Tag Archive: Gay rights

Russian “Gay Propaganda” Law under Fire (Again) after a Newspaper Editor Fined

A Russian court fined Alexander Suturin, a news editor for the Molodoi Dalnevostochnik, a weekly-published newspaper in Khabarovsk, Russia, 50,000 rubles (1421.70 USD) for violating a Russian law which bans “gay propaganda” among minors. The court found Suturin guilty because he published a story about a Russian teacher, Alexander Yermoshkin, who claimed he was fired from his teaching position at Khabarovsk’s School Number 32 because of his sexual orientation. Suturin said he would appeal the ruling.

Russia’s new prohibition against “gay propaganda” that could be accessible to minors took effect last summer. Russian President Vladimir Putin assured the public that the new “gay propaganda” law would not affect the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender) community’s job prospects, saying “the rights of people with nontraditional orientation are infringed upon neither in terms of profession nor salary level.” Putin said that the law is about protecting children, not banning homosexuality. The “gay propaganda” law applies to individuals as well as the media; if anyone, protestor or editor, disseminates information which Russian authorities consider to be “pro-gay propaganda,” they’ll be submit to the fine. Russia’s highest court held that the “gay propaganda” law is constitutional because it applies equally to heterosexuals and homosexuals, stating that the state had an interest in protecting motherhood, childhood, and family. This content-based restriction on speech would likely be unconstitutional in the United States under the First Amendment of the Constitution.

Russia’s “gay propaganda” law has drawn criticism from the international community, fueling the proponents calling for a boycott of the winter Olympics to be held in Sochi, Russia, due to start on Friday, February 7, 2014.

European Court of Justice Grants Asylum Rights to Persecuted Homosexuals

Countries that criminally prosecute homosexual behavior have received a ruling from the European Court of Justice that the European Union will protect individuals fleeing from those countries. A ruling concerning homosexual nationals from Sierra Leone, Uganda, and Senegal have reassured any individual fearful of prosecution because of his/her sexual orientation can seek asylum in the European Union.

The European Court of Justice’s ruling  explained that Directive 2004/83/ECwhich maintains the minimum standards for a person to be considered a refugee and references the Geneva Convention, applies to any homosexual who is persecuted in his/her country. The Directive states a refugee is a person 

owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.

The Netherland’s Supreme Court requested  that the European Court of Justice give a preliminary ruling to clarify whether homosexuals were included in the definition of the phrase “membership of a particular social group.”  The Netherland’s Supreme Court also requested that the European Court of Justice clarify which type of appeal might fall within a receiving host government’s classification of a person as a refugee. 

 The Court’s ruling sets out that a person’s sexual orientation is a trait that is fundamental to the identity of an individual and no one should be required to renounce such an important part of himself/herself.  Explaining that since these criminal statutes target homosexual behavior this supports a finding that homosexuals form a separate group within the definition of a refugee from the Directive

The Court next explained that being a part of that group alone does not secure refugee status if the persecuting country has laws against homosexual behavior without a showing of a serious violation of a human right. Essentially warning potential applicants that not all violations of a right of a homosexual can reach the threshold to be granted asylum in the European Union. Specifically, the press release from the European Court of Justice states

the mere existence of legislation criminalising homosexual acts cannot be regarded as an act affecting the applicant in a manner so significant that it reaches the level of seriousness necessary for a finding that it constitutes persecution within the meaning of the directive. However, a term of imprisonment which accompanies a legislative provision which punishes homosexual acts may constitute an act of persecution per se.

This ruling clarifies the policy in the European Union for granting and denying asylum for any homosexual from his/her country while also ensuring that all of the Member States follow these basic standards.


Equality House: Westboro Baptist and Its New Neighbor

Based in Topeka, Kansas, Westboro Baptist Church has recently been brought back into the public spotlight for something other than protesting deceased military personnel funerals.  A non-profit supporting gay rights, Planting Peace, purchased a home across the street from the often-hated church and painted it rainbow colors which serves as a symbol for the support of gay rights protected by the First Amendment as freedom of expression. The house purchased across the street from Westboro is named the “Equality House.”

Westboro Baptist Church has been in the practice of gathering for anti-gay protests at the funerals of American military heroes since 1991. In 2011, the Supreme Court was faced with the question of whether or not the First Amendment to the United States Constitution protected the church in their protests. The Court in a 8-1 holding, determined that the First Amendment did protect the church and stated, “Freedom of speech is so central to the nation that it protects cruel and unpopular protests – even, in this case, at the moment of a family’s most profound grief.”

Although Westboro’s protests are protected by the First Amendment, many including Planting Peace, want to combat these messages of hate projected by members of Westboro Baptist with their own form of expression secured by the First Amendment. Aaron Jackson and his non-profit are attempting to spread the message of equality and compassion with a goal of “promoting equality.”

