Members of the Honduran Congress voted on Thursday to amend the constitution making it much harder to reverse existing hard-line bans on abortion and same-sex marriage, as lawmakers double down on socially conservative priorities.
Lawmakers voted to require a three-quarters super-majority to change a constitutional article that gives a fetus the same legal status of a person, and another that states that civil marriage in the Central American nation can only be between a man and a woman.
With 88 legislators in favor, 28 opposed and seven abstentions, the proposal will still need a second vote in the unicameral legislature next year before it is enacted.
Currently, all constitutional changes require a two-thirds majority vote of the 128-member body.
Mario Perez, a lawmaker with the ruling party of President Juan Orlando Hernandez, explained during a virtual floor debate that the change will create a “constitutional lock” on any would-be softening of the existing articles.
The country’s criminal code sets out three to six-year prison terms for women who abort a fetus as well as anyone else involved.
Abortion-rights proponents accused backers of the proposal of seeking to cement the current bans.
“This legislation permanently condemns pregnant women or pregnant girls who have been raped or risk dying due to health reasons,” said Merary Mendoza, a researcher with the Honduran women’s studies center CEMH.
Kevihn Ramos, the head of a gay rights advocacy group in Honduras, blasted the lawmakers who voted to make it harder to change the two constitutional articles.
“This reform is the product of a state-imposed religion on Honduras,” he said.
Hungary amended the definition of family in its constitution Tuesday to allow an effective ban on adoption by same-sex couples, another win for the ruling conservatives but decried by one pro-LGBTQ group as “a dark day for human rights.”
The nationalist Fidesz party of Prime Minister Viktor Orban has worked to recast Hungary in a more conservative mold since winning a third successive landslide in 2018, and anti-gay verbal attacks and legislation have become common.
In recent years Orban, facing a unified opposition for the first time, has doubled down on propagating his increasingly conservative ideology, deploying strong language against immigrants and Muslims who he says could upend European culture.
The new Hungarian constitution defines family as “based on marriage and the parent-child relation. The mother is a woman, the father a man.” It also mandates that parents raise children in a conservative spirit.
“Hungary defends the right of children to identify with their birth gender and ensures their upbringing based on our nation’s constitutional identity and values based on our Christian culture,” it says.
Hungary has never allowed gay marriage but still recognizes civil unions. Adoption by gay and lesbian couples was possible until now if one partner applied as a single person.
Although there are exceptions when single people or family members can adopt children, “the main rule is that only married couples can adopt a child, that is, a man and a woman who are married,” Justice Minister Judit Varga wrote.
The legislation passed on Tuesday follow the passing of a new law earlier this year banning gender change in personal documents and ideological battles over children’s books showing diversity positively.
As per the new law, single people in Hungary must get their adoption requests approved by the family affairs minister, a post held by ultra-conservative Katalin Novak, who promotes the traditional family model.
“Do not believe that us women should continuously compete with men,” Novak said in a video published on Monday. “Do not believe that in every waking moment we must measure up and have at least as high positions or as large salaries as (men).”
‘Dark day for human rights’
Rights groups denounced the changes and called on European leaders to raise their voices.
“This is a dark day for Hungary’s LGBTQ community and a dark day for human rights,” said David Vig, director of Amnesty Hungary.
Masen Davis, executive director at Transgender Europe, said European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen should pay attention to the issue as the EU reviews Hungary’s rule of law record and a connected punitive legal procedure.
Hungary and Poland last week escaped the immediate prospect of losing EU funding because of rights transgressions seen as contrary to the European mainstream, leaving potential counter-measures weakened and delayed in time.
“We are deeply concerned for the health and safety of trans children and adults in Hungary in such a hostile climate,” Davis said.
Katrin Hugendubel, advocacy director at international gay rights group ILGA, said the changes meant “LGBTI children will be forced to grow up in an environment which restricts them from being able to express their identities.”
A month after Lauren mustered the courage to tell her mother she is lesbian, the 26-year-old Shanghai resident came out to a stranger who knocked on her door.
She told the young man, one of 7 million conducting China’s once-in-a-decade census, that she and her girlfriend lived together.
Where the questionnaire asked for “relationship to head of household,” the man ticked the box for “other” and wrote “couple.”
The interaction with the receptive census taker was affirming, Lauren told Reuters, even if the handwritten note may not be reflected in the final results. Lauren asked to be identified by only her first name due to the sensitive nature of LGBTQ issues in China.
“These census takers may have never met, or even heard of, gay people, so if we have the opportunity to talk to them, they can better understand the LGBT community,” he said.
“We are a part of China’s population.”
While it remains difficult to come out in China, where many LGBTQ people refer to their romantic partners as roommates or friends, activists say there is a growing acceptance of gay couples.
“But the system hasn’t kept up with the times,” Peng said.
Lauren, who works at a tech company in Shanghai, said she felt comfortable speaking honestly about her relationship, but fears it may not be as safe for LGBTQ couples in more conservative areas to do so.
