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U.K.: ‘Deep regret’ for laws against gay sex

British Prime Minister Theresa May has publicly expressed “deep regret” for Britain’s role in criminalizing same-sex relations in its former colonies. About half of the world’s remaining laws against gay sex were originally imposed by the British in their colonies.

U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May (Photo courtesy of The Independent)
U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May (Photo courtesy of The Independent)

In contrast to poorly received comments in 2012 by then Prime Minister David Cameron that the U.K. would cut foreign aid to countries that violate human rights of LGBT people, May said, “The UK stands ready to support any Commonwealth nation wanting to reform outdated legislation that makes such discrimination possible.”

Leaders of former British colonies are in London this week for Commonwealth meetings on many pressing issues, but little to do with LGBT rights despite public pressure to tackle the subject.

The 53 mostly former British colonies in the Commonwealth account for 36 of the world’s 74 nations with anti-LGBT laws. (See this blog’s April 16 article “Commonwealth leaders, half of world’s anti-gay hate is yours”; its list of Commonwealth nations with anti-LGBT laws and its list of the world’s 74 nations that have such laws.)

The BBC reported today on May’s comment, which came as the Commonwealth Heads of Government conference got under way. That article is reprinted here with two annotations:

Map shows members of the Commonwealth of Nations, including those with anti-homosexuality laws and those that have repealed them. (Map courtesy of Wikipedia)
Map shows members of the Commonwealth of Nations, including those with anti-homosexuality laws and those that have repealed them. (Map courtesy of Wikipedia)

Theresa May ‘deeply regrets’ UK’s colonial anti-gay laws

British Prime Minister Theresa May has said she deeply regrets the UK’s role in criminalising same-sex relations in its former colonies.

The laws were passed under British rule and are still used in 37 of the Commonwealth’s 53 member nations. [Editor’s note: Taking account for last week’s court ruling in Trinidad, the total is 36.]

There is a global trend towards decriminalising homosexual acts, but some countries, like Nigeria and Uganda, have imposed stricter laws.

At a Commonwealth meeting, Mrs May said laws were “wrong then and wrong now”.

“Nobody should face discrimination and persecution because of who they are or who they love,” Mrs May said in London as Commonwealth leaders gather for their summit, which is held every two years.

“The UK stands ready to support any Commonwealth nation wanting to reform outdated legislation that makes such discrimination possible.

“Across the world discriminatory laws made many years ago continue to affect the lives of many people, criminalising same-sex relations and failing to protect women and girls.”

The number of states that criminalise same-sex relations is decreasing annually, with Belize and the Seychelles repealing such laws in 2016. [Editor’s note: Trinidad effectively did so last week, pending an appeal. The tiny Pacific island nation of Nauru also repealed its anti-gay law in 2016. Mozambique, with a population of 24 million, did so in 2015.]

 

But in many socially conservative and religious countries in Africa, where homosexuality is a taboo, there has been resistance to calls to decriminalise same-sex relationships.

South Africa, which rejoined the Commonwealth after the end of white-minority rule in 1994, is one of the exceptions.

It has one of the most liberal constitutions in the world, which protects gay rights, and was the first African country to legalise same-sex marriage in 2006.

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Written by Colin Stewart

Colin Stewart is a 45-year journalism veteran living in Southern California. After his retirement from paid newspaper work in 2011, he launched Erasing 76 Crimes and helped with the Spirit of 76 campaign that assembled a multi-national team of 26 LGBTI rights activists to advocate for change during the International AIDS Conference in Washington, D.C., in July 2012. He is the president of the St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation, which supports LGBTQ+ rights advocacy journalism, including the Erasing 76 Crimes news site and the African Human Rights Media Network. Contact him via Twitter @76crimes or by email at info@76crimes.com. Mailing address: 21 Marseille, Laguna Niguel CA 92677 USA.

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