The Netherlands was the first country to legalize same-sex marriages in 2001. Since then, same-sex marriages have become legal in Belgium in 2003, Spain in 2005, Canada in 2005, South Africa in 2006, Norway in 2009, Sweden in 2009, Portugal in 2010, Iceland in 2010 and Argentina in 2010.
Still, many countries continue to prosecute homosexuality. China's government considered homosexuality a mental disorder until 2001. Mobs in Senegal have disinterred bodies of men they believe were gays and dragged them through the streets. In Egypt, laws prohibiting "shameless public acts" have been used to imprison gay men, reported by AP.
The Catholic Church also is stridently against homosexuality. Two months ago Pope Benedict XVI denounced what he called the gay marriage lobby in America in a speech to visiting U.S. bishops and urged them not to back down in the face of "powerful political and cultural currents seeking to alter the legal definition of marriage."
President Obama’s historic endorsement in support of same-sex marriage could begin the debate in Latin America as well as around the world.
The U.S. is divided on the issue; however, the majority of Americans, 52 percent, favor same-sex marriage. Still, Obama’s move is a risky politically. Not surprisingly the Catholic Church and conservative politicians have responded negatively, despite the fact that many countries have progressed in the last 10 years toward social justice and civil rights equality on gay issues.
Countries that are predominately Catholic and Muslim internationally continue to be against homosexuality in general in countries like the Philippines, Mexico, and Egypt.
In Muslim-dominated Egypt, laws forbid same sex relationships; and gay men have been imprisoned for what they call “shameless public acts.”
Israel takes a more liberal approach, although strict Jewish law still forbids same-sex relationships. The Union for Reform Judaism (formerly known as the Union of American Hebrew Congregations) supports the inclusion of same-sex unions within the definition of marriage. The Jewish Reconstructionist Federation leaves the choice to individual rabbis.
In Australia there are three bills that would allow gay marriage that have been introduced in Parliament; Prime Ministersaid she won't be following Obama's lead. She has consistently opposed gay marriage, though many members of her Labor Party support it.
The United Kingdom is advancing slowly, but in September 2010, the Liberal Democrats, the junior member in the governing coalition, became the first major political party to formally endorse same-sex marriage, when the party's conference in Liverpool approved a policy motion "Equal Marriage in the United Kingdom." In February 2011, the government expressed its intention to begin a consultation to allow both religious same-sex ceremonies and civil marriage for same-sex couples. In September 2011, the government announced its intention to introduce same-sex civil marriage by the next general election.
The ripple effect of President Obama’s brave move in support of same-sex marriage will certainly be felt around the globe, setting a precedent for forward-thinking democracies willing to recognize marriage equality and social justice for all their citizens.
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