Global Ethics Corner: Anti-Gay Legislation: What Can Be Done?

October 22, 2012

In 1991, Ukraine became the first state in the former Soviet Union to legalize homosexuality. It was a historic step in a country where gay rights had long been suppressed. But fast-forward 21 years later, and this achievement may be in jeopardy. Ukrainian authorities look set to pass a controversial piece of legislation depicting homosexuality as a national security threat.

If signed into law, the proposed legislation will criminalize so-called gay "propaganda." All positive portrayals of gay people in public arenas—whether on television in newspapers, or in magazines—will be outlawed. Those found guilty would face fines or even prison sentences of up to five years. The bill’s underwriters say homosexuality threatens Ukrainian’s health, undermines the family unit, and could very well trigger a demographic crisis.

Not surprisingly, the bill has sparked an international uproar. The UN’s human rights office says it violates Ukraine’s international commitment to free speech and information. The Council of Europe says it equates homosexuality with criminality.

Even so, support for the bill remains strong among Ukrainians. More than 80 percent of Ukraine’s parliamentarians voted in favor of the bill. And many Ukrainians support them.

That support is posing difficult questions for international authorities. The UN, EU, and U.S. have all sought to make the promotion of gay and lesbian rights a more vital part of their human rights agendas. But Ukraine is just one example that shows how difficult that quest will be. Indeed, instead of moving towards sexual equality, many countries are backtracking, including Serbia, Russia, and Uganda.  

Which raises the question—what, if anything, can international authorities do to stop countries passing anti-gay legislation? Will condemnation alone suffice? And if not, what will? What do you think?

By Marlene Spoerri

Photo Credits in order of Appearance:
RIA Novosti
Jamison Wieser
Public Domain
Gretchen Ludwig
Thomas Hawk
Council of Europe
Bohan Shen
Eric P.
Jonathan Davis
Kaytee Riek
Peter O.
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