Laws recognizing same-sex marriage and offering equal rights to same-sex couples are relatively new. Today, 22 UN member states allow same-sex couples to marry and enjoy the same legal rights and privileges as heterosexual couples. Why is allowing and recognizing same-sex marriage important? According to Los Angeles divorce attorney Steven Fernandez, the ability to make decisions about one’s own personal journey is intimate, personal, and defining. As a Certified Family Law Specialist and founding member of Los Angeles firm Fernandez & Karney, Fernandez has seen, first-hand, the impact same-sex marriage laws have had in California.
“California law now applies equally to all individuals, regardless of their sexual orientation and preference,” he explains. “Prior to the legalization of same-sex marriage, same-sex couples had significantly fewer rights and protections in family law matters. The new law ensures that all individuals secure the right to make decisions about their own personal lives.”
Many of the same-sex marriage laws that are now in effect are a direct result of LGBT equality advocacy efforts across the globe.
Same-sex marriage victories do not necessarily extend the right to have a family. Since same-sex couples, alone, are not biologically capable of producing a child, adoption is often at the center of conversation.
However, a startling number of states around the world make it impossible or very difficult for same-sex couples to adopt. In regard to same-sex couples, adoption is generally classified as either (a) joint adoption or (b) second-parent adoption.
Joint adoption is when neither individual requesting custodial and parental rights is the biological parent of a child. Today, only 26 countries – including Austria and Finland – permit joint adoption by same-sex couples. In all other countries, joint adoption by same-sex couples is prohibited.
Second-parent adoption is when one individual is the biological parent of a child, and their partner requests to be that child’s second parent. For same-sex couples, this type of adoption is easier to achieve than joint adoption. Unfortunately, many countries still have laws prohibiting a same-sex partner from begin legally recognized as a parent of their partner’s biological child.
LGBT-Influenced Laws and Regulations
Laws do not have to specifically mention or regulate same-sex sexual activity or sexual orientation to negatively and adversely affect the LGBT community. Certain laws – including those pertaining to general sexual behavior and children – can tangentially touch on and diminish LGBT equality under the law.
Today, 74 countries criminalize acts of sodomy. Sodomy is not always explicitly defined by law. Instead, sodomy can be generally understood to mean sexual behavior that is unnatural or immoral, and therefore illegal. Since sodomy is not always defined, courts have latitude to determine who should be punished. As a result, sodomy laws disproportionately affect same-sex sexual activities.
Some countries, including the United States, have passed laws that prohibit the promotion or positive discussion of same-sex sexual behavior. In Alabama, for example, a state law requires all sex education teachers to emphasize that “homosexuality is not a lifestyle acceptable to the general public.” Students in Alabama must also be made aware that same-sex sexual activity is a crime in the state. These No Promo Homo regulations make it impossible for the LGBT community to secure equality and equal protection under the law.
Barriers to NGO Operation
Certain countries, including Uganda, prohibit non-governmental organizations from forming if their purpose is to advance LGBT rights or equality under the law. These prohibitions reflect hostility to the LGBT community and an unwillingness to embrace positive change.
Hate Crime Protections
Hate crimes are those committed, in part, because of a victim’s defining characteristic. Many countries punish hate crimes more harshly than crimes committed without a hateful motive. In order to be classified as a hate crime, the motive for a person’s actions must be based on a lawful protection. These hate crime protections only extend to the LGBT community if their country has listed same-sex sexual orientation, transgender identity, or intersex persons as protected classes.
When countries embrace LGBT rights at the national level, smaller provinces and states may strike back with laws that specifically target and adversely affect the LGBT community. Bathroom bills, including those that have become notorious in North Carolina, are a prime example. These bills require individuals to use the restroom that correlates with the gender they were assigned at birth. While these laws may not specifically mention transgender individuals, the purpose is to prevent those identifying as transgender from using the bathroom of their choice. This directly affects the ability to be seen as equal under the law.
Recognizing Gender Identification
Some countries prevent intersex and/or transgender individuals from having their chosen gender legally recognized under the law. Others do not legally recognize a “non-binary” classification, which limits the personal and intimate choices that a person can make about their own body.
Blood Donation Prohibitions
In the 1980s, the LGBT community was chosen as the villain in the AIDS epidemic. Many countries advanced laws and propaganda that supported the myth that the gay community and homosexual activity were responsible for causing and spreading AIDS. Today, many gay men around the world are still prohibited from donating blood for fear that it is tainted with HIV.