India's high court could reverse gay ban, again

  • by Heather Cassell
  • Wednesday January 10, 2018
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India's Supreme Court has ordered a review of Section 377 of the country's penal code that criminalizes homosexuality in the South Asian country.

The court responded to a petition filed by LGBT advocates to reconsider Section 377, a colonial-era law criminalizing homosexuality in India. The activists claimed the LGBT community "felt persecuted for their sexual orientation," reported the New York Times.

A three-person panel, including Chief Justice Dipak Misra, referred the request for reconsideration to a larger panel of judges. The panel noted that gay Indians "should never remain in a state of fear," and that societal morality also changes from age to age, reported the Times.

Arvind Datar, a lawyer appearing before the Supreme Court on behalf of five petitioners, referred to the court's August privacy ruling, when the court made a fundamental decision regarding Indian citizens' right to privacy.

Section 377 was ruled unconstitutional in 2009. But the Supreme Court reinstated it in December 2012, ruling that only Parliament could change the law. Violators face up to 10 years in prison and a fine if caught.

Fewer than 200 people have been convicted of homosexual acts under Section 377 since its reinstatement, the Supreme Court noted. LGBT activists claimed the law was used to blackmail and intimidate LGBT Indians and stunt HIV/AIDS prevention efforts.

In its most recent action, the court was persuaded by LGBT advocates to move the petition forward.

"I'm in high spirits," Anand Grover, a lawyer leading the push to invalidate the law told the Times. "I always look at things in a positive manner and this is more than positive."

An Indian LGBT activist also expressed hope and caution by the court's decision Monday.

Aditya Bondyopadhyay said the court already signaled its intention to hear challenges to Section 377, reported the Guardian, "at least now we know when it is going to happen, we have a date."

"It's about time that Section 377 is thrown out," Harish Iyer, a well-known activist who remains cautious, told the media. "We are a small number and we need to keep shouting."

China's media censorship ban challenged

It was announced January 3 that a Beijing court will review a case challenging China's media regulatory body to justify classifying homosexuality as "abnormal."

Fan Chunlin, 30, from Shanghai, filed the lawsuit with his attorney, Tang Xiangqian, after China's State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television denied his request to disclose the legal basis of the ban's description of homosexuality among the list of behaviors deemed abnormal.

Chunlin's sexual orientation wasn't identified in media reports.

The policy bans service providers from releasing programs that "present abnormal sexual relations or behavior," such as incest, homosexual relations, sexual harassment, and sexual violence. The policy, which went into effect last July, calls the content "pornographic and vulgar."

A total of 84 subjects are banned by the policy, including "luxurious lifestyles" and "superstition," reported Pink News.

China's Netcasting Service Association, a non-government association overseen by the state press administration, released the regulation in June 2017. More than 600 media outlets, including online platforms, are members of the association.

As soon as the ban went into effect, 291 video-streaming platforms were closed and nearly 10,000 journalists lost their jobs, reported Pink News.

The country's media regulator, which instituted the ban to bring online streaming services in line with traditional media, denied Fan's request, stating that it didn't fall under the scope for public information disclosure.

Chunlin and Xiangqian took their case to the Beijing No. 1 Intermediate People's Court, which agreed to review it. The court is expected to announce its decision by August.

The court's acceptance of the case is a hopeful sign to China's LGBT community, but Chunlin, Xiangqian, and queer rights advocates aren't optimistic about a win, despite positive changes within the past five years.

Xiangqian and Yanzi Peng, who founded LGBT Rights Advocacy of China, have expressed doubts that the court will decide in favor of the case. Their goal is to raise awareness of China's LGBT community and get a conversation started.

"We expect to lose somehow, because this is a national government department [we are challenging]," Peng told the Hollywood Reporter. "But we still wanted to file the case because we have to show the position from our community and to tell society that we are not abnormal."

LGBT Chinese magazine Gay Voice came out against the regulation last year, stating on social media, "The false information in these regulations has already caused harm to the Chinese LGBT community - who are already subjected to prejudice and discrimination."

China's communist government, which controls the media, has wrestled with its attempt to open up to the country's LGBT community. Shanghai's annual Pride event is still targeted by police and online streaming video and apps have been censored and banned by the government.

However, Chinese authorities haven't done so consistently. There are moments when China attempts to depict LGBT people in a more positive light and has made some progressive moves toward the community.

Chinese President Xi Jinping has also attempted to bring China in line with the modern era, reported the Telegraph.

Homosexuality was decriminalized in 1997. Four years later, homosexuality was removed from the country's mental illness classification.

More than 15 years later, Chinese society has yet to accept its LGBT citizens, unlike Taiwan, a favorite vacation destination that is on the verge of legalizing same-sex marriage, and Thailand, which is more accepting of LGBTs, especially transgender individuals.

Bulgarian lesbian couple take marriage equality case to EU

Lilia Babulkova and her wife, identified as DK, aren't taking no for an answer from Bulgaria.

The couple were rejected by the registry in Sofia, Bulgaria's capital city and where the women live, when they attempted to register their marital status on their identification cards, reported Pink News.

The couple wed in the United Kingdom last year.

Same-sex marriage isn't legal in the Balkan country.

The women took their complaint to the European Union. If the women win their case it could set a precedent for recognition of same-sex marriage by an EU court, forcing Bulgaria to recognize the women's marriage.

"We do not want to provoke anyone, nor do we like it, we just want to have our place that is not swept under the carpet," Babulkova said during an interview on NovaTV.

The couple's attorney, Denitsa Lyubenova, is hoping to persuade the court by referencing the Code of Private Law, which governs marriages between Bulgarian citizens that take place in a foreign country.

Lyubenova is a part of Youth LGBT Action, a queer organization in Bulgaria.

"If these requirements are met, such jurisdiction is established and the marriage in question must be recognized in Bulgaria," Lyubenova told

She hopes her clients will win their case based on anti-discrimination laws.

"In no case can the member states restrict the rights of their citizens, despite the limitations in national legislation relating to the right to marry same-sex couples," she said.

Bulgaria's neighbor, Romania, is currently facing a similar situation with a case that was taken up by the EU court in November 2017. The court is reviewing a case brought by a Romanian-American gay couple Adrian Coman, a Romanian national, and his husband, Clai Hamilton, who is American. The couple tied the knot in Brussels in 2010, but their marriage isn't recognized in Romania.

Romania decriminalized homosexuality in 2001. The majority Eastern Orthodox country doesn't legally recognize same-sex relationships. Romania became a member of the EU in 2007.

Got international LGBT news tips? Call or send them to Heather Cassell at Skype: heather.cassell or [email protected].