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New Iran government leaves country’s LGBTQ community hopeless

Ebrahim Raisi involved with 1988 execution of political prisoners

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Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi (Photo via the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran's Twitter account)

Ebrahim Raisi took over the presidency of Iran and promised to be a “true defender of human rights,” but the Iranian LGBTQ community is not hopeful.

Iran, a country where LGBTQ youth face legal challenges such as prosecution, sometimes to the extent of death sentences, is seeing a rise of new ultra far-right leaders.

Raisi is accused being involved in the 1988 execution of thousands of political prisoners in Tehran, but his human rights abuses are not limited to political prisoners. During Raisi’s tenure as “head of the judiciary,” blanket immunity was given to the Iranian officials and security forces responsible for the killing of hundreds of innocent men, women and children. This kind of bizarre record of human rights abuse by Raisi is also reflected in the hopelessness of the Iranian LGBTQ community.

“I did not even vote for the new president,” said Sher (changed name), an Iranian woman who secretly identifies as bisexual. “I do not care anymore because I know he is the same as his predecessor or even worse.”

In June, a poll conducted by the Six Colors Organization suggested that 90 percent of eligible voters living outside Iran had intended not to vote for Raisi. Many LGBTQ youth did not participate in voting to protest against the Raisi.

“Iran is governed based on sharia law, so it doesn’t matter who is the president or supreme leader or a parliamentarian, as long as the country is governed on Islamic laws — LGBTQI+ youth are being sentenced to death,” said Arsham Parsi, an Iranian LGBTQ activist living in exile in Canada and executive director of International Railroad for Queer Refugees. “Raisi is kind of extreme, more than others. He was also involved in the killing of other people at the beginning of the revolution, so he is a scary figure, especially for LGBTQs, because he can force the Islamic state agenda.”

Parsi told Washington Blade that he is not very hopeful about the Islamic Republic of Iran. He said that Iranian politicians do not care about anything but their power and money. Parsi does not believe that LGBTQ people will have any rights under this regime.

Arsham Parsi, Iran, gay news, Washington Blade
International Railroad for Queer Refugees Executive Director Arsham Parsi in D.C. in 2014. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

President Biden in February issued a memorandum on Advancing the Human Rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Intersex Persons Around the World.

Biden, in the major foreign policy speech, highlighted the promotion of LGBTQ rights. Although the U.S. does not maintain an embassy in Iran, the Swiss embassy works as the protecting power of the U.S. in Iran. But during Pride month, the Swiss embassy did not fly Pride flags outside of its building.

The U.S. State Department maintained that American embassies and consulates developed individual plans during Pride Month to both celebrate LGBTQ people and raise awareness of violence, human rights abuses and discrimination targeting LGBTQ people globally, including appropriate exterior displays. The State Department did not comment on “why there was no Pride flag flying outside the Swiss embassy during the pride month to spread awareness.”

“The continuous engagement of Switzerland for the promotion of human rights, including LGBTQ rights, takes place independently of displaying specific symbols, such as the Pride flag,” said Pierre-Alain Eltschinger, a spokesperson for the Swiss Department of Foreign Affairs. “Switzerland chooses its engagement strategy and instruments in a way that allows it to best fulfill, the general objective to promote human rights, based on the specific context.”

The Swiss president, in a message to Raisi, also congratulated him on his victory.

The Swiss Department of Foreign Affairs did not comment to the Blade on the president’s congratulations, but maintained that the Swiss government is aware of the challenges faced by members of the LGBTQ community in Iran.

“Switzerland maintains relations with the governments of all states, including the Iranian government. These high-level political contacts form the basis of an open dialogue in which we regularly address the human rights situation in Iran,” said Eltschinger. “We believe that maintaining an in-depth dialogue with Iran is the best way to achieve improvements that benefit the LGBTQ community. Switzerland will continue to address this and other human rights issues with the Iranian authorities, including at the highest level.”