“I still wouldn’t dare,” one user of the Twitter-like Weibo commented on a post about the campaign.
Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden has promised to make passing the LGBTQ rights legislation known as the Equality Act a top priority, hoping to sign what would be a landmark civil rights law within 100 days should he win Tuesday’s election.
Biden, a leading voice for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer rights as vice president under Barack Obama from 2009 to 2017, also pledged in an interview with the Philadelphia Gay News to expand queer rights internationally by making equality a centerpiece of U.S. diplomacy should he win the election and assume office in January.
Biden has championed the Equality Act before, but his priority for the issue is significant given the urgency of the coronavirus pandemic and a host of other executive orders and regulatory actions that would compete for attention in the early days of a Biden administration.
He outlined his agenda for LGBTQ rights in an email interview with Philadelphia Gay News publisher Mark Segal, a nationally known advocate for gay rights since the 1970s.
“I will make enactment of the Equality Act a top legislative priority during my first 100 days – a priority that Donald Trump opposes,” Biden said of the Republican incumbent he is challenging.
The Trump administration opposed the Equality Act, saying it would “undermine parental and conscience rights,” and has also restricted queer rights in the name of religious liberty. The Trump campaign did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment on Biden’s interview.
The Democratic-led U.S. House of Representatives passed the Equality Act in 2019, but the legislation stalled in the Republican-controlled Senate. Biden would need the Democrats to hold the House and take control of the Senate to ensure passage.
The Equality Act would protect U.S. citizens from discrimination based on sexual identity and gender identity by amending the Civil Rights Act of 1964, one of the most revered accomplishments of the civil rights movement, which banned discrimination based on race, religion, sex and national origin.
On the international front, Biden also promised to defend American diplomats who speak out for LGBTQ rights in countries that are hostile to queer people and promised to use “America’s full range of diplomatic tools,” including private diplomacy, public statements and United Nations agencies, to promote equality.
“I’ll stand up to bullies and once more put human rights at the center of America’s engagement with the world,” Biden said.
A judge in a Nigerian court on Tuesday threw out a case against 47 men charged with public displays of affection with members of same sex, ending what had widely been seen as a test of the country’s laws banning same-sex relationships.
The Nigerian law banning gay marriage, punishable by up to 14 years in prison, and same-sex “amorous relationships,” prompted an international outcry when it came into force under former President Goodluck Jonathan in 2014.
The men were arrested in a police raid on a Lagos hotel in the city’s Egbeda district in 2018. Police said the men were being initiated into a gay club, but the defendants said they were attending a birthday party.
Prosecution and defense lawyers in the case had told Reuters nobody had yet been convicted under the law, which led to the case of the men being widely seen as a test case that could help to establish the burden of proof.
Justice Rilwan Aikawa struck out the case and said he had done so due to the “lack of diligent prosecution”.
The specific charge the men faced, relating to public displays of affection, carries a 10-year prison sentence.
Outside the court, many of the men smiled and cheered, including dancer James Brown who, smiling, said: “I am free. It means a lot of good things.”
Under Nigerian law, defendants in a case that is struck out can be re-arrested and arraigned again on the same charge, whereas that is not possible in cases that have been dismissed.
Taxi driver Onyeka Oguaghamba, a father-of-four who said he merely drove people to the party, said he was happy the case had been struck out but disappointed that it was not dismissed entirely.
“I am not happy, because I’m looking for the matter to end in a way that people will see me and believe what I have been saying from the beginning,” he said, adding that the decision meant he could be charged again.
Oguaghamba and others previously told Reuters they had been stigmatized as a result of the raid and a televised news conference held by police in which they were identified the day after their arrest.
Chris Agiriga, another of the men, said the striking out of the case would not help him to be reconciled with his family who had rejected him over the matter.
“Since the past two years, this has caused a lot of damage in my life,” he said.
Emmanuel Sadi, a program officer with rights group the Initiative for Equal Rights (TIERS), said the outcome of the case raised questions about the law used to charge the men.
“You can’t even build a case around it,” he said. “I hope they (the government) realize how redundant it is as a law, and they are open to removing or repealing it,” he said.
Homosexuality is outlawed in many socially conservative African societies where some religious groups brand it a corrupting Western import. Gay sex is a crime in countries across the continent, with punishments ranging from imprisonment to death.
Tokyo will open Pride House, Japan’s first permanent such center, next month to raise awareness of LGBTQ rights before and during the rearranged Olympic Games in 2021.
Although there have been similar initiatives before previous Games, organizers said Pride House Tokyo, which will open its doors on International Coming Out Day on October 11, is the first to get official International Olympic Committee backing.
“Pride House Tokyo aims to educate the world and also Japan of the difficulties the LGBTQ community has playing and enjoying sports … while helping create a safe space for the community too,” Pride House Tokyo said in a statement on Monday.
“Many people might think that Japan is a human rights defender, but actually there are no laws to protect LGBTQ people.”
