Australians are travelling more than ever before, but it’s always important to keep in mind the fact that legal systems and cultures vary all over the world, especially when it comes to sexuality. While Aussies generally have a relatively liberal attitude to LGBT matters (even with the current same-sex marriage debate / postal survey), some countries are less accepting and may be extremely dangerous for gay residents.
Many nations are neutral towards gay relationships, with legal codes that allow homosexual acts, though without granting additional rights such as gay marriage, adoption and so on. Many Asian countries fall into this category, such as China, South Korea, Japan, Thailand, the Philippines and Vietnam. Other nations have a slightly negative attitude, like Russia, have ‘propaganda’ or ‘morality’ laws which ban promotion or expression of LGBT affairs, but don’t criminalise relationships. There are still over 70 countries worldwide in which homosexuality is still illegal, however. Africa and the Middle East in particular are regions where gay relations are illegal and unsafe.
Countries which criminalise gay relationships
LGBT relationships can lead to punishments including prison sentences, fines and even hard labour in many countries, though only a few actually execute homosexuals.
Morocco, Algeria, Libya, Tunisia, Egypt, Senegal, Liberia, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Ghana, Cameroon, Chad, South Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Uganda, Togo, Seychelles, Swaziland, Comoros, Mauritius, Senegal, Tanzania, Kenya, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Botswana, Namibia, Angola, Maldives.
Middle East & Asia :
Syria, Kuwait, Palestine/Gaza strip, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, India, parts of Indonesia, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Myanmar/Burma, Malaysia.
Jamaica, Guyana, Belize, Grenada, Dominica, Barbados, Antigua & Barbuda, Trinidad & Tobago, St Kitts & Nevis, St Lucia, St Vincent & the Grenadines
Cook Islands, Kirbati, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu.
Countries that carry the death penalty for same-sex relationships:
Sudan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, northern Nigeria and southern Somalia.
Death penalty is officially in place but less severe punishments are usually used: Mauritania, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.
Common Aussie expat destinations which outlaw LGBT relationships
While many destinations popular among Aussie expats are either accepting or neutral of gay relationships, a few major hotspots have far more conservative laws than Australia, regarding homosexuality. Singapore, the UAE, Indonesia, Malaysia and India are a few of the expat hubs LGBT expats should be cautions of.
United Arab Emirates:
The United Arab Emirates have strict laws regarding both homo- and heterosexual activity, making it wise for any expat to conduct their personal lives with the utmost discretion. Several legal tiers are in place and residents can be prosecuted under any of them, including Sharia law, a federal penal code and a local emirate penal code. Both Sharia law and the secular penal code criminalize homosexual acts; gay relationships are not legal in any form.
Fornication (sex outside of marriage) is illegal regardless of sexual orientation, though homosexual acts are specifically regarded as criminal. Sodomy is illegal; although the death penalty is officially sanctioned, it has never been used and jail sentences are standard. Abu Dhabi enforces a prison term up to 14 years, while Dubai has a possible 10 year sentence. Other punishments may include chemical castration, fines and deportation for foreign residents. Recent cases have ranged from a month in prison for public displays of affection, to 3 years in jail plus deportation for public sex acts.
The Abu Dhabi Minister of Justice, Islamic Affairs and Auqaf summed up the legal status of LGBT people by saying, “There will be no room for homosexual and queer acts in the UAE. Our society does not accept queer behaviour, either in word or in action.”
While it is not illegal to ‘be gay’ as such in Singapore, there are a number of laws which restrict the relationships and sexual activity of homosexuals, especially males. There is no law against sexual intercourse between two females, however sex between two men is illegal and carries potential 2 year prison sentence. This punishment is only occasionally enforced, however, with only nine convictions between 2007 and 2013. “Obscene acts,” such as any act which displays the intention to engage in male homosexual activity is also illegal in any public place and punishable by 3 months in jail or a fine.
Same sex relationships are not recognized by the state and therefore the rights granted to heterosexual couples are non-existent for homosexual couples, though post-operative transgender people are permitted to marry.
Gay couples of either sex are not permitted to adopt children or use any other means of obtaining a child, such as surrogacy or IVF, though any individual may apply to adopt.
