The UK’s equalities minister, Jo Swinson, has written to the authorities in more than 70 countries and foreign jurisdictions in an attempt to clarify the rights of gay and lesbian people who are working or travelling abroad.
The main question asked is does their national and regional governments recognise British civil partnerships and marriages between same-sex couples, and what rights gay people can expect when they travel.
Swinson has also urged those countries that need to make legislative changes to reflect recent developments in British law around equal marriage to do so.
“One of the things we committed to do in the coalition agreement is recognising that for gay people who are in a civil partnership or now have got married, and who are travelling, working or studying abroad, for them to know what their rights are in that country and ideally to have their partnership or marriage recognised would make a big difference.”
However, she acknowledged that the list of jurisdictions contacted was limited and included many whose marriages and civil partnerships are recognised by the UK.
At present the Government Equalities Office has no plans to contact all countries to urge them to recognise UK gay marriages and partnerships, though Swinson said the Foreign Office had encouraged British diplomats to raise the issue.
“They obviously make a degree of local judgment about when is the right time to raise these issues. Sad to say, there are plenty of countries where LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender] rights are in a dreadful state and the people in those countries themselves suffer greatly, and I’m not going to have rose-tinted specs to think that those countries are going to rush to recognise our same-sex marriages.
But there are plenty of countries that do have a much more positive approach, and there’s no reason why they shouldn’t recognise our partnerships.”
Following the implementation last year of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act and Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Act, same-sex couples in England, Wales and Scotland can choose to enter into marriages or civil partnerships, which give the same legal rights. Northern Ireland law permits civil partnerships, but does not allow same-sex marriage.
Ruth Hunt, chief executive of the charity Stonewall, said the government move was encouraging
“It’s also important to remember the bigger and more complex picture of international rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people. There are still 77 countries where same-sex relations are illegal. Five of these countries impose the death penalty for being gay. There’s still so much left to do to create a safer environment for lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people – both here and abroad.
Stonewall worked with human rights defenders from over 30 countries in 2014, and we hope to continue sharing our knowledge and experience with these groups to ensure they know how to campaign in their countries most effectively for change.”
The UK recognises gay marriages in the 19 countries that allow them, while same-sex partnerships in 54 other countries and territories are recognised as civil partnerships in Britain.
Countries and territories that recognise UK same-sex marriages and civil partnerships
Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Iceland, Isle of Man, Jersey, Luxembourg, Malta, Mexico, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland
(Source: UK government Equalities Office)
Countries and jurisdictions contacted by government to clarify their position on recognising UK same-sex marriages and civil partnerships
Andorra, Australia, Austria, Bermuda, Chile, Costa Rica, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Ecuador, Estonia, Falklands, Greenland, Israel, Italy, Liechtenstein, New Zealand, Nepal, South Africa, Thailand, Uruguay, US (50 states, plus District of Columbia, and five overseas territories = 56 jurisdictions)
(Source: UK government Equalities Office)
Countries in which homosexual acts are illegal
Algeria, Angola, Botswana, Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Comoros, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Ghana, Guinea, Kenya, Lesotho, Liberia, Libya, Malawi, Mauritania, Mauritius, Morocco, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Senegal, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Swaziland, Tanzania, The Gambia, Togo, Tunisia, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe
Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Brunei Darussalam, Burma, India, Iran, Kuwait, Lebanon, Malaysia, Maldives, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Syria, Turkmenistan, United Arab Emirates, Uzbekistan, Yemen
Latin America & Caribbean
Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Belize, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, St Kitts & Nevis, St Lucia, St Vincent & the Grenadines, Trinidad and Tobago.
Kiribati, Nauru, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu
Cook Islands (New Zealand), Gaza (in the Occupied Palestinian Territory), South Sumatra and Aceh province (Indonesia)
Countries in which the legal status of homosexual acts is unclear or uncertain