A European Union official in a statement said that the EU takes action globally to prevent and denounce all forms of discrimination against LGBTQ persons, including homophobic, biphobic and transphobic violence while promoting their access to equal opportunities in all spheres of life. During the interview, the officials avoided the brazen human rights violation by Raisi and did not comment on Iran specifically.

“We have consistently asserted our strong opposition toward any abuse, harassment, violence and stigma targeting LGBTQI+ persons around the world, and we continue to have serious concerns over the Iranian regime’s treatment of LGBTQI+ persons,” said a State Department spokesperson in a statement. “We urge the new government in Tehran to ensure LGBTQI+ persons are treated fairly and with full respect for their dignity and human rights.”

While speaking with Blade, Alex Vatanka, Iran program director of Middle East Institute, also expressed hopelessness on the future of the LGBTQ community in Iran under the new presidency of Raisi. He said that Raisi did not say anything progressive on this subject matter.

“The group of people coming in with Ebrahim Raisi are the least likely to engage in any kind of real and meaningful dialogue about the LGBTQI+ community in Iran,” said Vatanka. “Mr. Raisi and his supporters believe that they know best, the way of life that they have chosen for themselves — is really the only way, and instead of trying to seek an opponent and have a dialogue, they would rather force their will, on the society.”

For years, the U.S. and the EU have raised the issue, but there hasn’t been anyone in the central government in Iran with whom to have a serious dialogue. The Iranian government considers this as interference in their internal matter.  Although the hope remains bleak under this regime, the LGBTQ community is still trying to show their protest against the discriminatory laws — sometimes by not participating in the election or leaving blank votes.

Mohit Kumar is a freelance reporter who has covered different stories that include the 2020 election in the U.S. and women’s rights issues. He has also covered NASA, ESA (the European Space Agency), the
Canadian Space Agency and loves to help people. Mohit is on Twitter at @MohitKopinion and can be reached at [email protected].

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India

Indian government creates committee to study rights for same-sex couples

Country’s Supreme Court last October ruled against marriage equality

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(Photo by Rahul Sapra via Bigstock)

The Indian Supreme Court seven months ago declined to grant legal status to same-sex marriages. 

At the time of the verdict, however, the Supreme Court instructed the federal government to establish a committee to address the myriad issues faced by the LGBTQ community in India. These include matters such as pensions, joint property ownership, healthcare access, and child custody.

In compliance with the Supreme Court’s directive, the Indian government on April 16 established a committee with Cabinet Secretary Rajiv Gauba appointed as its chair. The committee, consisting of six members, will include secretaries from the Home Affairs, Women and Child Development, Health and Family Welfare, Social Justice and Empowerment, and the Law Ministries.

“The Hon’ble Supreme Court vide its judgment dated 17.10.2023, in Writ Petition No. 1011/2022 Supriyo@Supriya vs. Union of India, has directed the central government to constitute a committee to be chaired by the Cabinet secretary to examine the various issues relating to queer community,” said the gazette notification.

A 5-judge constitutional bench led by Chief Justice Dhananjaya Yeshwant Chandrachud refused to recognize the right to marry as a fundamental right for same-sex couples. The country’s top court stated, while delivering the verdict last year, that parliament must decide whether to extend marriage rights to same-sex couples.

The Supreme Court acknowledged it cannot make laws but can only interpret them. It also recognized queer people cannot be discriminated against. The court had said that the material benefits and services given to heterosexual couples and denied to queer couples violate their fundamental rights. 

Chandrachud and Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul in their dissenting opinion advocated for civil unions instead of marriage, arguing this approach would grant legal rights to same-sex couples without extending full marriage rights. They emphasized that while marriage may not inherently confer rights, it offers certain “intangible benefits in the form of expressive advantages” and provides a “bouquet of rights” for couples to exercise.

“For the right to have real meaning, the State must recognize a bouquet of entitlements which flow from an abiding relationship of this kind. A failure to recognize such entitlements would result in systemic discrimination against queer couples,” said Chandrachud. 

