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Gay marriage makes a world of differences in a defining year

- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 25, 2013

The sharp divisions among the states on gay marriage in the U.S. are being repeated on the global stage, with some countries rushing ahead to approve such unions but others — including India, Russia, Australia and Uganda — moving in the opposite direction.

What is the state of gay marriage internationally? "Ironically, it's all over the map," said Evan Wolfson, founder and president of Freedom to Marry.

This year alone, he noted, the far-flung nations of Brazil, France, Uruguay, New Zealand, and England and Wales legalized same-sex marriage.

This shows that gay marriage has made "tremendous progress" over the past decade — and there are "many rays of light on the horizon," said Mr. Wolfson, referring to efforts to bring same-sex nuptials to Vietnam and throughout Mexico.

But other events have been discouraging for gay-rights activists — while pleasing to those who support marriage as the union of a man and a woman.

On Dec. 1, more than 65 percent of voters in Croatia approved a constitutional amendment against same-sex marriage.

Australia's High Court recently overturned a territory's gay-marriage law and invalidated dozens of newly issued licenses to same-sex couples. Lawmakers in Nigeria recently banned same-sex marriage, with one senator saying that although Nigeria has "many shortcomings," it won't add "this one to it." In Uganda, lawmakers enacted long prison sentences for homosexual touching, promotion and even failing to report such violations.

In India, the Supreme Court threw out a 2009 law that decriminalized gay sex, essentially reinstating a 19th-century law that bans "sex against the order of nature."

These developments, plus violence against gays in the Arab world and some African countries, show "the huge, huge amount" that is left to do for gay rights, Mr. Wolfson said.

Organizations that support man-woman marriage also are fortifying their positions and alliances.

The World Congress of Families, which holds regular conferences on restoring "the natural family as the fundamental social unit" and "seedbed" of civil society, met in Moscow in September.

The conference's focus was rebuilding interest in large families — a priority in countries where women often have one or no children. But it also defended Russian political leaders for enacting a law prohibiting "propaganda" to minors about "nontraditional sexual relationships."

Homosexual conduct has been legal in Russia since 1993, and the new law doesn't change that, World Congress of Families managing director Larry Jacobs said in a newsletter. But it means "adults can't try to corrupt children by encouraging experimentation which could have life-threatening consequences."

The Russian law has sparked international attention as the city of Sochi prepares to host the Winter Olympics in February. Gay-rights activists are calling for boycotts of the games, or actions that defy the law, and President Obama recently asked tennis champion — and open lesbian — Billie Jean King to join the U.S. Olympic delegation at the opening ceremonies.

In his recent State of the Nation speech, however, Russian President Vladimir Putin said "traditional values" were the foundation of Russia's greatness and a bulwark against "so-called tolerance — genderless and infertile." He also chided the West for treating "good and evil" equally and lamented the "review of norms of morality" in other nations, according to The Associated Press.

In Massachusetts, the traditional values group Mass Resistance has found that its materials — including a video on what same-sex marriage "did to Massachusetts" — have been of interest to people in Australia, the United Kingdom, France and, recently, Jamaica, said Brian Camenker, president of the group.

In America, gay-rights groups were able to conduct a "blitzkrieg" in some states, thanks to deep-pocketed benefactors and political allies, he said.

Overseas gay-rights advocates "just don't have that enormous advantage," Mr. Camenker said. "So that sort of holds them back."

Although the push started in earnest in 1990 in Hawaii, the Netherlands became the first country to legalize gay marriage in 2000.

Eighteen countries permit same-sex nuptials either nationwide or in certain jurisdictions, says a report by the Pew Research Center's Religion and Public Life Project. These include several European countries, as well as Canada, South Africa and Argentina.

In England and Wales, gay marriages will begin in March. In the rest of the United Kingdom, Scotland is debating a gay-marriage measure and Northern Ireland has voted one down, the Pew report says.

In Brazil, same-sex marriages have commenced under a ruling from the National Council of Justice, but there is "uncertainty" there because of resistance from legal or political directions, it added.

In the U.S., 17 states — now including New Mexico — and the District of Columbia permit same-sex marriage, thanks to this banner year in which eight states joined the gay-marriage column.

A global gay-rights network called the International Lesbian Gay Bisexual Trans and Intersex Association has been active for decades, and the D.C.-based Human Rights Campaign has said it would be increasing its international efforts.

"Expanding HRC's ability to work in coalition with international LGBT human rights defenders will hasten the day when LGBT people are free from hate-based violence and equality is a reality for all," the group's president, Chad Griffin, said in November as part of an announcement that the Paul E. Singer Foundation and Daniel S. Loeb Family Foundation had given major gifts to fight discrimination in foreign countries.

Mr. Wolfson, referring to the days in the 1990s when he and lawyer Dan Foley assisted three gay couples in their battle for marriage licenses in Hawaii, said it has been a long journey.

Still, he said, "it is very exciting and gratifying to see that what we began in Hawaii has launched an ongoing, global movement."

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