December 16, 2013

You probably didn’t notice, but last week was a rather discordant week for the gays. One where the respect and dignity being afforded lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans stood in stark contrast to that of their counterparts elsewhere.

Edie Windsor, the plaintiff in United States v. Windsor (DOMA), celebrates at the LGBT Center in the West Village. (Richard Drew/AP)
Edith Windsor, the plaintiff in United States v. Windsor (DOMA), celebrates at the LGBT Center in the West Village. (Richard Drew/AP)

Edith Windsor, the elegant and unassuming 84-year-old force behind the Supreme Court case that resulted in the so-called Defense of Marriage Act being declared unconstitutional, was a runner-up for this year’s Time Magazine Person of the Year. “Now she’s the matriarch of the gay-rights movement,” the magazine correctly declared. Windsor lost out to Pope Francis, who said earlier this year, “if a homosexual person is of good will and is in search of God, I am no one to judge.” A breathtaking and welcome change in tone from the leader of the Catholic Church.

Windsor’s case set off a legal chain reaction that put committed same-sex couples on equal footing with their straight counterparts. This was most startling in the military, which two years earlier did away with the ban on gay men and lesbians serving openly in military. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s order that military ID cards be granted to same-sex spouses of service members had been  met with resistance in a few southern states with constitutional bans against same-sex marriage. Not anymore. The Pentagon announced a solution Friday. As The Post reported, “Slowly, the holdout states and the National Guard Bureau found workarounds to ensure equal treatment of service members without allowing their employees to process same-sex benefits.”

The death of former South African president Nelson Mandela gave LGBT Americans a chance to celebrate the life of a man whose push for reconciliation and equality proactively included LGBT South Africans. The Rainbow Nation’s first post-apartheid president ushered in a constitution that prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation. The only one of its kind in the world.

Dmitry Kiselyov (Mikhail Klimentyev/AFP/Getty Images)
Dmitry Kiselyov (Mikhail Klimentyev/AFP/Getty Images)

But as all this was happening, gays were suffering serious setbacks elsewhere.

The situation for LGBT people in Russia is widely known. The same day I told you about Russian journalist Masha Gessen’s plea to nations and organizations “to help [LGBT] people get out [of Russia] with their families,” Russian President Vladimir Putin cracked down harder. He dissolved the state news agency and created one headed by Dmitry Kiselyov, an outspoken homophobe who, according to the Moscow Times, had choice things to say about gay men and lesbians.

In April 2012, Kiselyov stated on his show that he believed anti-gay propaganda laws did not go far enough and that homosexuals should be banned from donating blood and sperm. Taking it even further, he said if a homosexual died in a car accident, his or her heart should be buried or burned, but never given to someone as a transplant since the organs would be “unsuitable for extending the life of another.”

When asked about Vlad Tornovy, 22, who was murdered in May after coming out as gay, Kiselyov explained that the problem was that homosexuals continue to “provoke” the majority. He added he did not regret his statement and that it is the people who organize gay pride parades who should be ashamed.

Gay rights activists attend a protest meeting after the top Indian court ruled that a colonial-era law criminalizing homosexuality will remain in effect in India. (AP Photo/Saurabh Das)
Gay rights activists attend a protest meeting after the top Indian court ruled that a colonial-era law criminalizing homosexuality will remain in effect in India. (AP Photo/Saurabh Das)

Gay pride parades happened all over India after a lower court in 2009 decriminalized same-sex relationships. Five days ago, that nation’s highest court overturned that ruling. The Indian Supreme Court held that it was constitutional to ban “carnal intercourse against the order of nature.” India doesn’t go as far as Russia in criminalizing the lives of its LGBT citizens and their families, but the line between them is thin and doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things. My colleague Swati Sharma raised a good question for the leaders of the world’s most populous democracy. “If there are major global movements to boycott Russia over its gay rights,” she wrote, “what will happen with India?”

And then I was taken aback to read on Friday about a setback for LGBT Australians. That nation’s highest court overturned a law in the national capital territory that allowed same-sex couples there to marry in October. Australia has had a version of DOMA since 2004. “That act is a comprehensive and exhaustive statement of the law of marriage,” the court said in a statement. The court ruled that marriage could only be changed by the Australian federal government. This won’t happen anytime soon. As the New York Times reported, two bills legalizing marriage equality have already been blocked by Australia’s conservative prime minister and his coalition.

The speed with which the anti-gay laws and sentiment in Russia have taken hold is startling. The court reversals in India and Australia are troubling. And gays in many other nations are facing just as serious or even worse circumstances as their governments and neighbors persecute and prosecute them because of who they are. It’s very easy for us to forget that here.

Follow Jonathan on Twitter: @Capehartj

Jonathan Capehart is a member of the Post editorial board and writes about politics and social issues for the PostPartisan blog.