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, the country’s second-highest law officer, at the time had stated a committee chaired by the Cabinet secretary would be formed to delineate the rights that should be available to LGBTQ couples in a union.

The Supreme Court had outlined several entitlements for the LGBTQ community that include the right for queer partners to be treated as part of the same family for ration card purposes, the ability to set up a joint bank account, jail visitation rights, recognition as “next of kin” by medical practitioners, and the right to access the body of a deceased partner to arrange the last rites.

“The committee shall set out the scope of the benefits which accrue to such couples,” stated the Supreme Court in its 2023 ruling. 

In last year’s judgment, the Supreme Court said “legal consequences such as succession rights, maintenance, financial benefits such as under the Income Tax Act 1961, rights flowing from employment such as gratuity and family pension and insurance.” 

The Income Tax Act 1961, provides some benefits to married couple in India, such as a maximum deduction of 199,654.44 ($2,400) that can be claimed in a financial year. Married couples can opt for a joint home loan with tax benefits on interest paid and principal repaid, and also get a higher loan amount. These financial benefits, however, are not available for LGBTQ couples in the country. Similarly, as per the rule of family pension in India, if a deceased government servant or pensioner is survived by a spouse, they will be the first to receive a family pension. Children and other family members become eligible for it only after the spouse of the decedent or pensioner become ineligible for a family pension or dies.

Activists say the establishment of a committee chaired by the Cabinet secretary to address the issues faced by LGBTQ couples in a union is a promising step forward. 

“The Supreme Court’s  verdict on October 17 last year marked a significant milestone in recognizing the rights of LGBTQ individuals, and this committee could play a crucial role in translating legal recognition into practical and effective policy changes,” said Souvik Saha, an LGBTQ activist and founder of People for Change. “The formation of this committee is particularly important in a state like Jharkhand, where LGBTQ individuals face unique challenges. According to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), LGBTQ people in India, especially in rural areas, continue to face significant stigma and discrimination. In Jharkhand, these challenges are compounded by socio-economic factors and a lack of awareness and acceptance among the general population.”

He also said this committee’s effectiveness will depend on its ability to engage with LGBTQ communities, understand their needs, and implement policies that are both inclusive and practical. 

“As someone working on the ground, I would emphasize the importance of including voices from all parts of the LGBTQ spectrum, particularly those from marginalized communities,” Saha said.

Ankush Kumar is a reporter who has covered many stories for Washington and Los Angeles Blades from Iran, India, and Singapore. He recently reported for the Daily Beast. He can be reached at [email protected]. He is on Twitter at @mohitkopinion. 

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Africa

South Sudan refugee camp is ‘not a safe haven’ for LGBTQ residents

Gorom Refugee Settlement is outside country’s capital of Juba

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U.S. Ambassador to South Sudan Michael Adler visits the Gorom Refugee Settlement on Oct. 25, 2023. The camp's LGBTQ residents remain marginalized. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Embassy in South Sudan)

LGBTQ people who live at a refugee camp in South Sudan say the mistreatment they are suffering because of their sexual orientation and gender identity has left them even more marginalized.

The U.N. Refugee Agency runs the Gorom Refugee Settlement, which is roughly 16 miles from Juba, the country’s capital, in partnership with ACROSS and other South Sudanese NGOs.

UNHCR says more than 20,000 refugees live at Gorom, with the Anyuak people from Ethiopia making up the largest group. They have been there since 2011 when South Sudan became its own country after it broke away from Sudan.

Although this is not the first time the plight of LGBTQ people has been raised; the challenges seem to continue unabatedly and grow worse as each year passes. They are denied employment opportunities, with some of their children unable to access education.

Yaga Piuson, an LGBTQ activist for Gorom, says the situation has become even more dire.

“The immediate challenges faced by LGBT persons within the camp are severe and pervasive,” said Piuson. “They endure daily attacks, lack of police assistance, death threats, stoning, abuses, discrimination, bullying, denial of medical care, and the inability for their children to access education. Many are also deprived of proper shelter, leading to health risks such as pneumonia.” 

