Former High Court justice Michael Kirby has called on lawyers to help repeal laws that criminalise homosexuality in 41 of the 53 Commonwealth countries.
Addressing the Commonwealth Law Conference in Hong Kong last month, Kirby said gay law reform was an ongoing blind spot in the Commonwealth, which should do more to end criminal codes that punish adults for consensual, private homosexual acts.
They’re wrong because they oppress a minority in a community and target them for an attribute in their nature that they do not choose and cannot change, Kirby said.
Commonwealth lawyers, who combined to end racial discrimination, to reduce gender discrimination and to tackle other human rights issues, should now combine to remove this remaining unlovely legacy of the Empire.
While most older Commonwealth countries had repealed the anti-gay laws, the newer members that inherited those criminal codes had not. Others were introducing them -” Nigeria passed sodomy laws in 2006.
Homophobic vilification and vigilantism was rife in India, Jamaica, Nigeria, Uganda, Zambabwe, and Zambia, with laws set up to perpetuate such violence, Kirby said. The laws have also been misused for political persecution, such as the prosecution of Malaysia’s deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim.
They fly in the face of modern scientific knowledge about the incidence and variety of human sexuality and … they put a cohort of citizens into a position of stigma and shame that makes it hard to reach them with vital messages about safe sexual conduct, essential in the age of HIV/AIDS.
Kirby said it took a long time for him to recognise the harm these laws were doing, despite the fact he was in such a criminalised relationship.
When someone with special reasons to be enlightened is blind to perceptions of injustice and inequality, one can scarcely blame others for failing at first to see the need for change.