LGBT people in many societies are subjected to discrimination, abuse, torture, and sometimes execution. For many human rights violations, there exist laws under which countries punish perpetrators of such abuses.
For LGBT people in most countries, abuses perpetrated against them are not viewed as human rights violations. Some countries, such as Iran and Saudi Arabia, have laws calling for the execution of “practicing homosexuals.”At least 40 countries criminalize same-sex behavior for both men and women, and an additional 35 or more criminalize it just for men.Countries most recently in the news in this respect include Uzbekistan, India, Nigeria, and Saudi Arabia.
In many Muslim countries, both civil law and shari’a the rules governing the practice of Islam criminalize homosexual activity. Police abuse of LGBT people is common in many places, including the United States.
Many countries legalize and condone discrimination in housing and employment. Laws providing citizens with benefits, including those in the US, do not provide equal benefits to LGBT couples. For example, a report by the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) documented more than 1,000 benefits, rights, and privileges that the federal government provides to opposite-sex married couples but not same-sex couples, including taxation and social security survivor benefits.
Protections under the law are similarly lacking. Thirty-four of the 50 US states and the District of Columbia do not prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Twenty do not have “hate-crime” laws that include sexual orientation among their protected categories. Protection for transgender identity is even more limited.
Legal marriage conveys many additional benefits and protections to couples. Only a few governments (to date, Canada, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Spain) recognize LGBT rights to marry and form a family.South Africa, which in 1996 became the first country to include sexual orientation in its Constitution as a status protected from discrimination, is expected to allow same-sex marriage by the end of 2006.In Brazil, where state and federal laws prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation, inheritance rights are provided to same-sex couples.
Several European countries (Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland, the UK, France, Germany, Switzerland, Portugal, Slovenia, Croatia, and Iceland) as well as Israel and New Zealand have some benefits for same-sex couples, but not equal to those for heterosexual couples.
Within the US, only one state (Massachusetts as of May 2004) grants civil marriage rights to same-sex couples; however these are only the rights provided by the state, not the more than 1,000 federal benefits mentioned above. California, Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Maine, New Jersey, and Vermont have either civil unions laws or other domestic partnership laws to provide some benefits to unmarried couples (again, not equal to marriage rights).
In the human rights arena, major international human rights organizations have only committed to including the rights of LGBT people within the past decade or so. Human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch now have campaigns to address LGBT human rights violations. Specialized LGBT human rights groups have been active for much longer.
For example, the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) has existed for the past 16 years to secure the full enjoyment of the human rights of LGBT people and communities subject to discrimination or abuse on the basis of sexual orientation or expression, gender identity or expression, and/or HIV status. Likewise, for the past 28 years the International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA) has been fighting for equal rights for LGBT people.