Piuson added UNHCR and ACROSS have done little to address these challenges, while the South Sudanese government has turned a blind eye.

“As of now, both the UNHCR and ACROSS have not provided a durable solution,” said Piuson. “While they have initiated interviews with LGBTQIA+ individuals, the options presented, relocation to other camps within South Sudan or urban areas, pose significant risks due to the country’s stance against homosexuality.”

“Unfortunately, the South Sudanese government and civic organizations have yet to offer any substantial assistance in alleviating these challenges,” added Piuson.

Piuson added some of the refugees have fled Gorom because of the continued persecution they face. Piuson said the settlement was no longer safe for LGBTQ refugees who include Anyuak, Darfurians from Sudan, Congolese and Burundians.

“Many of these nationalities have fled because of wars,” noted Piuson. “However, LGBTQIA+ individuals have fled solely due to persecution based on their sexual orientation.”

“Resolving the plight of LGBTQIA+ persons within the settlement requires providing them with a safe environment to freely exercise their rights, including freedom of movement and access to basic needs such as shelter and education for their children,” added Piuson. “It’s crucial to emphasize that the Gorom Refugee Settlement is currently not a safe haven for LGBTQIA+ individuals.”

ACROSS Executive Director Elisama Daniel in response to the Washington Blade’s request for comment said the organization did not have the mandate or jurisdiction to answer questions on the plight of LGBTQ people at Gorom, and directed questions to UNHCR. The agency did not respond to a request for comment.

Consensual same-sex sexual relations in South Sudan remain criminalized with up to 10 years in prison, although there is little to no evidence that anyone has been charged with homosexuality. The South Sudanese government, however, is contemplating an anti-homosexuality bill that is similar to those pending in neighboring Kenya and other countries.

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni in May 2023 signed his country’s Anti-Homosexuality Act that prompted worldwide outrage.  

South Sudanese Minister of Information, Communication, Technology and Postal Services Michael Makuei Leuth ahead of Pope Francis’s visit to the country last year said marriage is between a man and a woman and added any form of same-sex marriage violates the constitution. The government spokesperson also emphasizes there would not be any discussions around LGBTQ-specific issues. 

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World

Out in the World: LGBTQ news from Europe and Asia

The UK’s general election will take place on July 4

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(Los Angeles Blade graphic)

UNITED KINGDOM

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak in a Cabinet work session. (Photo courtesy of the prime minister’s office)

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak called a long-anticipated election this week, sending UK voters to the polls July 4 and potentially spelling the end of 13 tumultuous years of Conservative Party rule in the UK. 

Polls have long indicated that the UK Tories are deeply unpopular, putting them more than twenty points behind the left-leaning UK Labour Party, who are favored to win the election with a sweeping majority. 

The last several years of UK politics under a succession of Tory prime ministers — five since 2011 — have been rocky, as the government has tried to manage pulling the UK out of the EU, a growing migrant crisis, and a succession of worsening domestic issues, not least of which has been the government’s handling of LGBTQ and particularly transgender issues.

The Tories have failed to bring in a long-promised conversion therapy ban, amid a growing moral panic around the existence of trans people, driven as much by British celebrities like JK Rowling as by a Tory caucus that’s grown increasingly hostile to LGBTQ issues over its time in power.

In fact, it was Tory Prime Minister David Cameron who introduced same-sex marriage legislation for England and Wales in 2013 — although it only passed parliament with the support of Labour, as the issue split the Conservatives.

Just a few years later, Tory politicians would be racing to declare themselves opposed to even recognizing the existence of trans people. The government has shelved a long-promised conversion therapy ban, and vetoed a law passed by the Scottish government that would have allowed trans people to self-determine their legal gender, as is the emerging norm in many countries.

The UK has even slipped from first to 15th place on ILGA-Europe’s ranking of European countries’ legislated LGBTQ rights during this time. 

