Peers in the House of Lords have called on the British government to push for all Commonwealth countries to decriminalise homosexuality following criticism for the Commonwealth charter’s “vague” anti-discrimination clause.
The first openly gay Conservative Peer, Lord Black of Brentwood, led a debate on the issue on 13 March, and emphasised a “link” between the criminalisation of homosexuality and the spread of HIV and AIDS.
Several peers raised the fact that the recently signed Commonwealth charter does not mention LGBT people in its anti-discrimination clause.
Earlier this week, Queen Elizabeth II signed the Commonwealth charter, which has come under fire from LGBT rights advocates, as it reads: “We are implacably opposed to all forms of discrimination, whether rooted in gender, race, colour, creed, political belief or other grounds,” but does not specifically mention LGBT people.
Homosexuality is a criminal offence in 41 of the 54 nations that make up the Commonwealth. Two Commonwealth countries currently permit the death penalty for homosexuality, five impose life sentences and one permits the use of torture by flogging.
Lord Black spoke against laws discriminating against gay and lesbian people, and described them as a “monument of man’s humanity to man”, and went on to argue that they could “make the difference between life and death for many who are sick now and who are yet to be born”.
Labour Peer Baroness Gould of Potternewton, who is also the president of the Family Planning Association, said that gay men and women in a lot of Commonwealth countries were sometimes “unable to seek advice or support because they then have to admit to an illegal act”.
Lord Collins of Highbury, the shadow international development spokesperson, said the UK was a “beacon” for LGBT rights, but went on to say that “domestic progress is not enough”.
He went on to criticise the charter for its “vague terms” of anti-discrimination.
The International development spokesperson Baroness Northover said: “The government cannot neglect this group of people who are most marginalised.”
She went on to note the link between anti-gay laws, and the spread of HIV and AIDS saying: “Public health is assisted in promoting the rights of homosexuals but it is also right in itself.”
The Bishop of Newcastle said it was “clear” that “if criminalisation leads to many living in fear, that is wrong”.
Peter Tatchell wrote that the Queen’s silence on gay rights excluded and disrespected gay people, and that by not mentioning it, the monarchy ”is homophobic – if not by conscious intent, then certainly by default.”