Lebanese Court Says Homosexuality Is Not A Crime

Lebanon’s top appeals court has affirmed that homosexuality is not illegal, a landmark moment for LGBT groups in the country.

On Thursday, July 12, the Mount Lebanon appeals court upheld a lower court ruling that had found nine people not guilty who were arrested for same-gender sexual acts, saying that Article 534 of the Lebanese Penal Code doesn’t technically criminalize homosexuality. 

The Law on Unnatural Acts Does Not Apply

Regular readers of LGBT news stories will, by this point, be familiar with colonial era and other similarly religion-based laws that paint any sexual act outside of procreative sex as “unnatural” or “against the order of nature” or other similar wording. Lebanon has such a law, but what the court ruling noted here is that the law has never defined what it means by sexual acts that are “against nature” and therefore we must look to the original intent of the law. 

The Mount Lebanon appeals court found that while the article of the law certainly does ban some sexual practices, ”legislators had not intended to criminalize homosexuality” by virtue of this ban. Rather, they were trying to prevent “offence to public morals”.

The distinction, though it might sound like splitting hairs, is an important one because it rightly points out homosexuality was firstly never framed within the scope of the law.

The courts have therefore characterized same-gender relationships as “a practice of [citizens'] fundamental rights.” This isn’t the first time a Lebanese court has ruled in this way, but it is the first time that a court of this status has affirmed same-gender relationships, and for that reason the ruling may be a major step. 

It’s timing could also be particularly potent given recent clashes over LGBT rights.

Lebanon’s Complex Relationship With LGBT People

Among the host of Arab States, Lebanon is usually classed as a more socially liberal nation, and that particularly applies to LGBT people. While same-gender relationships are not honored in law and no discrimination protections are provided for LGBT people, a certain tolerance for same-gender relationships has existed in Lebanon that has meant a recognizable LGBT community has formed, and from that organizations have created social gatherings and growing discourse.

The fledgling Beirut Pride, for example, has been a major source of hope for LGBT citizens in Lebanon and even from surrounding countries. It was formed as a means to show visibility and solidarity. Unfortunately, in 2017 the Pride event was called off due to terrorist threats. This year’s event appeared to be safe however, and actually got underway with relatively little uproar. Sadly, that was not to last.

A day into the event in May, Lebanese authorities detained the organizer of a Pride week celebration and released him only on the condition that he cancelled the rest of the celebration. This meant the nine-day event was halted. The authorities did this under the pretense that the organizer, Hadi Damien, had not sought approval to have actors read a play that, they said, may have fallen foul of censorship rules. Mr Damien contends that he had sought approval but was told that because the play was not being staged or performed in the usual sense of the word, there was no issue.

At the time, campaigners said they feared authorities, rather than protecting LGBT people, were starting to bow to pressure from the many religious sects within the country to clamp down on LGBT people. Indeed, officials appeared to have acted on a tip by a religious group that had provided them a “distorted” program of events that painted the Pride event as sexualized and unsuitable for public staging. That authorities did not bother to investigate before acting is, however, entirely their own fault.

This ruling would appear to push back on that and prompts the government to take action to better meet the needs of its LGBT citizens. It also seems clear that private same-gender relationships have scope for protection under Lebanon’s guarantee of fundamental rights, and this ruling would also seem to bolster the case for a Pride event as a natural expression of that identity.

Whether government officials will see the ruling in this way is unclear, but it is hard to overstate how quietly powerful this appeals court ruling could be.

Photo credit: Thinkstock.

52 comments

Marie W
Marie W2 months ago

Thanks for sharing.

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Colin C
Colin C7 months ago

Today 6th September India has de criminalized homosexuality, so double good news. Way to go Lebanon and India

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Winn A
Winn A8 months ago

Good News!

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Leo C
Leo C8 months ago

Thank you for sharing

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Tania N
Tania N8 months ago

Thanks for sharing.

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Tania N
Tania N8 months ago

Thanks for sharing.

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Carol C
Carol C8 months ago

Glad to hear of the progress. Thank you for the post.

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Paulo R
Paulo R8 months ago

great news, ty

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Janis K
Janis K8 months ago

Thanks for sharing.

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Leo C
Leo C8 months ago

Thank you for posting!

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