The Labour Party has not yet released a specific party manifesto as it relates to LGBTQ issues. However, leader Keir Starmer has pledged to introduce a “no loopholes” trans-inclusive ban on conversion therapy and has discussed reforming the UK’s gender recognition system to make it easier for trans people to update their legal gender — although the party no longer supports self-identification.

Starmer’s more recent statements on trans issues have caused concern for some activists. He recently came out in support of the findings of the National Health Service’s Cass Review on gender care for minors, which recommended a more cautious approach to prescribing care for trans youth. 

He also recently voiced support for bans on trans women participating in women’s sports or accessing women’s medical centers, and for regulations requiring schools to out trans children to their parents.

“It’s[a] betrayal, a Judas move by Keir Starmer,” trans journalist India Willoughby told PinkNews. They have thrown us under the bus purely because they don’t have the stomach to fight.”

Sunak was required to call the election by the end of the year, but calling it early has put some of the opposition parties in a tight situation — most have not yet recruited a full slate of candidates to stand in all 650 electoral districts or drafted a complete party manifesto.

GERMANY

The Lesbian and Gay Association Berlin-Brandenburg e.V. and the Charité Queer Network raised the Pride flag at the Charité – University Medicine Berlin in June 2022. (Photo courtesy of LSVD’s Facebook page)

The Lesbian and Gay Association in Germany has launched a new campaign to amend Germany’s Basic Law to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation or identity.

The German Basic Law was enacted 75 years ago, in the shadow of World War II and was intended to protect freedoms from the evils that had been inflicted by the Nazi regime. Accordingly, Article 3.1 declares that “all persons shall be equal before the law,” while Article 3.3 expands that to list specific criteria that cannot be used to discriminate between individuals. 

“No person shall be favored or disfavored because of sex, parentage, race, language, homeland and origin, faith or religious or political opinions. No person shall be disfavored because of disability,” the article says.

LSVD says that the exclusion of sexual orientation and gender identity from that list exposes queer people to discrimination. As an example, they point to Paragraph 175 of the Criminal Code, a Nazi-era law that criminalized same-sex intimacy that remained on the books until 1994.

“In 1949, homosexuals and bisexuals were the only group of victims of the National Socialists who were deliberately not included in Article 3.3. This is because men who loved people of the same sex were also subjected to the often life-destroying persecution under Paragraph 175 of the Criminal Code in democratic post-war Germany,” LSVD says in a press release.

In recent years, the Federal Constitutional Court has begun to read LGBTQ rights into the Basic Law, ruling that “sex” includes “gender identity” and that “sexual orientation” is akin to the other traits listed in Article 3.3. But LSVD says that without explicit inclusion in the Basic Law, discrimination has persisted.

“Many people from the queer community say that they experience discrimination by the police and authorities,” LSVD’s statement says. “Because the Basic Law also applies to state bodies, the extension of Article 3.3 could finally make discrimination against LGBTIQ* by state bodies and their employees legally punishable. Anyone who is not explicitly mentioned there runs the risk of being ignored in political and social reality.”

The LSVD says there are already plenty of examples of constitutions that protect LGBTQ+ rights, including in the German states of Berlin, Brandenberg, Bremen, Saarland, Saxony-Anhalt, and Thuringia, as well as the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union.

LGBTQ activists in Germany have become particularly concerned to secure their rights as the far-right Alternative for Germany party has climbed in the polls and could become part of a future government.

“Making our constitution storm-proof is more urgent than ever. If right-wing extremists in Germany return to a position of power in future elections, we LGBTIQ* people face gradual disenfranchisement, social marginalization and, with it, a massive increase in hate violence and state discrimination,” LSVD says. “Without explicit protection against discrimination in the constitution, we would be largely defenseless against an authoritarian or post-fascist government such as those we are currently experiencing in Hungary or Italy.”

To pass into law, the constitutional amendment would require a 2/3 majority vote in both houses of the German parliament. While the current government has expressed support for the amendment, it would need the support of the Christian Democrats to reach the required majority.

