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Homosexuality is an intimate interest or sexual attraction to members of one’s own gender. This term has been known for many years, appearing during different times and within different cultures. Homosexuality was a common occurrence in ancient Greece and Rome but it is still raising controversial discussions throughout the world during many years. Usually, homosexual relationships are perceived as unnatural and sinful in the majority of Muslim and Judeo-Christian communities.
Attitudes and policies concerning homosexuality have changed greatly over the course of the last 200 hundred years and they still vary from country to country. The positions towards expression of one’s sexual and relationship preferences usually depend on the socially and culturally acceptable patterns of behaviour and the notions of what is considered appropriate within a particular society or country. Throughout the years, there has been a conflict between people that accept individual’s choice of sexual preferences and those that disapprove of homosexual expressions. In the past, certain societies and cultures considered same-sex relationship a cultural norm whereas other implemented severe punishment and medical treatment for homosexual people.
The history of global policies concerning same-sex relationship went through many stages. Generally, the process of accepting homosexuality as a norm is more spread and supported in the countries that are considered more developed. In contrast, in the countries that are poorer and more religious, the acceptance is lower. What is more, young people tend to express more tolerance and acceptance towards this sore subject, than the old ones. Nowadays, the support for homosexual rights is increasing throughout the world and countries begin to recognise same-sex marriage legally, introduce anti-discrimination laws and other policies. In order to get a deeper insight into the matter, current article will consider different policies concerning homosexuality in the United Kingdom, Saudi Arabia and Russia. These countries share certain similarities and present the general attitudes towards homosexuality across the globe.
Politics of Homosexuality in the United Kingdom
The politics concerning homosexuality in the United Kingdom have dramatically developed over time and still has many variations depending on the jurisdiction. As in any other country, in the UK, Christianity and homosexuality were always in conflict. For many years same-sex intimate relationships were considered sinful, they were outlawed and, under the Buggery Act introduced in 1533 by Henry VIII, they were punishable by death. The last two men convicted to death for sodomy in 1835 were James Pratt and John Smith (Cook et al. 2007). The Offences against the Person Act was introduced in 1861 cancelling the death punishment for homosexuality, but same-sex relationships were still considered illegal and usually punished by imprisonment. The laws in regard of the notion of homosexuality were extended in 1885 under the Criminal Law Amendment Act, which started including any sexual activity between two men. Oscar Wilde was imprisoned and sentenced to two years of penal labour under this law (Cook et al. 2007).
In the 1950s, the laws that prohibited sexual relations between men were actively enforced and people were imprisoned under the legislation of that time. For example, there was a resonant case of a mathematician Alan Turing, who was arrested in 1952 for the indecent behaviour. As an alternative to going to prison, he chose to undergo a course of medical treatment that included chemical castration. Unable to cope with the stress and pressure, Turing committed suicide in 1954 (Cook et al. 2007).
In 1954, the Wolfenden Committee was created in order to review the UK laws concerning homosexuality. Three years later, the famous Report of the Departmental Committee on Homosexual Offences and Prostitution, or as it is also called, the Wolfenden report, was published concluding that homosexuality is not a disease as there are no other symptoms and mental deficiencies present in homosexual people. Later, the report was discussed in the Parliament and the majority supported the most important statements presented in the report. In order to implement them, the Homosexual Law Reform Society was created in 1958 (Jivani 1997).
First steps towards decriminalisation of homosexuality were made in 1965, when Lord Arran and Humphry Berkeley spoke of it in public in the House of Lords and in the House of Commons accordingly. As a result, the Sexual Offences Act was introduced in 1967 keeping the already existing prohibitions, but providing certain amendments concerning the homosexual act itself – it must be consensual, must happen in private and must happen between two individuals that are of the full legal age. Since such legislation was only acting on the territory of England and Wales, campaigns for equality were still carried out in other parts of the country. Scotland decriminalised same-sex relationship in 1980 by introducing the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act and Northern Ireland accepted the relevant legislation in 1982 (Jivani 1997).
Same-sex relationship as a civil partnership became legally recognised in the UK in 2005 after the Civil Partnership Act was introduced in 2004. According to this act, civil partnership is recognised as a separate union. Moreover, since 2011 it can take place in any part of the country and also in approved religious locations in both England and Wales. The notion of same-sex marriage, however, was discussed more thoroughly and for longer period of time. According to the Marriage Act of 1949, marriage was defined as the procedure that can happen only between a man and a woman. Furthermore, in 1971, the Nullity of Marriage Act was introduced clearly prohibiting same-sex marriages (Jivani 1997).
