Lebanon, rejoice. A judge in the Metn area has issued, according to the legal agenda, what most Lebanese would consider one of the more liberal decisions to happen in the country in a long time by declaring that “homosexuality is a personal choice, and not a punishable offense.”
Of course, people were quick to start the celebrations. The ruling, which was championed by LGBT-rights advocate NGO Helem, is a step forward without a debt. But it remains, more or less, symbolic in a country where the actual constitution still stipulates that consensual sexual relations between two consenting adults who happen to be of the same gender unnatural is still there. This judge’s decision is limited to the jurisdiction of his court and could be overruled by Lebanon’s supreme court if they please because of the presence of the aforementioned article 534 in Lebanon’s penal code.
This is also not the first time that a Lebanese judge issues a decision regarding homosexuality as not being “unnatural.” The first time – and the actual pioneering step in this aspect – was through a judge in Batroun (home state pride!) in 2009. The second time was also in the Metn area, back in January 2014. The third time was in January 2016 when a judge allowed trans-people to legally change their genders.
Another milestone was a 2013 decision by the Lebanese Syndicate of Psychiatry to remove homosexuality off the list of mental health disorders, which has been the case in scientific literature since the 1970s. 40 years late, perhaps, but the move was still the first in the entire Middle East and Northern Africa region.
The common denominator for all previous three rulings is that they remain limited to what the judge in question decreed, because the penal code is unchanged and, thus, homosexuality is still a “crime” in 2017, in the Middle East’s most liberal country.
The ramification of that is that, despite how excellent and pioneering those rulings are, the state and its backwards policemen can still target LGBT people using article 534 and subject them to all kinds of human rights abuses.
And while the ruling is to be commended, the language it uses further perpetuates the commonly-held stereotype, even among LGBT-friendly individuals, that homosexuality, or any non-heterosexual behavior, is a “personal choice.” It’s not a choice. It’s how someone is built. One does not choose their sexual orientation the same way one doesn’t choose the country they’re born in. It’s really that simple.
One of the main problems facing further changes in mentalities towards the LGBT community today in the country and the region is the fact that education about the topic is severely lacking, many people believe the religion they were born into is enough reference about the particular topic and politicians that we vote for couldn’t care less about the issue to begin with.
Exhibits from Facebook comments on the latest posts about the Metn judge’s ruling:
Moving forward, we have to enable more LGBT-friendly parliament members to get to power by showing them that Lebanese progressives are as active voters as the conservatives they wish to court every single elections. And we cannot be content with important but essentially trivial rulings that can be overruled at any moment when our constitution still thinks being gay is an abomination. The core is rotten, and that’s what needs to be fixed still.
It’s great to see movement on LGBTQ issues even though the pace is so slow that it almost feels stagnant. The one thing I wanted to put out there is that it shouldn’t matter whether or not sexual orientation is a choice. By saying “we don’t choose this” we imply that it’s an adverse/inferior state that no one would willingly identify with, hence we can’t “blame” them. Also while many people go through life closeted and living double lives due to multiple factors, many others simply choose to widen their range of attraction beyond the dominant hetero-normativity. So in a way, it can sometimes be a choice (but I would never use the word “lifestyle”, which is often used to demean or pathologize that choice). I think choice should have no bearing on their right to love who they want and be protected by the law. Just something to think about…
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