Members of Westboro have responded to the Equality House with statements such as, “We thank God for the sodomite rainbow house…It is right across the street from the only church that loves people enough to tell them the Bible truth about the filthy, soul-damning, Nation destroying sin of sodomy.” Jackson believes that the energy being put into Westboro’s beliefs and the attention they receive will be used and turned into something positive for the through the Equality House for the Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual, and Transgender (LGBT) community.

Former President Clinton, the DOMA, and the Future of Gay Marriage

On March 7, 2013, former President Bill Clinton wrote an editorial in The Washington Post arguing that the Supreme Court should overturn the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). In 1996, both houses of Congress passed the DOMA by large bipartisan majorities. President Clinton signed the Act mainly to neutralize a political movement in favor of a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. Specifically, the DOMA defines marriage as a union between one man and one woman for all federal purposes and relieves states from recognizing any such union though recognized by another state. Even though the DOMA is still on the books, President Obama has told the Justice Department not to enforce it. Currently, same-sex marriage is legal in nine states and the District of Columbia. However, same-sex couples across the country are denied federal benefits and programs because their relationships are not recognized under the DOMA.

The DOMA will come before the Supreme Court on March 27. The purpose of Clinton’s editorial is to explain why the Court should overturn the law. In the editorial, Clinton notes that he has come to believe that the DOMA is contrary to the principles of freedom, equality, and justice, and that the law is “incompatible with our Constitution.” Interestingly, this is the second time Clinton has disavowed a landmark anti-gay legislative measure that he signed into law.  In 2010, Clinton stated publicly that he regretted signing the controversial “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” (DADT) policy, a federal law mandating the discharge of any U.S. armed service member who was openly lesbian, gay, or bisexual. DADT was repealed in 2011.

Despite Clinton’s editorial and other opposition to the DOMA, it remains unclear how the Court will rule. Some commentators have prematurely proclaimed that the DOMA is doomed. However, in a recent interview, Justice Anthony Kennedy, the perennial swing vote on the Court, suggested that the Court should not issue controlling opinions on hot-button political issues. He explained, “A democracy should not be dependent for its major decisions on what nine unelected people from a narrow legal background have to say.” This statement certainly increases the possibility that the Court may not overturn the DOMA.

The EU and Serbia’s Gay Pride Parade Ban

The European Union (EU) has strongly criticized Serbia’s decision to cancel a gay pride parade in Belgrade scheduled for October 6, 2012. The Serbian government’s decision was also criticized by the United Nations (UN) and Amnesty International. The Serbian government cancelled the parade because of complaints from the Serbian Orthodox Church and threats from far-right political groups. A day before the gay pride parade ban was announced, a Serbian Orthodox Church leader referred to the event as a “parade of shame.” Serbian Prime Minister Ivica Dacic explained, “Based on all security estimates and recommendations, the interior ministry made the decision that it is necessary to ban all gatherings announced for October 6th, including the pride march, for the sake of citizens’ safety.” The cancellation of the parade marks the second straight year that the event has been cancelled; last year’s parade was cancelled because of similar threats of violence. Nonetheless, Serbian homosexual activists have vowed to continue fighting for homosexual rights.

In 2009, Serbia applied for EU membership. In March 2012, Serbia acquired EU candidacy and accession talks have been ongoing. However, Serbia’s decision to ban the gay pride parade has raised concerns among senior EU leaders and international human rights groups about whether Serbia is committed to “so-called European values.” Human Rights Watch notes that the European Commission has confirmed that homosexual rights are an important component of the criteria required for EU membership. As such, Human Rights Watch argues that that the EU should consider the treatment of homosexuals when evaluating Serbia’s admission to the EU. Furthermore, the gay parade ban likely reinforces growing concerns in recent months that Serbia will “abandon its European path and return to the nationalism of the past.” The current Serbian government consists of nationalists and Socialists that were formerly led by Slobodan Milosevic.

The Serbian government’s decision to ban the gay pride parade may violate several articles found in the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. First, the ban may violate Article 11’s explicit protection of the right to freedom of expression. The right to freedom of expression specifically includes the “freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers.” Second, the ban may violate Article 12’s explicit protection for the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and to freedom of association at all levels. A Human Rights Watch official argued that the Serbian government’s security risks argument should be rejected. The official noted, “Pointing to security risks without any visible effort to come up with a reasonable plan to make the Belgrade Pride Parade happen is succumbing to threats of violence. Basic human rights are being thrown overboard.” Finally, the gay pride parade ban may violate Article 21, a provision that expressly prohibits any discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation. Birgitta Ohlsson, Sweden’s European affairs minister, described the ban as “deeply troubling” and stressed that “[t]he rights of minorities, freedom of speech and freedom of assembly should be guaranteed in countries that are members of the European Union or applying to join.”

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