Tunisia is the birthplace of the Arab Spring and has so far been the only affected country not to crush those demanding change, reverted back to authoritarian government, or become a failed state. The values of human rights, equality before the law and democratic elections were the promise of the Arab Spring and whilst human rights and democratic elections have been enshrined in the country’s new constitution, equal treatment for different groups of people has been harder to come by. However this appears to be changing for the better.
One of the issues currently dominating the political discourse of Australia is whether or not the country should legalise same-sex marriage. The actual substance behind this discussion is not the question in most people’s minds, as poll after poll has shown a healthy majority of Australians in support of marriage equality. Indeed, in recent weeks the case has become even more overwhelming as, although opponents of equality often cite their sincerely held religious beliefs, a poll by Galaxy Research found that a majority of Christians in Australia supported equal marriage. Rather than policy substance, the debate has shifted to how equality is introduced. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has said that there will be a non-binding postal vote plebiscite on the issue and some have since argued that such a vote should be boycotted. I would strongly recommend not to do that.
Described by some as the Mediterranean’s ‘liberal paradox’, the small island state of Malta has embraced LGBT rights at some one the fastest paces in the world despite its majority Catholic population. Same-sex cohabitation were first regulated in 2012 and civil unions were legalised in 2014. The Civil Unions Act of 2014 guaranteed that gay couples had all the same rights as married heterosexual couples including the right to jointly adopt children, a freedom that in many states where same-sex marriage was legalised earlier took many more years to achieve. Malta has now gone one step further and legalised same-sex marriage, only three years after civil unions were first introduced.
A few days ago German Chancellor Angela Merkel signaled that she may drop her opposition to a vote on marriage equality after she said at a debate that her party was discussing the issue at length. At this same debate Merkel argued that she favoured a conscience vote on the issue. Almost all the Chancellor’s political opponents support marriage equality and after her announcement sought to gain political capital from her decision. They pressured for a snap vote on the issue and, much to my surprise, she permitted one.
LGBT people across England, Scotland and Wales have been getting married for up to four years now but marriage equality has still yet to be achieved in Northern Ireland. A number of separate attempts have been made to legalise the practice through legislation at Stormont, but so far all have been unsuccessful. These attempts include one vote where a majority of MLAs backed same-sex marriage but didn’t pass because of a unionist petition of concern. However it does appear that political leaders in Northern Ireland are beginning to change their tune as public opinion has shifted. Although the existing dispute goes largely down green and orange lines, some unionist politicians seem to be softening their stance.
In some European countries the idea of legal same-sex marriage is largely uncontroversial. For instance the Netherlands has had equal marriage since 2001, it being the first nation in the world to act. However the more eastward one travels, the more socially conservative countries appear to be on LGBT rights. I contend that 2017 will be an important year because it could be a watershed moment in the history of the European gay liberation movement. Evidently I may have been proven correct already as there has been progress in some parts of Europe in this very area. But even more can be made this year given the changes in public opinion in some European countries.
Taiwanese LGBT campaigners are hopeful that the country may soon embrace same-sex marriage, making Taiwan the first country in Asia to do so. The optimism comes in the wake of the suicide of Jacques Picoux, a gay professor at the National Taiwan University. Picoux’s story is heartbreakingly familiar. He and his long-term partner, Tseng Ching-chao, were living together but following his death, Picoux was not given the same legal recognition in relation to inheritance and shared assets. The story has galvanized public opinion, and activists now believe that marriage equality may soon come to the country.