Albania passes model law against LGBT discrimination
by Rex Wockner
Albania's Parliament banned discrimination and harassment based on sexual orientation and gender identity February 4.
The law covers employment, housing, provision of goods and services, education, and access to public places. It also specifically mentions health care, banking, transportation, entertainment, and social protection.
The vote was 71-0. Prime Minister Sali Berisha strongly backs the measure.
"It's a pretty strong law and covers both 'direct' and 'indirect' discrimination," said Tirana activist Mindy Michaels, from the Alliance Against Discrimination of LGBT. "In general, all forms of discrimination are prohibited unless they are 'justified on the basis of reasonable and objective criteria, without violating the essence of the right and when it aims at achieving a lawful purpose for a public interest or to protect the rights of others.'"
The law's language guarantees every person "equality before the law and equal protection by law; equality of opportunities and possibilities to exercise rights, enjoy freedoms and take part in public life; and effective protection from discrimination and from every form of conduct that encourages discrimination."
The measure establishes an independent commissioner for protection from discrimination to monitor implementation of the law and accept and investigate complaints.
"We're definitely celebrating tonight!" Michaels said.
In a press statement, the LGBT alliance called the law, which also protects numerous other groups, "a powerful and solid legal instrument for the protection against any form of discrimination."
Countries that want to join the European Union are required to specifically protect LGB people from discrimination – and citizens of member nations that procrastinate in doing so are denied the perk of visa-free travel within the EU.
"This law is not simply a fulfillment of requirements that Albania has undertaken for EU integration and visa liberalization," the alliance said. "Above all, this law is a victory for democracy and for human rights for all Albanians. [We] take this opportunity to thank Prime Minister Sali Berisha and to encourage him to keep his promise for legalizing same-sex marriages."
Announcing support for the law last July, Berisha also said that Albania will legalize same-sex marriage.
The new law also bans discrimination based on gender, race, color, ethnicity, language, political beliefs, religious beliefs, philosophical beliefs, economic status, social status, education level, pregnancy, parentage, parental responsibility, age, family or marital condition, civil status, residence, health status, genetic predispositions, disability, affiliation with a particular group – or for any other reason.
Mexican AG tries to block gay marriage law
Mexican Attorney General Arturo Chávez appealed to the nation's Supreme Court on January 27 to block Mexico City's new law that legalized same-sex marriage and adoption. It is scheduled to take effect in March.
The city's Legislative Assembly passed the law 39-20 on December 21. It redefines marriage as "the free uniting of two people."
Chávez's office claimed the law runs afoul of vague language in the federal constitution that says: "Men and women are equal before the law. The law will protect the organization and development of the family." The office also claimed the law fails to safeguard the interests of children.
City officials have said they hope gay couples will come from around the world to get married. The city is working with travel agencies to offer packages that include flights, hotel, sightseeing, a wedding, and a banquet.
Same-sex marriage also is legal in Belgium, Canada, the Netherlands, Norway, South Africa, Spain and Sweden; in Argentina's Tierra del Fuego province; and in the U.S. states of Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont. It will become legal in March in Washington, D.C., and in Portugal later this year.
Obama denounces Ugandan 'kill the gays' bill
President Barack Obama denounced the Ugandan "kill the gays" bill in an address to the U.S. National Prayer Breakfast on February 4.
"We may disagree about gay marriage, but surely we can agree that it is unconscionable to target gays and lesbians for who they are – whether it's here in the United States or, as Hillary [Clinton] mentioned, more extremely in odious laws that are being proposed, most recently in Uganda," Obama said.
The pending legislation, the Anti-Homosexuality Bill 2009, would imprison for life anyone convicted of "the offense of homosexuality," punish "aggravated homosexuality" – including repeat offenders and anyone who is HIV-positive and has gay sex – with the death penalty, forbid "promotion of homosexuality," and incarcerate gay-rights defenders, and jail individuals for up to three years if they fail to report within 24 hours the existence of all LGBT people and LGBT sympathizers they know of.
The prayer breakfast is hosted by members of Congress and organized by the Fellowship Foundation, a behind-the-scenes conservative Christian group also known as the Family.
The group counts several congressmen as members and has "close ties" with the Ugandan bill's sponsor, according to the New York Times. MSNBC's Rachel Maddow has explored the linkages in an ongoing series of reports over the past several months.
Macedonia backtracks on LGB protections
The government of Macedonia unveiled revised anti-discrimination legislation January 29 that deleted sexual orientation as a covered ground.
Deputy Minister for Social Policy Spiro Ristovski downplayed the change, saying LGB people still would be protected via a category of "other grounds" that applies to everyone.
Conservative forces had pressured the government to drop the "sexual orientation" language.
The European Parliament's Intergroup on LGBT Rights denounced the deletion.
"If Macedonia is serious about joining the European Union, it must ensure that its laws match those of the European Union – and that explicitly includes non-discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation," said Intergroup Co-President Michael Cashman. "There is no opt-out on fundamental rights."
Human Rights Watch's Boris Dittrich said, "Silence equals inequality. Vague references to 'other grounds' simply aren't good enough."
Countries that want to join the EU are required to specifically protect LGB people from discrimination – and citizens of member nations that procrastinate in doing so are denied the perk of visa-free travel within the EU.
British group to sue for same-sex marriage
The London LGBT group OutRage on February 1 announced a dual legal challenge to the British bans on same-sex marriage and opposite-sex civil partnerships.
Several gay and straight couples will file a joint application to the European Court of Human Rights, the group said.
"The aim is to secure full equality in civil marriage and civil-partnership law," said veteran activist Peter Tatchell. "We want both systems open to all couples, gay and straight."
Civil partnerships and marriage carry the same rights and obligations in the United Kingdom, but under different laws and names.
Canadian cabinet minister outed
Canada's minister of transport, infrastructure, and communities, John Baird, was outed on a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation live radio program February 2.
Host Andy Barrie asked guest Pamela Taylor, a Progressive Conservative candidate for the Ontario Legislative Assembly, "Can you think of a single openly gay politician in the Conservative party, federally or provincially?"
Taylor replied: "Openly gay? John Baird."
"Thank you. You got me," Barrie responded.
"There are many others," Taylor said.
"That was really dumb of me," said Barrie. "I let you walk right into me there."
Baird is not openly gay but "is a familiar face in gay social circles in Ottawa (and has) attended Ottawa's Pride parties," said the Xtra chain of Canadian gay newspapers.
A day later, Xtra added: "[W]hen he's not answering media questions, he is pretty frank about his sexuality (officially: whatever his sexuality is)."
Baird did not respond to requests for comment on the incident.
Taylor lost the election February 4, coming in third. Openly gay Liberal Glen Murray, the former mayor of Winnipeg, won the seat, replacing openly gay Liberal George Smitherman, the former Ontario deputy premier, who stepped down in November to run for mayor of Toronto.
There are 24 candidates registered for the October 25 mayoral election.
Bill Kelley contributed to this report.