UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon [official website] called Saturday for gay rights reform [UN News Centre report] throughout the international community. Praising Malawian President Bingu wa Mutharika [official website] for his Friday decision to pardon a gay couple recently sentenced to 14 years in prison on sodomy charges, Ban stated [speech text] that the UN cannot "stay quiet when people are denied fundamental rights - whatever their race or faith or age or gender or sexual orientation." Gay rights have been a contentious issue [Economist backgrounder] in both developed and developing nations, with more than 80 countries criminalizing homosexuality. The issue is especially prevalent in Africa where over 70 percent of countries criminalize non-traditional sexual orientation, with some charges carrying the death penalty. Although Mutharika pardoned the two men on their convictions of "indecent practices between males" and "unnatural offences" at the behest of the secretary-general, the president expressed his disapproval [AFP report] of homosexuality, calling it "totally wrong" and against the culture and traditions of Malawi. Mutharika's statement echoes the current tone of the African Union (AU) [official website], which Malawi now heads. The secretary-general will face an uphill battle with AU member-countries as most nations, although "secular," have prevalent religious leaders and strong public support for anti-gay legislation. Ban held that discrimination based on sexual orientation is not in line with basic international human rights, and heads of state must take action to reform their laws to meet UN standards for the protection of this fundamental right.
While African nations have been slow to protect gay rights, several other regions have recently passed legislation expanding the rights of homosexuals. Earlier this month, the Argentine Chamber of Deputies [official website, in Spanish] voted 126-109 in favor of a bill to legalize same-sex marriage [JURIST report] in the country. The bill would also give gay couples the right to adopt children, one of the bill's more controversial provisions. Portugal quickly followed suit two weeks later when President Anibal Cavaco Silva [official website, in Portuguese] signed a bill [JURIST report] that legalizes same-sex marriage but stops short of allowing same-sex couples to adopt. In April, the Philippines expanded political rights for the gay community when the Supreme Court [official website] ruled [JURIST report] that a prominent gay rights organization may field candidates in the upcoming national elections as an accredited political party. This progress is not reflected in recent legislation of many African nations. The secretary-general's next stop is Uganda, where the government is currently considering legislation [JURIST report] that would prohibit the sale of property to homosexuals and charge individuals who fail to report homosexual activity.