Lebanon is well-known for being a a center for liberal values. Beirut’s fantastic nightlife and freely dressed women can seem worlds away from the conservatism prevalent elsewhere in the region.
Yet even in “the Paris of the Middle East”, strict moral codes often dominate, restricting women’s rights and putting pressure on the freedoms of the LGBT community.
A new ruling looks set to turn the tide on institutionalised homophobia, however. The Lebanese Court of Cassation last week judged that homosexuality cannot be considered a criminal act, as it is a “natural right”.
In the landmark case, Judge Rabih Maalouf ruled that a gay couple could not be prosecuted for having sexual relations, because "homosexuality is a personal choice, and is not a punishable offence."
Previously, members of the Lebanese LGBT community had been imprisoned for up to a year under Article 534 which bans sexual relations that “contradict the laws of nature”.
The decision is a controversial one in Lebanon, where many continue to adhere to strict interpretations of their respective religious laws. An online backlash followed the ruling, with many social media users calling for severe punishments for the defendants.
Still, the ruling was hailed by some as a historic decision, which could pave the way for Lebanon to be one of the first Arab nations to decriminalize homosexuality.
Lebanese journalist, Diana Moukalled tweeted her joy at the news:
كل الاحترام للقاضي ربيع معلوف الذي تحدى السلطات الدينية وحكم بأن المثلية حق طبيعي وليس جريمة.— diana moukalled (@dianamoukalled) January 31, 2017
هناك حملة بدأت ضده فكل التضامن معه .. #لبنان
Complete respect for Judge Rabih Maalouf who challenged religious control by ruling that homosexuality is a natural right and not a crime… A campaign has been launched against him, so all my solidarity goes to him.
While a Sweden-based page supporting LGBT rights in Arabic lauded the decision:
لبنان والشعب اللبناني مع قرار سماح المثليه والتحول الجنسي وإعطاء مجتمع ال LGBTQ حريتهم واختيار شريك حياتهم pic.twitter.com/cDtalatheA— LGBTQ+ | العرب (@LGBTQarabic) January 31, 2017
Lebanon and the Lebanese people support the decision to allow homosexuality and transgender people, and to give the LGBT their freedom and the choice of their life partner.
A Qatari fashion designer and feminist campaigner, Tamader As-Sultan, also tweeted her support:
Congratulations to Lebanon! https://t.co/VQTLpCmjB9— تماضر السلطان (@TamaderJS) January 31, 2017
The LGBT community faces prejudice across the Middle East, with four countries handing out the death penalty for “sodomy”, and many others imprisoning those found guilty of homosexuality. Just last week a gay Tunisian couple were jailed for owning women’s clothing, and in November Morocco arrested teenage girls for “hugging and kissing.”
Last year, a demonstration was held outside Hbeish Gendarmerie in Beirut to protest against laws which criminalise homosexuality, the first such protest in Lebanon for four years. Following this decision, it seems as if their voices might have been heard.
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