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Former British Colonies to Consider Axing Anti-Gay Laws

by Rod McGuirk
Tuesday Oct 18, 2011
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Leaders of former British Empire countries that continue to outlaw homosexuality will be asked next week to reverse their bans in a bid to reduce their disproportionately high HIV infection rates, an official said Tuesday.

Leaders of 53 countries will meet in the western Australian city of Perth for three days in the biennial Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting.

The meeting’s agenda will include a recommendation to legalize homosexuality, said Michael Kirby, Australia’s representative in the Commonwealth Eminent Persons Group.

Of those countries attending, 42 still outlaw homosexuality, including Malaysia, which is prosecuting its opposition leader, and many African and Caribbean countries. Host Australia and Britain itself long ago repealed their own bans on gay sex.

Kirby, an openly gay retired High Court judge, blamed the British influence on former colonies for high rates of HIV-AIDS. Most of these countries outlaw homosexual practices, which the rival French Empire legalized in 1791.

"It’s a very special British problem, and the problem is it makes it very difficult to get messages about HIV out," Kirby told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio.

"You need to remove the criminal laws. That is what the Eminent Persons Group is suggesting at the ... meeting next week," he added.

The Malaysia-chaired 11-member advisory group was established at the last summit in 2009 to make recommendations to reform the Commonwealth’s institutions. The representatives express personal views that do not necessarily reflect the views of any government.

Malaysia’s law banning sodomy is the basis for prosecuting opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, who faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted of sodomizing a 26-year-old male former aide. He denies the charge.

Australian Federation of AIDS Organizations executive director Rob Lake said the Commonwealth forum represents 30 percent of the world’s population but more than 60 percent of HIV-AIDS cases.

He said there is evidence in Africa and elsewhere that laws against homosexuality drive gay men underground and out of reach of sexual health campaigns.

"They create a stigmatizing environment in which gay men hide what they do and who they are so they don’t access diagnosis for HIV, treatment or preventative measures" such as condoms, Lake said.

The Australian government forced the repeal of the last state laws against gay sex in 1997.

All countries represented at next week’s forum are former British colonies except for Mozambique and Rwanda.

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