U.S. Marriage Equality Is Here, But What's Next Worldwide?

Photo: Rebecca Vassie/ AP Photo.
The United States has finally joined more than 20 other countries in making gay marriage fully legal. This means that 10% of the world's population now lives in a country that allows same-sex marriage. Once the celebrations have died down, there's still a lot that needs to be done to secure equal rights for same-sex people within and outside of America's borders.

More than 80 countries in the world have laws that allow discrimination against LGBT people. Russia and Lithuania have bans against pro-gay “propaganda,” which makes it dangerous to be honest about one's sexual orientation. In Nigeria, a ban against "public displays of homosexuality" means showing affection to a member of the same sex can lead to fines, jail time, or even death. (The most extreme laws where the state can execute you for being gay exist in 10 countries.)

These laws — and harsh penalties — don't come entirely from a conflict between cultural traditions and modern social norms. Some American conservative groups have spent millions of dollars trying to stop marriage equality's momentum not just in the U.S., but also in other countries. For example, Christian activists donated money and led anti-gay campaigns in Uganda, Nigeria, Zambia, and more.

According to Sports Illustrated, when the Nigerian soccer team came to Canada to play in this year's Women's World Cup, anti-gay policies and cultural stigma prevented some of the country's most talented players from taking the field. Gay rights activists in Russia have been beaten and arrested by police and conservative protesters alike. And, just last week, Kyrgyzstan passed its own version of Russia's anti-gay law, and two Moroccan men were sentenced to four months in prison for simply standing "too closely" while posing for a photo.

"If you look globally, it can seem like it’s only bad news," said Kerry Brodie, global press secretary for the Human Rights Campaign, "but it's pretty inspiring that about a month ago marriage equality passed in Ireland. And, marriage equality in both Mexico and Australia could be very close."

These wins make it crucial to support the bravery of LGBT activists abroad. Brodie says, "You want to be sensitive and respect the work of the people fighting day in and day out in countries where organizing in civil society can be very difficult."

Despite the huge risks that come with living openly, LGBT people keep fighting for acceptance. Activists in Uganda won a massive fight against the country's draconian, anti-gay law in 2014, and this year, they will hold a pride parade for the fourth year in a row.

As we celebrate yesterday's victory, we shouldn't forget that marriage equality doesn't solve every problem faced by LGBT people in America. Many states still lack laws that prevent discrimination, and trans men and women continue to face widespread violence, criminalization, and denial of health care. Winning the freedom to marry is a huge deal, but it is far from the end of the struggle for LGBT rights.


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