Updated June 11, 2019
Gay sex is no longer as widely criminalized as it used to be, but a total of 72 nations still have laws against it.
The number of nations with anti-gay laws dropped to 72 on June 11, 2019, when Botswana’s High Court overturned that nation’s colonial-era laws that criminalized “carnal knowledge of any person against the order of nature.”
72 countries with anti-homosexuality laws
Overall, a strong trend is moving the world away from homophobic repression — though it’s happening slowly.
As of March 2019, when the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA ) published its latest report on “State-Sponsored Homophobia,” the number was down 24 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.
Chad adopted a new anti-gay law in 2017 and Kenya’s High Court refused to overturn the anti-gay laws there in May 2019. But otherwise the latest changes have been positive — in Trinidad, where the High Court overturned the country’s anti-sodomy law in 2018; in India, where the Supreme Court overturned the nation’s 158-year-old prohibition of sex “against the order of nature,” also in 2018; in Angola, which adopted a new Penal Code without an anti-gay provision in January 2019; and now Botswana.
Another 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.
See also this blog’s article on nations that impose the death penalty for homosexual acts.
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- Seychelles and Nauru, which both repealed their anti-gay laws in May 2016.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 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- Northern Cyprus, which repealed its anti-homosexuality law in January 2014, eliminating the final European location with such a law.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.)
This blog’s list of nations with anti-gay laws is essentially the same as ILGA’s. As of spring 2019, the ILGA report stated correctly that “70 UN member States still criminalise consensual same-sex sexual acts between adults (68 by explicit provisions of law, 2 de facto).” Of the additional three nations on this blog’s formerly 73-nation list (pre-Botswana), two are not members of the United Nations:
- Palestine/Gaza; and
- The Cook Islands, a self-governing country whose residents all have citizenship in New Zealand.
The third is:
Indonesia, where a large province and some cities outlaw homosexual acts. ILGA mentions it in its category of “subnational entities” with anti-gay laws.
In a change from its past practice, the new ILGA report included Egypt in its main list, labeled as implementing “de facto criminalization.” 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.”).
The blog has resisted including Russia on its list simply because Russia does not have a law against homosexual activity. That doesn’t mean that Russia isn’t homophobic, of course. It sometimes enforces its notorious law against “gay propaganda” and the Russian government has not intervened in the anti-gay crackdown in Russia’s semi-autonomous Republic of Chechnya.
Although Russia and Chechnya deny it, in 2017 Chechen 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. The anti-gay violence continued in 2019.
This blog’s current total of 72 countries would be 74 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 they 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 as the basis for naming 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 72 countries and independent political entities with anti-homosexuality laws, with links to the blog’s coverage of them.
15 Malawi (enforcement of law suspended)
22 Sierra Leone
24 South Sudan
26 Swaziland (Eswatini)
Asia, including the Middle East
37 Indonesia (Aceh Province and a few cities such as Palembang in South Sumatra)
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 recent past, 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.
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. The bill seems to have stalled. But if it became 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 (2019 edition of ILGA report)
- ILGA maps of countries that recognize and those that reject gay and lesbian rights (2017).
- #OUTLAWED. “The love that dare not speak its name” A report from Human Rights Watch in 2019 about 69 countries with anti-gay laws.
- “Either 69 or 73 countries have anti-gay laws.” An analysis of the differences between the HRW list of 69 countries and this blog’s list of 73 countries with anti-gay laws.
- 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 in 2013. With photos.
- Countries that still criminalise homosexuality. AntiGayLaws.org publishes tables for each continent, citing the language of each country’s anti-LGBTI laws. The site tells 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.
Overall, this article’s content is in these categories:
- Countries where homosexuality is illegal
- Where is it illegal to be gay
- Countries where being gay is illegal
- Most homophobic countries
- Anti-homosexuality laws
- Anti-LGBT laws
- Anti-LGBTI laws
- Anti-LGBTQ laws