The “promotion or glamorization of the homosexual lifestyle” is not allowed on television or radio, so there is little chance to communicate with or impact the wider community with messages openly related to LGBT affairs.
There are no specific anti-discrimination laws to protect LGBT people in the workplace or any other situation in society, however there are no laws to prevent people from gaining employment or other services unrelated to the family unit. Nevertheless, gay men and women are free to engage in attend social events, gatherings, cultural events and online discussion without penalties. Attitudes toward the LGBT community in Singapore are based on a culture of social conservatism, modesty and an emphasis on the family unit; individual opinions can vary widely and future changes are plausible. In fact, a variety of prominent spokespeople, lawyers and academics have spoken out against anti-LGBT laws in the past few years.
This largely Islamic country has seen two conflicting movements in recent years: the increasingly vocal gay-rights community, and on the opposite side, a surge of anti-LGBT Muslim activist groups. Gay individuals in Indonesia have generally been accepted by their communities and homosexual activity is legal throughout much of the country, but there are some regions which have outlawed homosexual acts according to Sharia law.
Provincial areas are allowed to create their own bylaws on certain Islamic matters, including homosexuality. The provinces of Aceh and South Sumatra have criminalised consensual homosexual acts, with a possible punishment of 100 lashes and 100 months in prison. Two men were each sentences to 85 public lashes in May 2017 for having sex together in Aceh. Technically, these laws only apply to Muslim residents.
While homosexual intercourse is legal thorough the rest of the country, there have been several incidents in the capital city Jakarta during 2017, where men have been arrested for attending a ‘gay party’ or ‘sex party.’ The arrests were pushed by Muslim activists and legally justified by using anti-pornography laws. LGBT people are advised to be cautious throughout Indonesia and conduct any sexual activity in private only, regardless of whether such acts are thought to be legal or not.
Where legal, the age of consent is 18 for homosexuals, compared to the heterosexual age of consent, which is 17.
Same-sex relationships are not acknowledged by Indonesian law, and homosexual couples are not eligible to adopt children (only heterosexual married couples are able to adopt). No specific laws exist to protect LGBT people from discrimination, although the national constitution does have some provisions to prevent discrimination in general.
Homosexuals or transgender people have generally been allowed to appear on television or other media, but in 2016 a new measure was undertaken to ban depictions of LGBT lifestyles or characters, following a series of scandals.
There are no virtually LGBT rights in Malaysia. Attitudes toward homosexuality are largely shaped by the Muslim values in this Islamic country, though some laws were initially introduced under British colonial rule. Research by the Pew Institute found that Malaysia has some of the most anti-LGBT popular opinion in Asia, with attitudes of over-50-year-olds being milder than the younger generations.
Sodomy and oral sex are outlawed for people of any sexual orientation, and there is an additional criminal law against men who commit, “gross indecency with another male person.” Such acts carry a possible punishment of flogging, fines and 20 years imprisonment. Sex acts between two women have never been illegal in Malaysia.
The state doesn’t recognize relationships between members of the same sex, and no rights are granted.
Homosexual intercourse has been illegal in India since 1860 and gay sexual activity has traditionally been viewed as against rights provided for in the Indian constitution. During the 2000s, there have been several attempts to decriminalize consensual homosexual acts, though all failed. It wasn’t until August 2017 that a court ruling granted the right for the LGBT community to express their sexual orientation safely. This is really an anti-discrimination law, and did not overturn the existing laws regarding sexual activity. The implications from the ruling are yet to be seen.
India generally holds homosexual relations to be unnatural and therefore does not recognize or grant any rights to same-sex relationships of any kind. For some reason in 2011, the courts granted recognition to a single lesbian marriage, but the women involved were soon subject to harassment from the local community and forced to relocate to a safe house.
It’s always a good idea to do your research whenever moving or travelling overseas, but especially if it’s possible that you will engage in any sexual activity while abroad. Heterosexual and homosexual activities are both subject to cultural and legal differences across the world and discretion is often necessary. Investigate your destination before travelling in order to ensure your safety, no matter what your sexuality.