Thus, whilst civil partnership is recognised countrywide, the question of same-sex marriage legalisation differs in various regions of the country. In 2013, The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act was introduced allowing same-sex marriage in England and Wales and the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Act was introduced in 2014 allowing same-sex marriage in the region coming into the force in autumn 2014. According to the current legislation, same-sex marriage has all the rights and responsibilities of a civil partnership and is allowed to be performed on the approved premises including churches (Imperial College London 2014). However, the Church of England and the Church in Wales are prohibited to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies. The Northern Ireland Assembly has voted against recognition of the same-sex marriage in the region recognising such union as a civil partnership. According to recently accepted legislation, same-sex couples are able to adopt children and create families having access to the services that heterosexual couples do. Moreover, names of the partners now appear on the birth certificate (Imperial College London 2014).
The Sexual Orientation Regulations came into force in 2007 providing a prohibition of discrimination in the process of supplying goods and services on the basis of sexual orientation. Such particular legislation was accepted with huge discussion and controversy arising disputes between the government and the Catholic Church as it contradicted the main moral values of the church doctrines. In 2010, the Equality Act was introduced with the purpose of codifying the complex system of existing Acts and Regulations that form the basis for anti-discrimination legislation on the grounds of homosexuality. According to this act, the equal treatment to any individual should be provided regardless of their gender, race, sexual orientation, religion, age and disability. It also allowed civil partnership ceremonies on the grounds of England’s and Wales’ religious venues (Imperial College London 2014).
The movement for equal rights for homosexual people has been developing in the UK for many years. One of the first organisations established with the purpose of implementing equality was called Homosexual Law Reform Society and it was created in 1958 in response to the findings of the Wolfenden Report. The first politician to openly state her non-traditional orientation was Maureen Colquhoun, who was the member of the parliament in 1974-1979. Homosexuals were allowed to work in the police, and, as a result, in 1990, the Lesbian and Gay Police Association was created (Imperial College London 2014).
Nowadays, there are communities throughout the country hosting annual pride festivals and promoting equality. According to the survey carried out in 2007 by YouGov, 90% of British citizens supported the legislation that would ban the discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation. In addition, this particular public survey showed that homosexuals are generally positively perceived by the society, regardless of the already existing prejudices (Muir 2007). In 2009, the poll carried out by Populus showed that the majority of the citizens supported same-sex marriage and believed that homosexuals should be granted the same marriage rights (Populus 2009). The laws and policies concerning homosexuality that were introduced by the government are widely supported by the public and did not cause any negative effect on the country’s well-being, granting them as progressive and successful ones.
Politics of Homosexuality in Saudi Arabia
Unlike the United Kingdom, Saudi Arabia does not recognise the rights of homosexuals, and the topic itself is a taboo. Expressions of the non-traditional orientation in the country are punished by imprisonment, tortures, chemical castration, as well as by corporal and capital punishments. The legal system of Saudi Arabia is more conservative, comparing to the UK one, and it is usually guided by the royal decrees and legal opinions provided by the Muslim judges. The thesis released by the Saudi judicial board in 1928 stated that homosexual relationships are the same as fornication and should be punished by stoning a person to death or by whipping and banishing for a year (Keihani 2005). Such facts put Saudi Arabia aside from other developed countries that tend to show more acceptances towards homosexuality over the recent years.
According to the Saudi legislation, the sodomy is proved either by having the perpetrator confess it for four times or by testimonies provided by four honourable Muslim men who witnessed the act. However, if there are less than four witnesses or if one of them is not trustworthy, they all are to be punished for slander. Until today, there is no clear information on how many people were executed for sodomy in Saudi Arabia over the years (Keihani 2005). There has been official statements regarding imprisonment and death penalty for men accused of homosexual relations. Within the country, the Committee for Promotion of Virtue and The Prevention of Vice (CPVPV) is operating, bringing the criminal charges accusing the people of sodomy.
One of the loudest cases with the participation of CPVPV occurred in 2010 when a Saudi man was fined and whipped for appearing in an amateur gay video and sentenced to five years in prison. However, in the recent years, if a person is sentenced to a death penalty, the charges include not only homosexuality, but also rape, theft or murder (Keihani 2005). Judging from the perspective of any developed country, the methods and policies implemented in Saudi Arabia seem to be rather obsolete and to contradict the internationally acknowledged human rights.
