Newlywed Beatriz Moraes and Larissa Lopes show their rings after a collective wedding ceremony for 38 same-sex couples organized by "House 1", an NGO and residential shelter in São Paulo, Brazil December 15 2018. Picture: REUTERS/AMANDA PEROBELLI
Newlywed Beatriz Moraes and Larissa Lopes show their rings after a collective wedding ceremony for 38 same-sex couples organized by "House 1", an NGO and residential shelter in São Paulo, Brazil December 15 2018. Picture: REUTERS/AMANDA PEROBELLI

London — This week, Cuba dropped same-sex marriage from its new draft constitution in the latest setback in 2018 for LGBT+ rights as more gay couples hope to wed around the world.

But with LGBT+ rights increasingly in the spotlight around the globe, the year also saw some progress.

At the end of 2018, 25 countries recognised same-sex marriage, by the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA) data, up from 24 a year ago. Meanwhile, gay sex remains illegal in 70 countries, down from 72 a year earlier, according to ILGA.

Here are five of the advances and the setbacks for LGBT+ rights in the past year.

Advances

1. Gay sex was decriminalised in the world’s second-most populous country, India, when the supreme court struck down a colonial-era ban dating back 157 years on “unnatural offences” in September. The decision sparked celebrations across India, although activists cautioned there was still a long way to go to change socially conservative attitudes.

2. In Costa Rica, LGBT+ couples won the right to marry in 2020 after the top court ruled in August that the country’s ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional.

3. Next year, Thai same-sex couples could be able to get civil partnerships, with a bill due to be considered by the country’s cabinet before the end of 2018, a government official said last month. If it passes, Thailand would pip Taiwan to the post to become the first Asian country to legally recognise same-sex unions.

4. In September, Hong Kong said it would grant dependent visas to spouses in same-sex relationships. The decision came two months after the city’s top court ruled in a landmark judgment that a British lesbian should get a spousal visa.

5. Transgender people in Portugal no longer need to get a diagnosis of mental illness to legally change their gender, after a law was passed in April that also banned medically surgery on intersex infants.

Setbacks 

1. This month, Cuba became the latest country to block same-sex marriage by removing all references from a draft constitution after months of heated debate and opposition from evangelical churches. Same-sex marriage could still be included in Cuba’s family code, which is due to be updated in 2019.

2. Equal marriage campaigners also experienced a setback in Taiwan when voters endorsed the definition of marriage as between a man and a woman in a referendum in November.

3. In March, US President Donald Trump announced support for a plan to restrict the military service of transgender people with a condition called gender dysphoria, which would ban anyone who needs or has undergone gender transition from joining the military. A succession of judges has, so far, blocked the policy but the government has appealed to the US supreme court, which will decide early in 2019 on the next move.

4. In Tanzania, the regional commissioner of Dar es Salaam said gay people would be identified and arrested, which led to gay and transgender Tanzanians going into hiding. The government of President John Magufuli said this was not official policy but Denmark still withheld $10m in aid over the comments, and the EU said it was reviewing its relationship with the east African nation.

5. Indonesia’s LGBT+ community came under pressure with police breaking up gatherings and stepping up arrests, often using the country’s strict anti-pornography laws. In November a city passed a bylaw banning “acts that are considered LGBT”.

Thomson Reuters Foundation