While we have taken great leaps and bounds over the last century when it comes to equality and human rights, there are still many areas where we need to improve, and still some actually inexcusable examples of inequality and discrimination that continue right under our noses. And one of the areas that arguably needs the most improvement here is gay rights – and while these have improved too, there are still some shocking examples of intolerance that go on every day.
In the US it’s something of a mixed bag. While we are much more accepting of alternate lifestyles, there still exist many pockets of ignorant attitudes and beliefs, and only a small portion of the fifty US states have actually gone as far as to legalize gay marriage. So how does Europe measure up?
The Good News
Well according to at least one survey, Europe actually fairs rather well as the most gay-friendly continent in the world. In only in Northern Cyprus is it illegal to be gay, and that part of Cyprus is actually controlled by Turkey – though this is inexcusable of course still, it does put Europe ahead of many other continents in terms of tolerance and forward thinking as 40% of countries in the world (mostly in Africa and the Middle East) actually still ban homosexuality.
In fact France was actually the very first country to start decriminalising same sex marriage in 1791 following the revolution making the French true forerunners in this regard. Meanwhile, of the ten countries in the world that permit gay marriage, seven of those are located in Europe; and Iceland and Belgium are the only countries in the world to have openly gay heads of government. Europe is also home to many hotspots for gay clubbing and many gay festivals.
For these reasons Europe is often considered to be one of the first continents to take ‘the first steps’ on behalf of gay rights.
The Problems That We Are Still Facing
That said though, Europe is still a very big continent and there is a lot of variation between countries and regions. As stated already for instance, in Northern Cyprus homosexuality is still illegal, and other areas have similarly backward laws.
For instance Russia along with Ukraine, Latvia, Hungary, Latvia and Moldova have been recently singled out by the European Parliament for homophobia. Russia here comes under fire for lacking even basic laws against discrimination, and only recently has St Petersburg introduced laws banning the use of ‘homosexual propaganda’. Of course this recent law has found opposition from those claiming that it goes against the right to ‘freedom of expression’.
Meanwhile, a recent report by LLGA-Europe suggests that not one European country can claim to provide full equality for the LGBT community. Only seven countries have constitutions that explicitly prohibit discrimination against gay individuals while only Spain has laws against discrimination based on gender identity. A proposed EU law aims to prohibit all forms of LGBT discrimination but has been continually blocked by a number of governments.
In the UK a law is currently being passed to legalize gay marriage, where previously only a ‘civil partnership’ was permitted. This has been met by opposition however by the Church of England which has condemned the law and the process through which it was introduced. Though the law will still permit churches to refuse to carry out gay ceremonies should they choose, the church nevertheless has still made its opposition known. Even in the more modern thinking countries then, there are still complications that need to be overcome.
Being gay in Europe isn’t just a matter of the law either of course, and a lot of the experience you have in a country has nothing to do with the official line, and has much more to do with the way you are treated by the people. Here there is mixed news, with roughly fifty percent of gay individuals living in the EU reporting that they feel discrimination based on sexual orientation is ‘widespread’ in their country. Of course this is something that will always vary from place to place, and here it may be more a matter of awareness, campaigning and exposure that helps to change the culture more than legislation alone.
Hate crimes meanwhile are difficult to assess with many victims choosing not to report them. However surveys indicate that roughly a quarter of homosexuals have experienced some form of violence due to their orientation – and this figure may in fact be a low estimate.
In conclusion then it is fair to say that Europe is indeed progressive in its attitude to gay rights, and many parts of the continent offer some of the best living conditions and more equal legislation in the world. That said though, there is still much room for improvement and many areas where matters could be improved. While many argue that matters like gay marriage aren’t so pressing in a time when we face such financial pressures, this couldn’t be further from the reality – equality and freedom are the most important and fundamental traits of the human condition, and these must be protected with absolute ferocity before we concern ourselves with lining our pockets. In some areas of Europe might offer a shining example, but in others they’re just as bad as the rest of the world.