Gay rights advocates faced a tough week with rulings from the high courts in Australia and India — both reaffirming bans on same-sex marriage. While the trend is happily moving in the opposite direction, the campaign for marriage equality faced two setbacks in these rulings. In Australia, the decision to allow same-sex marriage in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) was struck down as exceeding the authority of the territory. In India, a long-standing criminalization of homosexuality was reinstated. Adding to this disappointing week is the national address given by Russian President Vladimir Putin reaffirming the opposition to gay rights by his government as a stand for moral leadership.
The ACT parliament passed a bill in October legalizing same-sex weddings. However, the move was challenged by the national government which argued that such questions had to be answered by the national government, not regional governments. Moreover, in September 2012, the parliament voted down such a change. Accordingly, the national law limits marriage to the union of a man and a women under a law passed in 2004.
The situation was worse in India where the Supreme Court struck down a 2009 lower court ruling decriminalizing homosexual conduct. The court ruled that such questions could only be answered by the legislature. This left in place a colonial era law that makes homosexual relations a crime subject to a ten-year prison term. The law from the 1860s is actually a British import and states that “whoever voluntarily has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal” can be punished by up to 10 years behind bars. The New Delhi High Court had struck down the law and now stands reversed. Hindu and Muslim (as well as Christian) groups united in seeking the reversal. It appears that a mutual prejudice against homosexuals produced a rare moment of unity among the religious groups.
Then there is Russia. In a move that no doubt strengthened his ties to the powerful Russian Orthodox Church, Putin used his annual state of the nation address to present Russia as the moral leader of the world, specifically targeting gay rights as his proof of such leadership.
Putin denounced the “review of norms of morality” in the West and said that “the destruction of traditional values from above not only entails negative consequences for society, but is also inherently anti-democratic because it is based on an abstract notion and runs counter to the will of the majority of people.” He presented such rights as destroying any distinction between “good and evil” and struck out at “so-called tolerance – genderless and infertile.” Of course, many believe that Putin does bring clarity on the question of “good and evil” but clearly disagree on which value he personifies after years of suppressing the media, free speech, and civil liberties.
All in all, not a great week for gay rights.