SWITZERLAND

Matthias Reynard, (right) head of the Valais Department of Health featured as the canton of Valais unveils its new annual advertising campaign against homophobia titled “Bien en Valais.” (Photo courtesy of the Swiss canton of Valais government)

The Swiss canton of Valais passed a law banning conversion therapy by a vote of 106-21 in the cantonal parliament on May 16. 

The discredited practice, which seeks to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity by exposing them to aversion methods that have been called torture by experts, has also been banned in the canton of Neuchatel since 2023.

The conversion therapy ban was included in a new Health Act that was supported by all parties in the Valais parliament except for the right-wing Swiss People’s Party. 

“We are sending out a clear signal that these conversion therapies are unacceptable and have no place in Valais,” says Matthias Reynard, head of the Valais Department of Health.

A nationwide ban on conversion therapy has been under consideration by the federal parliament for several years. The lower house passed a resolution calling for a ban in December 2022, but the motion has stalled in the upper house. 

Last month, the federal parliament voted to wait for the government to present its own conversion therapy bill, rather than push ahead with bills that had been submitted by two cantons to ban the practice.

But Switzerland’s cantons aren’t waiting for federal lawmakers. Local bills to ban conversion therapy are also under consideration in the cantons of Geneva, Zurich, Bern, and Vaud.

“Conversion therapy affects a significant part of our community. The latest figures from the Swiss LGBTIQ panel show that 9.5 percent of people who belong to a sexual minority and 15.5 percent of people who belong to a gender minority are affected,” Sandro Niederer, managing director of TGNS, told the news site Mannschaft. “The psychological consequences of such practices are undisputed — the ban is a positive signal for all LGBTIQ people!”

Many of Switzerland’s European neighbors already ban the practice. France, Germany, Belgium, Spain, Malta, Greece, Iceland, Norway, and Cyprus all ban conversion therapy, while neighboring Austria has had a ban under consideration for several years.

ALBANIA

Edlira Mara and her wife, Alba Ahmetaj on the terrace of Tirana Municipality crowned their 14 years of love through a symbolic religious ceremony. (Photo courtesy of Edlira Mara’s Facebook page)

A lesbian couple held a symbolic wedding ceremony at on the roof of city hall overlooking the heart of the Albanian capital city of Tirana on May 19 in a protest against the country’s lack of legal recognition for same-sex couples. 

The couple, Alba Ahmetaj and Edlira Mara, applied for a legal marriage at the municipal office on May 17, asserting their right under Article 53 of the Albanian constitution, which states that “everyone has the right to marry and have a family.” However, the current Family Code restricts marriage to opposite-sex couples only.

Mara posted on her Facebook account that the restriction violates the constitution.

“Our request for a declaration of marriage symbolizes the first link in a long and difficult, but above all just, struggle. We are determined to follow the legal path and respect the procedures and institutions of our country, challenging the discriminatory content of the Family Code, to seek the recognition of our right to marry, equally with every other couple in Albania,” she wrote.

The ceremony has caused outrage in Albanian society. The couple have reported receiving death threats for appearing in public both before and after their public wedding.

Mara and Ahmetaj wanted to hold a religious ceremony but could not a find a religious official willing to bless the union in Albania. Instead, they flew in two priests from the U.K. to perform the ceremony.

The Albanian Catholic Church criticized the ceremony and distanced itself from the priests involved.

“Even though he appears as a Catholic clergyman, [he] has no connection with the Catholic Church and represents nothing of us,” Mark Pashkia, a spokesperson for the church, told Balkan Insight.

The couple involved in the suit are also raising twin daughters born through IVF three years ago. They have struggled to legally register the girls as their daughters because Albanian law only recognizes opposite-sex parents. They were forced to register Mara as the girls’ single mother, meaning Ahmetaj would have no rights over the girls if Mara dies or becomes seriously ill.

They sued the government for the right to be recognized as equal parents, but lost at the High Court. The couple are appealing the decision, and say they will fight all the way to the European Court of Human Rights if they have to.