According to the Saudi Constitution, a person is not entitled to the right of privacy and the government can search any home, vehicle or other place, as well as intrude into the process of the personal communication. Additionally, unlike the United Kingdom, there are no laws against hate crimes or discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. It is illegal to advocate the rights of homosexuals in the country. Same-sex civil partnership or marriage are not legally recognised in the country and might be a reason for initiating the criminal proceedings (Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada 2007). It is even planned by the Gulf Cooperative Countries to ban homosexual foreigners from entering the country, which is potentially able to cause a lot of scandals and controversy.
In addition, unlike the UK, the censorship is severe in the Saudi Arabia banning any information that can be considered offensive to Islam or the royal family, excluding the possibility of any outside information on the issue from getting into the country (Keihani 2005). Newspapers are allowed to refer to the themes of the non-traditional sexual orientation only as a part of discussing crimes, or providing the AIDS-HIV statistics within the kingdom. Nevertheless, the issues connected with sodomy, cross-dressing and homosexuality are only referred to as immoral and illegal ones that are the part of the Western decadence and do nothing more than spread criminality and disease (The Refugee Documentation Centre of Ireland 2012).
According to the beliefs and laws spread in Saudi Arabia, it is a taboo for even a heterosexual couple to show their affection in public. The controversial thing is that it is common for the ordinary men to express signs of affection in public – for example, kissing on the cheeks while greeting each other as the public regards it as a symbol of respect and friendship rather than homosexuality. In 2010, there was a controversial case when the first secretary of the Saudi consulate in Los Angeles Ali Ahmad Asseri, applied for an asylum in the United States on the basis of his sexuality. After Saudi authorities discovered that he was gay, they terminated his job and did not renew his diplomatic passport. The Saudi government repeatedly required Asseri’s return to the country and he feared for his life (Whitaker 2010). The controversy of this case was deeper than just the secretary’s public confession of his orientation, since it also infringed on the political relations between the US and Saudi Arabia.
After analysing, all the above mentioned information, it is obvious that Saudi Arabia is somehow torn between wanting to how the Western world their civilised image and between the need of keeping their traditional religious beliefs and legal setting. It is what distinguishes them in terms of homosexuality policies, and the situation is not likely to change. Unlike the rest of the world, the government of Saudi Arabia is not in a hurry to support the rights of homosexuals, or even to inform the public about this notion. In four Arab countries, including Saudi Arabia, homosexual act is punishable by death, people are persecuted for women-like behaviour, even though the government is trying to conceal these facts in order not to jeopardise the international relationships. Such laws, however, are unlikely to change, even due to their ineffectiveness. It is due to the fact that the influence of religion and traditional values on the life of the Saudi society is too big.
Politics of Homosexuality in Russia
Russia sometimes appears to be even more controversial than Saudi Arabia in terms of the country’s homosexuality policies. The country is of interest in the matter because, from the one side, it is trying to appear more open and civilised, but in fact, the conservatism in Russia concerning the non-traditional orientation is flourishing as ever. Throughout the country, gay people experience social and legal challenges and discriminations. Officially, same-sex activity was decriminalised in 1993, but there are no contemporary laws prohibiting discrimination of the grounds of sexual orientation or expression (Kon 2011). In 1716, a ban on male homosexual relations in the army was introduces by Peter the Great aiming at modernising Russia. In 1832, Nicholas I introduced a legal amendment that officially banned any form of sex act between two men. There was no official ban on female homosexuality or cross-dressing, but they were also considered immoral and were punished by other laws (Kon 2011).
During the Soviet times, homosexuality was criminalised in many republics and it was associated with individual’s backwardness. In the 1930s, the Stalin regime put a strict censorship on the themes of homosexuality. The policy concerning same-sex relationship was harsh and homosexuality was considered a disease that was punished by imprisonment, medical treatment and social stamping. Soviet propaganda depicted homosexuality as a fascist occurrence or even a right-wing conspiracy that is not only immoral, but brings serious health consequences. What is more, it was expected of any soviet person to have a heterosexual family regardless of their sexual preferences and the people that were thought to express homosexuality in public were expected to be removed from society (Kon 2011).
