Updated Sept. 6, 2018
Gay sex is no longer as widely criminalized as it used to be, but a total of 73 nations still have laws against it. The total number of nations with laws against same-sex intimacy fell to 74 in April 2018, when Trinidad’s High Court overturned that country’s sodomy law (pending an appeal), and then to 73 in September 2018, when the Indian Supreme Court overturned that nation’s 158-year-old law against sex “against the order of nature.”
LGBT rights activists hope an upcoming court ruling in Kenya will drop the count to 72.
73 countries with anti-homosexuality laws
Overall, a strong trend is moving the world away from homophobic repression — though it’s happening slowly.
As of last year, when the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA ) published its annual report on “State-Sponsored Homophobia,” the number was down 22 percent from ILGA’s list of 92 countries in 2006. That was the year when the global rights group began documenting the laws that are used to persecute LGBT people.
In addition to the progress in India and Trinidad, a recent step away from repression was the defeat of the terrorist regime known as the Islamic State, ISIS and ISIL, which operated in Syria and Iraq as a harshly anti-LGBT government. This blog had listed it as a de facto country, but now it has been removed from the blog’s list.
Other countries that recently made progress have included:
- Belize , where the Supreme Count in August 2016 overturned that nation’s anti-sodomy law as applied to consensual sex.
- Seychelles and Nauru, which both repealed their anti-gay laws in May 2016.
- Mozambique, on the southeastern coast of Africa, with a population of 24 million. It adopted a new Penal Code in the second half of 2014 and was dropped from this list in early 2015.
- The tiny nations of Palau in the western Pacific Ocean and São Tomé and Príncipe, in the Atlantic Ocean off the shores of central Africa. Both recently decriminalized homosexuality and were dropped from the blog’s list in 2014.
- Northern Cyprus, which repealed its anti-homosexuality law in January 2014, eliminating the final European location with such a law. (Northern Cyprus is recognized as a country only by Turkey.)
ILGA publishes its own tally in its comprehensive “State-Sponsored Homophobia” overview, last published in 2017. The ILGA tally is typically a bit lower than this blog’s, because the blog’s list includes:
Indonesia, where two large provinces outlaw homosexual acts;
- Egypt (In this blog’s view, Egypt’s vague but harshly enforced law against “debauchery” is as much an anti-LGBT law as many other countries’ vague and often unenforced laws against “unnatural acts.”); and
- Two other political entities that have anti-LGBT laws but that aren’t accepted as countries by the international community — the Cook Islands, a self-governing country whose residents all have citizenship in New Zealand; and Gaza/Palestine.
Uncertainty surrounds the situation in at least three other locations:
- In December 2016, the parliament in Chad approved a new penal code making same-sex intimacy a crime, but there is no evidence that the changes were approved by Chad president or that the new law has taken effect. Therefore Chad is not on the current lists of countries with anti-LGBT laws — neither on this blog’s list nor on ILGA’s list.
- In late February 2017, the parliament in Angola gave initial approval to a revision of the country’s penal code that does not outlaw private, consenting, same-sex sexual activity between adults. If and when that legislation comes into force, Angola will be dropped from the lists.
Should Russia’s semi-autonomous republic of Chechnya be added to the list because of the brutal campaign against gay and bisexual men that has been swept through Chechnya in 2017? Although Russia and Chechnya deny it, police illegally arrested at least 100 men on the grounds of their suspected sexual orientation. Detained in two known illegal prisons, they were tortured, humiliated and beaten. At least three were killed. But neither Russia nor Chechnya actually has a law against same-sex sexual activity.
This blog’s current total of 73 countries would be 75 if the list included Russia and Lithuania, two countries that do not have laws against homosexual acts but do have repressive laws against “propaganda of homosexuality.” Libya and Nigeria have similar anti-propaganda laws, but also prohibit same-sex relations, so they are already on the list.
Back in 2012, based on a separate, nearly complete count, St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation cited a total of 76 countries. That list was used in that year’s Spirit of 76 Worldwide program aimed at repealing those laws. It also inspired the name of this blog — “Erasing 76 Crimes.”
Here is this blog’s list of 73 countries and independent political entities with anti-homosexuality laws, with links to the blog’s coverage of them.
16 Malawi (enforcement of law suspended)
23 Sierra Leone
25 South Sudan
Asia, including the Middle East
41 Lebanon (law ruled invalid in one court in 2014 and disqualified for use against same-sex intimacy in another court in February 2017)
47 Palestine/Gaza Strip
49 Saudi Arabia
51 Sri Lanka
54 United Arab Emirates
In the United States, anti-sodomy laws were ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2003, but they are still on the books in 13 states: Alabama, Florida, Idaho, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, Utah and Virginia. Conservative state legislators refuse to repeal the laws and, in some cases, police occasionally still arrest people on the basis of them. In the past several years more than a dozen LGBT people were arrested for violating those laws, but the arrestees were freed because prosecutors won’t seek convictions based on laws that have been ruled unconstitutional.
66 Cook Islands
67 Indonesia (Aceh Province and South Sumatra), which is more typically categorized as in Asia, based on cultural connections, despite its island location.
69 Papua New Guinea
71 Solomon Islands
No country in Europe has a law against homosexuality. The last European location with such a law was Northern Cyprus (recognized as a country only by Turkey), which repealed its law in January 2014.
Also in Europe and worth mentioning but not on the list of countries with laws against homosexuality are:
- Russia, which enacted an anti-“gay propaganda” law in 2013 prohibiting any positive mention of homosexuality in the presence of minors, including online;
- Lithuania, which has a similar law; in 2015, it considered but has not yet adopted a further law that would impose fines for any public display that “defies traditional family values.”
- Ukraine, which considered such a law in 2012 and 2013, did not adopt it and seems to have dropped the issue.
- Moldova, which adopted and then repealed such a law in 2013.
- Belarus, which was discussing such a law in early 2016.
In addition, in central Asia, Kyrgyzstan in October 2014 was on the verge of adopting an anti-“gay propaganda” law harsher than that in Russia. If that bill becomes law, any type of distribution of positive information on same-sex relations, not just discussions in the presence of a minor, would become a crime punishable by fines and a jail sentence. In Kazakhstan, both houses of parliament passed a bill “On Protecting Children from Information Harmful to their Health and Development,” but the Constitutional Council rejected it in May 2015, saying that the wording was too vague.
As noted above, Libya and Nigeria also have anti-“gay propaganda” laws in addition to their laws outlawing same-sex intimacy.
For more information, download these PDF files:
- State-Sponsored Homophobia (2017 edition of ILGA report)
- ILGA maps of countries that recognize and those that reject gay and lesbian rights (2017).
- 76 Countries Where Anti-Gay Laws Are As Bad As Or Worse Than Russia’s. Each country’s anti-LGBTI law is summarized in a list compiled by BuzzFeed. With photos.
- Countries that still criminalise homosexuality. AntiGayLaws.org publishes tables for each continent, citing the language of each country’s anti-LGBTI laws, along with whether the country has ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and/or allows the UN to monitor and assess its human rights record.
- The Sexual Rights Law and Policy Database, which is compiled by the Sexual Rights Initiative, a coalition of organizations from Canada, Poland, India, Egypt, Latin America and Africa that work together to advance human rights related to sexuality at the United Nations.