It is traditional for most nations competing at the Olympics to have a hospitality “house,” where they promote their country and hold parties for winning athletes.
Gon Matsunaka, the head of Good Aging Yells, one of the organizations supporting the project, said Japan lags behind many other developed nations when it comes to LGBTQ rights.
“Many people might think that Japan is a human rights defender, but actually there are no laws to protect LGBTQ people,” Matsunaka told Reuters via email.
“Society is filled with prejudice, discrimination and harassment towards LGBTQ community.”
“While we have to change the sports arena, we also hope Pride House Legacy can help change society as a whole as well.”
The gruesome killing on Saturday of a second transgender woman in northern Mexico has unnerved the local transgender community and amplified calls for greater protections in the Latin American nation.
The murder of Leslie Rocha in the border city of Ciudad Juarez came days after a transgender civil society group staged a protest there to demand greater protection.
Those demands were sparked by the murder late of Ciudad Juarez-born transgender activist Mireya Rodriguez Lemus, whose body was found earlier this week in Aquiles Serdan, a town in the northern Chihuahua state.
A Saudi court has sentenced a Yemeni blogger to 10 months in prison, a fine of 10,000 riyals ($2,600) and deportation for a social media post supporting equal rights for people in same sex relationships, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW).
The group said Mohamad al-Bokari fled Yemen in June 2019 and was living as an undocumented migrant in Saudi Arabia when he was arrested on April 8 for a Twitter video that drew online condemnation from Saudis and calls for his arrest.
In the video, seen by Reuters, Bokari was asked by one of his Twitter followers for his view of same-sex relations, to which he replied, “Everyone has rights and should be able to practice them freely, including gay people.”
In a statement to Saudi-owned Al Arabiya confirming Bokari’s arrest, the spokesman for Riyadh’s police department said in April that the video contained “sexual references” which “violate public order and morals”.
Bokari was charged with violating public morality, “promoting homosexuality online” and “imitating women,” said HRW, adding it showed authorities discriminated against Bokari for his “perceived sexual orientation and gender expression.”
A Reuters request for comment to Saudi Arabia’s government media office went unanswered.
Bokari was sentenced on July 20 and has 30 days from that date to appeal.
Saudi Arabia has no codified legal system and no laws regarding sexual orientation or gender identity. Judges have convicted people for “immorality”, having sexual relations outside of marriage, and homosexual sex.
Hundreds of Thai LGBTQ activists and allies raised rainbow flags on Saturday evening as they called for democracy and equal rights, the latest in a series of youth protests calling for the government to step down.
Several youth-led demonstrations have sprung up across the country since last week, when thousands of Thai activists defied a coronavirus ban on gatherings and staged one of the largest street rallies since a 2014 military coup.
The activists on Saturday danced and sang and performed stand-up comedy sketches making jabs at the government of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, a former army chief who ousted an elected government six years ago. Pride flags were waved against the backdrop of Bangkok’s Democracy Monument.
Saturday’s gathering was the latest in a series of protests under the Free Youth movement, which has issued three demands: the dissolution of parliament, an end to harassment of government critics, and amendments to the military-written constitution.
“Even if they don’t step down from power today, we want to let them know that we won’t go anywhere, we will be here,” said a 21-year-old protestor who gave her name as Yaya. “Even if they get rid of us, our ideology will never die, we will pass this on to the next generation.”
The global fight against AIDS was faltering even before the COVID-19 pandemic, and this newly emerged viral disease is now threatening to put progress against HIV back by 10 years or more, the United Nations said on Monday.
“The global HIV targets set for 2020 will not be reached,” the U.N.’s AIDS agency said in a report. “Even the gains made could be lost and progress further stalled if we fail to act.”
Latest data from 2019 show that 38 million people worldwide are now infected with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) that causes AIDS, the report said, a million more than in 2018.
Some 25.4 million HIV positive people were on antiretroviral treatment in 2019 – a huge advance on a decade ago, but one that still leaves 12.6 million not getting medicines that can keep the virus at bay and prevent its spread.
The report also found the world is far behind in preventing new HIV infections, with 1.7 million new HIV cases in 2019.
“Every day in the next decade decisive action is needed to get the world back on track to end the AIDS epidemic by 2030,” said Winnie Byanyima, UNAIDS’ executive director.
The worst regions for HIV’s spread were eastern Europe and central Asia, which together have seen “a staggering” 72 percent rise in new HIV infections since 2010, UNAIDS said.
New HIV infections also rose in the Middle East and North Africa, by 22 percent, and by 21 percent in Latin America.
The report said the COVID-19 pandemic, which emerged in China in January, has already “seriously impacted” the AIDS fight, with lockdowns and travel and trade disruptions delaying or halting HIV treatment and testing services.
It said a six-month complete disruption in HIV treatment could cause more than 500,000 extra deaths in sub-Saharan Africa over the next year, bringing the region back to levels of AIDS death rates last seen more than a decade ago, in 2008.