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US ruling lifts hopes of Asia gays

/ 05:00 AM June 29, 2015
Filipino religious leader Cresencio Agbayani, left, leads LGBT (Lesbians Gays Bisexual and Transgenders) couples during a "Rite of Holy Union" ceremony in Quezon City on Sunday, June 28, 2015. A small Christian ecumenical group performed its own "wedding rites" for about a dozen gay and lesbian couples in a basketball court in the Philippine capital although such same-sex unions are not legally recognized and rejected by the dominant Roman Catholic Church in the country. Organizers said Sunday’s rites had a special relevance following the landmark US Supreme Court ruling on gay marriage.  AP PHOTO/AARON FAVILA

Filipino religious leader Cresencio Agbayani, left, leads LGBT (Lesbians Gays Bisexual and Transgenders) couples during a “Rite of Holy Union” ceremony in Quezon City on Sunday, June 28, 2015. A small Christian ecumenical group performed its own “wedding rites” for about a dozen gay and lesbian couples in a basketball court in the Philippine capital although such same-sex unions are not legally recognized and rejected by the dominant Roman Catholic Church in the country. Organizers said Sunday’s rites had a special relevance following the landmark US Supreme Court ruling on gay marriage. AP PHOTO/AARON FAVILA

LONDON—The landmark US Supreme Court ruling in favor of same-sex marriages has no legal force outside the United States, but gay rights activists in many parts of the world believe the court ruling will help their cause.

In the Philippines, in Australia and elsewhere, gay rights advocates think the US ruling may help change attitudes, just as American activists—and judges, educators and legislators—had earlier been influenced by the easy acceptance of same-sex marriage in some European countries, where the laws were changed smoothly without much fuss.

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In today’s wired world, political movements cross national boundaries in the blink of an eye, and the trend toward legal acceptance of same-sex marriage is gaining pace, though still rejected outright in some parts of the globe.

The United States is neither a laggard nor a leader in this movement, which reflects a fundamental change in public views in many parts of the world, but the ruling of its highest court is expected to have a ripple effect elsewhere.

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In the Philippines, activists seeking to win legal recognition for same-sex marriages believe the US ruling will be useful, particularly since the country’s legal setup is largely based on the US system, said Sylvia Estrada-Claudio, a gender rights advocate and professor at the University of the Philippines.

“This ruling will have positive repercussions for our own movements here,” Claudio said.

The Philippines’ civil code limits marriage to a union between a man and a woman—but the constitutionality of this proviso is being challenged by a lawyer, Jesus Nicardo Falcis III.

Gay rights activists in other Asian countries are also upbeat about prospects for a change following the US ruling.

“Following the legalization of same-sex marriages in European countries, the decision in the US strengthens the sense that this is the inevitable way of moving forward, and South Korean politicians will be required to express their thoughts on it,” said Han Ga-ram, an openly gay human rights lawyer and activist in South Korea.

In conservative China, Li Yinhe, a leading Chinese sexologist who has long urged Beijing to legalize same-sex marriage, said the US ruling “will have a big impact on China and may promote the legalization of same-sex marriage” in the country.

In Thailand, one of the most tolerant countries in Asia for gays and a top gay tourist destination, the draft of a new constitution under the military junta that took power last year contains a clause aimed at protecting the rights of gay and transgender people.

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“With this new example set by the US, we will surely move forward,” said gay rights activist Nates Teerarojjapongs.

Countries are taking different routes to the same conclusion: The US pathway relied on a Supreme Court ruling to establish that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry, while Ireland last month used a popular vote that showed strong public backing, despite the country’s deep Catholic roots.

Influence is a two-way street. Five years ago, Argentina became the first country in Latin America to legalize gay marriage. Activists there said they believed their example helped influence the United States, and that Friday’s US ruling would in turn shape attitudes and actions in other Latin American countries.

“The US decision will have a big impact in other countries,” said Esteban Paulon, president of the Argentine Federation of Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals and Transsexuals, adding that his organization contributed documentation to US legal groups arguing the case before the Supreme Court.

“Sometimes US influence is negative, but we believe in this case it will be positive and accelerate the process of approving gay marriage in other parts of the world,” Paulon said.

Twenty-one countries now allow same-sex marriage, according to the Pew Research Center, and Mexico permits it in some states, with many other countries offering various legal rights that fall short of marriage to same-sex couples.

In most of those countries, well-organized advocacy groups are lobbying for full marriage rights.

These movements, and start-up campaigns incubating in other countries as well, may get a real but hard-to-measure boost from the US Supreme Court.

In Australia, where parliament may vote on a same-sex marriage law later this year despite opposition from Prime Minister Tony Abbott, legislators who back the measure said the US ruling leaves Australia alone among developed, English-speaking nations in its refusal to legalize marriages between same-sex couples.

Opinion polls show backing for the measure has increased in Australia in the month since Ireland endorsed same-sex marriage.

Opposition leader Bill Shorten—capitalizing on the momentum building in other countries—introduced the bill in parliament just days after Ireland voted.

He said on Saturday that Australians should see the US ruling as “a call to action.”

Legislator Janet Rice, Greens Party leader, called the US ruling “the loudest call yet for marriage equality in Australia.”

Still, staunch opposition remains, with Australian Marriage Forum president David van Gend calling the US Supreme Court decision proof of “moral dementia.”

“We must not let that happen here,” Van Gend said.

At gay pride parades in Dublin, Paris and other cities on Saturday, the US ruling was hailed by many as a watershed.

“Soon in all countries we will be able to marry,” said Celine Schlewitz, a 25-year-old nurse taking part in the Paris parade. “Finally a freedom for everyone.”

The US ruling boosted street celebrations on Saturday in Dublin, where Ireland mounted the biggest gay rights parade in the country’s history.

Led by rainbow banners and drag queens, more than 60,000 people paraded through Dublin at the culmination of a weeklong gay rights festival in the Irish capital.

While the mood was already high following Ireland’s referendum last month to legalize gay marriage—becoming the first nation to do so by popular vote—many marchers said the US Supreme Court decision provided a bonus reason to celebrate.

Decriminalization

In other countries where gay sex is treated as a crime, beleaguered activists said they took heart from the US ruling even though same-sex marriage was not on the horizon.

In most cases, activists seek to decriminalize homosexuality before pressing for marriage rights and other benefits.

In the deeply conservative Arab world, where homosexuality is regarded as a crime in many countries, some clerics warned that the US ruling would lead to the collapse of civilizations.

In Jordan, where homosexuality is not illegal but is considered taboo, one member of the small gay community said the US ruling was “a victory for human rights in general and gives everyone hope.”

He is hopeful same-sex marriage will one day be legal in Jordan.

“In this region, we are going through the dark ages, and when we come out, we will move toward full rights,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he feared the consequences of being identified as gay.

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TAGS: Asia, gay rights, gays, Same-sex marriage, US
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