Homosexuality is legal in about 125 countries, not 25 as Indian Media had us believe.

Earlier today, India decriminalized homosexuality. In a fitting judgement, the Supreme Court rightly stated that “history owes the LGBT community an apology”. Euphoria on twitter and in Indian media followed, since the verdict was as anticipated.

As part of the celebrations, one news item got this “history” horribly wrong. The headline (and the text) read that “As SC decriminalises gay sex, India joins 25 nations where homosexuality is legal”. This is incorrect and misleading.

As the article itself mentions, homosexuality is illegal in only about 72 countries. There are about 197 countries in the world (if you consider Palestine and Taiwan as countries which I do). That means homosexuality isn’t a crime in 125 countries.

The 25 countries they mention is where same sex marriages are legally recognized. The article mentions

some of these [25] countries where gay sex has been legalised are: “Argentina (2010), Greenland (2015), South Africa (2006), Australia (2017), Iceland(2010), Spain (2005), Belgium (2003), Ireland(2015), United States (2015),Brazil (2013), Luxemborg (2014), Sweden (2009) and Canada (2005).”

The dates in parentheses are actually the year in which these countries began to recognize (and perform) same sex marriages. Most of these countries had decriminalized homosexuality decades ago.

I consider this a serious error for two reasons.

First it reflects on how due process is ignored in contemporary news cycles. This story was a PTI (Press Trust of India) release and many news outlets (including Times of India, world’s largest English language daily by circulation) have reproduced it without checking for serious and consequential (yes) factual errors.

Second, while we celebrate the decriminalization of homosexuality in world’s largest democracy, this incorrect fact undermines the importance of this judgement. India is a very late in recognizing LGBTQ rights. Until 2018 it belonged to a dark club of 72 countries, largely comprising of former British colonies and a few islamic states that haven’t fixed this draconian Victorian era law (section 377 in the Indian Penal Code). With today’s verdict, India has stepped outside the dark, but is nowhere close to these 25 countries (which the news media equates India with) when it comes to rights of people in same sex partnerships. Further, it is also behind at least a dozen other countries, which recognize same sex unions as civil partnerships including the United Kingdom. Yet such coverage would have us believe otherwise.

Legal challenges aside, the LGBTQ movement in India has to overcome a lot of social prejudice. One such social prejudice sees homosexuality as a Western or First World phenomenon (which it isn’t), and an undesirable external influence on Indian culture. Perhaps coverage like this also misleads in that regard.

I hope this incorrect story is retracted or updated to correct this serious error. And steer the LGBTQ movement in India to its next steps.

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