Which countries still criminalise gay sex?

Wednesday, 31 May 2023 23:00 GMT

Participants form a giant pink dot at the Speakers' Corner in Hong Lim Park in Singapore June 28, 2014. The annual Pink Dot Sg event promotes an acceptance of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community in Singapore, according to organizers. REUTERS/Edgar Su

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As the Cook Islands scraps laws against gay sex, here’s the state of laws on same-sex relations around the world

By Lucy Middleton

LONDON, June 1 (Openly) - The Cook Islands has officially decriminalised gay sex, with a law ending the Pacific nation's ban on same-sex relations coming into effect on June 1.

Same-sex relations could previously be punished with up to seven years in prison. Lawmakers voted to end the colonial-era ban in April this year, with Prime Minister Mark Brown describing it as "a discriminatory and unjust law that goes against our constitution and our values as a nation". 

But the change comes less than a week after Uganda enacted one of the world's toughest anti-LGBTQ+ laws, including the death penalty as punishment for gay sex in some cases.

Here are details on where gay sex is banned, and which countries have changed their laws in recent years:

  • There are now 64 countries that criminalise gay sex, many of them in Africa. Two Indonesian provinces also ban consensual same-sex relations, while a nationwide ban on sex outside marriage effectively makes all gay relations illegal.
  • Countries or areas that have the death penalty on their statute books for consensual gay sex include Brunei, Iran, Mauritania, Saudi Arabia, Uganda, Yemen and some northern states of Nigeria.

  • Another 29 nations impose maximum penalties for same-sex sexual relations of between 10 years and life imprisonment. Lawmakers in Uganda have strengthened laws criminalising homosexuality, including the introduction of the death penalty for so-called aggravated homosexuality. This could involve repeat offenders or having gay sex when HIV-positive.

  • In Kenya, a lawmaker proposed a bill in April which would also impose the death penalty for gay sex in some cases, including when it involves a person who is elderly or drunk.

  • Many of the states criminalising gay sex are Commonwealth countries with laws originating from the British colonial era.

  • In 2018, Theresa May, Britain's prime minister at the time, said she deeply regretted her country's role and "the legacy of discrimination, violence and even death that persists today".

  • Gay sex between adults is legal in 129 of the 193 member states of the United Nations. Countries that have most recently decriminalised same-sex relations include Singapore, Barbados, Antigua and Barbuda, and Saint Kitts and Nevis

Sources: Human Dignity Trust, ILGA World, Human Rights Watch, Equaldex, Reuters.

(Reporting by Lucy Middleton. Editing by Jon Hemming. The Thomson Reuters Foundation is the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters. Visit https://www.context.news/) ((Lucy.Middleton@thomsonreuters.com;))

Openly is an initiative of the Thomson Reuters Foundation dedicated to impartial coverage of LGBT+ issues from around the world.

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