Just like in Saudi Arabia, soviet censorship banned all materials with even slightest hints of describing homosexuality. The survey conducted in 1989 has confirmed the high levels of homophobia in the country proving that homosexuals were probably the most hated social minority of that time. The exact number of individuals prosecuted for homosexuality during the Soviet era is considered to be about 1000 individuals each year (Kon 2011). After the USSR broke, new legislation was introduced legalising the homosexual acts, but it did not mean that the previously convicted individuals were released from jails. What is more, such legislation was introduces after the Russian government was pressured by the Council of Europe. Generally, Russian government tends to ignore all the issues connected with the discrimination of homosexuals in the country (Resource Information Center 1998).
In the recent years, the politics that Russia conducts concerning homosexuality provoke a lot of controversy and discussion not only within the country but abroad as well. Russia is trying to present an image of a developed country that welcomes freedom of any kind, but the actions taken by the government and the president Putin speak otherwise. The attempts to conduct Pride marches in Moscow were usually welcomed with aggression, banned by the court decisions and generally condemned by the Russian society. In June 2013, the government unanimously passed a federal law banning the distribution of homosexual propaganda (BBC News 2013).
Thus, any public demonstration in favour of homosexual rights support, defence of these rights or distribution of any kinds of materials connected with the non-traditional sexual orientation were made illegal, setting the question of human rights support in Russia back decades. After this law was introduced, a series of similar laws was passed in the regions of the country prescribing such punishment as administrative sanctions or fines for the occurrences of homosexual propaganda (BBC News 2013).
Such occurrence raised a lot of discussions and controversy in the world and resulted into some countries boycotting the Winter Olympic Games that took place in Russia. One might state that such law was a result of the strikingly high levels of homophobia in Russian society. According to the survey conducted in 2013, vast majority of Russians (74%) think that homosexuals should not be accepted by society with 16% believing that homosexuals should be isolated, 22% stating that homosexuals should undergo a medical treatment and 5% believing that gay people should be liquidated (Smith 2011). The current Russian legislation allows neither same-sex marriages nor civil unions. Russian politics and officials are openly against same-sex marriage and it is unlikely that the situation shall change in the nearest future (BBC News 2013). Moreover, hate crimes committed on the grounds of individual’s sexual orientation are not addressed by any law in Russia being perceived as the bias motivated crimes. All the above mentioned happenings can be explained by the pressure of the public that is not yet ready to accept homosexuality as something ordinary and existing everywhere.
Contemporary society slowly comes to terms with the issues of homosexuality, and there are still countries whose policies on the matter are far from the civilized ones. Whilst there is a broad acceptance and tolerance towards homosexuality in the UK, the US, Canada and other contries, the rejection is still widespread in many parts of Asia, in Muslim countries like Saudi Arabia and in Russia. The policies that exist in these countries are able to quite precisely reflect the global situation on the matter. In the UK, Russia and Saudi Arabia, the society’s attitude towards homosexuality has not changed greatly over the recent years. Regardless of the fact that both, the UK and Saudi Arabia have similar form of government and are known for their conservatism, the policies on homosexuality in these countries differ greatly and the situation is likely to remain the same in the upcoming years. Of course, it can be explained by the fact that just like any other European country, the UK provides full access to the information on homosexuality, unlike Saudi Arabia that censors that kind of data as inappropriate and harmful. What is more, religion plays lesser role in the political life of Britain than the one of Saudi Arabia. Concerning Russia, religion officially is not a part of a legal system but it still plays a major role in the life of the country and strongly influences the policies concerning homosexuality.
According to the survey, carried out in 2013 by Pew Research Center, as much as 76% of British citizens support the view that homosexuality should be accepted by the society, whilst only 16% of Russians support this idea (Pew Research Center 16%). Russia and Saudi Arabia share one similar trait in the policies connected with homosexuality – is that they tend to ignore them, as well as the opinions of other countries on the matter. There were numerous attempts of such organisation as Amnesty International to change the situation in these countries and to make them recognise the violation of the rights of homosexuals as the violations of the basic human rights (Amnesty International 2013).
Regardless of the fact that in the past many cultures did not recognize the homosexuality as something to be punished for, many conservative communities believed that such occurrence deserved death penalty. The tolerance towards the people with same-sex sexual orientation varies from country to country, gaining more support in Europe, the Americas and Oceania. The countries that are economically poorer and are considered as the ones that are still developing have lower levels of tolerance towards homosexuality and it can be changed only by raising awareness and informing the public on the issue. However, there is still a long road ahead in increasing the awareness and tolerance towards each other’s choice and freedom.
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