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Thursday 9 May 2013

Guess who has gay rights in its constitution?

Map of the Republic of the Congo.
Even if you have gay rights  written into a country's constitution you don't necessarily have protections for gay people.

This truism is well understood in South Africa, where the constitution which came in with the ANC famously has sexual orientation as a protected class. Yet South Africa also has high levels of violence against LGBT and strong societal hostility. You can get gay married but your likelihood of getting gay bashed is higher there than, say, in Mississippi, where unless the Supremes rule otherwise is likely to be the last US State to go for equal marriage (according to Nate Silver).

I just learned something which double underlines this point. Another African country has sexual orientation in its constitution, you'd be shocked to read (I was) that it is -- drumroll: The Republic of The Congo, also known as Congo (Brazzaville). Gasp.

They've had it since 1995, when the constitution was rewritten following the introduction of multi-party democracy.

I learned this from 76 Crimes, a website I've praised before which covers LGBT rights outside the 'West'.

This factoid comes from the US State Department's Human Rights Report which, 76 Crimes notes, shows that life for gay people in Central Africa is that little bit better than elsewhere in Africa.

It is a slight stretch because I've read reports about gay life in other African pockets being slightly better (written one, here's Côte d'Ivoire). Something notable is the connections loosely between CAR, Chad and the Congos being that they're the bits Britain didn't colonise.

The French haven't criminalised homosexuality since the 18th Century, so they didn't impose criminalisation on their colonies, note.

Here's the State Department note, which makes the constitution thing sound even more bizarre in the detail and explains further on how the constitution thing apparently makes b'all difference (and yes I did look to find out how it ended up there in the first place, got nowhere so I can only guess they just copied the then new South African one and no religious nutters noticed what was in it).
Republic of the Congo

The constitution prohibits discrimination based on, sexual orientation. There was a small openly gay or lesbian community due to the social stigma associated with consensual same-sex sexual conduct. A law promulgated during the colonial era and still in force prohibits homosexual conduct and makes it punishable by up to two years’ imprisonment; however, the law was rarely enforced. The most recent arrest under this law was in 1996.

There were no known cases of violence against gays, lesbians, or transgender individuals during the year. Although homosexual activity is generally stigmatized by society, overt intimidation was not believed to be a factor in preventing reports of incidents of abuse.

There was no known advocacy group or organization representing the interests of gays, lesbians, or transgender individuals in the country, and homosexuality remained a private subject.
The full reports on human rights in those countries are available at

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