Local LGBTQ activists have filed cases against the government seeking same-sex relationship recognition, but the cases have not progressed in local courts. 

Years ago, the government had floated the idea of legalizing same-sex marriage, but the proposal was scrapped amid pushback from religious leaders in the Muslim-majority country.

In neighboring Kosovo, which is also an Albanian-speaking country, Prime Minister Albin Kurti has pledged to reintroduce a new draft Civil Code that would legalize civil unions and open the door to same-sex marriage, but he has faced pushback from Muslim lawmakers in his own party, who voted down the draft code in 2022. 

Neighboring Greece legalized same-sex marriage earlier this year.

SOUTH KOREA

(Los Angeles Blade)

(Human Rights Watch) South Korea’s National Health Insurance Service should extend benefits to same-sex partners, Human Rights Watch said in an amicus brief filed before the country’s Supreme Court on May 16, 2024. The agency extends dependent benefits to heterosexual couples who are deemed to be in a de facto marriage, but has refused to extend those benefits to same-sex couples in a similar position.

The Supreme Court is currently considering whether the agency has impermissibly discriminated against a same-sex couple that was refused dependent benefits. In 2023, the Seoul High Court ruled in favor of the couple, concluding that the refusal to extend benefits constituted discrimination based on sexual orientation. The health agency appealed to the Supreme Court.

“The Seoul High Court correctly observed that the health agency’s refusal to recognize same-sex couples is discrimination,” said Lina Yoon, senior Korea researcher at Human Rights Watch. “We hope the Supreme Court will affirm the principle that nobody should be denied benefits solely because of their sexual orientation.”

The couple who brought the case had held a symbolic wedding ceremony in 2019, and one of the men registered his partner with the National Health Insurance Service as his spouse in 2020. The agency later revoked the partner’s dependent benefits following media attention to its effective recognition of a same-sex couple.

Human Rights Watch’s brief examines international and regional precedents for state recognition of same-sex partnerships, the status of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) rights in South Korea, and the growing recognition of same-sex partnerships elsewhere in Asia.

South Korea has not created any framework for recognizing and supporting same-sex couples. The absence of any legal framework or protections for same-sex partners leaves LGBT people with few avenues to protect their relationships with partners and children, to safeguard their shared finances and property, and to access state benefits designed to support couples and families.

The government’s failure to recognize same-sex partnerships falls short of its human rights obligations, Human Rights Watch said. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has concluded that UN member states “have a positive obligation to provide legal recognition to couples, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity and sex characteristics, as well as to their children,” and to extend those benefits offered to heterosexual couples without discrimination.

Among regional human rights bodies, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights has said that states must extend the right to marry to same-sex couples, while the European Court of Human Rights has said that states must create some form of legal recognition and protection for same-sex relationships.

As Human Rights Watch and others have noted, South Korea also lacks comprehensive protections from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Despite strong public support for a comprehensive anti-discrimination law, lawmakers have repeatedly failed to enact basic protections that would prohibit discrimination in employment, education, and other areas.

In failing to protect LGBT rights, South Korea is out of step with trends elsewhere in the region. In 2019, Taiwan became the first jurisdiction in Asia to extend the right to marry to same-sex couples, and Australia and New Zealand have subsequently recognized the right to marry as well.

Courts in Japan and Thailand have expressed concern about the lack of partnership recognition in those contexts, and Nepal’s supreme court has extended interim recognition of the right to marry while it considers a marriage equality case.

A growing number of states in the region also prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Australia, Fiji, Macao, the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Mongolia, New Zealand, Thailand, and Tuvalu have prohibited sexual orientation discrimination in employment and other fields.

“South Korea’s lawmakers have failed to provide basic protection for same-sex couples by dragging their feet on nondiscrimination and partnership bills,” Yoon said. “South Korea’s courts now have the chance to uphold the state’s human rights obligations by ensuring that the state does not discriminate in the material benefits it does offer to committed couples.”

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