain’s best-known gay activist may owe much of his fame to well-publicised confrontations with homophobes in high places but he is also a prolific polemicist, even taking into account his penchant for making repeated use of the same material. His website, now called the Tatchell Gay Archive, has grown from a mere handful of articles eighteen months ago to nearly 150 now, grouped into some 30 topics. Virtually all date from the period since 1989 – what might be termed the OutRage! years. However, as a reminder that Tatchell has been campaigning for much longer than that, one of them goes back to 1972: a report from an early issue of Gay News describing his confrontation with Hans Eysenck and Isaac Marks, leading advocates of aversion therapy.

A few essays in the Tatchell Gay Archive are previously unpublished but most have appeared in various forms in a wide variety of publications including national newspapers, the gay media and specialist journals. Three are explicitly attributed to Gay and Lesbian Humanist (or in one instance “Gay Liberation Humanist” – a Freudian slip?): Army of Injustice (Spring 1996), Goodbye to Gay (Summer 1997), which sparked off the liveliest debate in the magazine’s history, and Two Thousand Years of Church Homophobia (Autumn 2000). Variants of items attributed to other publications have also appeared in G&LH over the years: Defiance with Freedom in Mind (Autumn 1994), AIDS, Animal Rights and Bad Science (Autumn 1996) and The New Dark Ages (Winter 1999-2000). The most recent contribution to a humanist journal to be found in the Archive is a recapitulation of a theme underlying many of Peter Tatchell’s earlier writings: Equality is Not Enough was published in the Spring 2001 issue of New Humanist under the title Beyond Equality.

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Created : Sunday, 2001-06-10 / Last updated : Sunday, 2008-02-10
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