Last week it was party time in Northern Ireland. Since January 13th, same-sex couples can finally get married there. On Facebook and Twitter you could see videos of LGBTI+ people counting down to midnight to hug, to kiss and to propose to each other. I watched the movies several times and every time I got goose bumps and tears in my eyes.

1 in 6

In the meantime there are about 30 countries where we are allowed to marry each other. Today, 1,250 billion people live in a country where same-sex couples can say “YES” to each other. And we should be happy and proud of that, because 20 years ago we literally had nowhere to go. All over the world, LGBTI+ people and associations – often for years – take action, lobby and stick their neck out at the risk of being ridiculed or excluded. For a sixth of the world’s population this has led to success.

And it doesn’t stop.


Of course, the progress we’re making doesn’t always seem spectacular. There are many countries where, before we can talk about same-sex marriage, we first have to work on decriminalizing homosexuality. That does not always get a lot of press attention, but it is very important for the LGBTI+ activists in those countries. And fortunately there is progress to be seen. India did it in 2018, Botswana and Angola last year. And Bhutan is currently taking “unnatural sex” out of the penal code.

Unnatural sex

Like many other countries that were part of the British Empire, the criminal law in Bhutan is based on the British penal code. So the ban on ‘unnatural sex’ was also part of it. At the end of the 60’s, the United Kingdom abolished the law, but in the former colonies it often continued to exist. The law itself was not only targeting homosexuals. In Sri Lanka (one of those other former British colonies) the law states: “Whoever voluntarily has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal, shall be punished…”.

To blow or not to blow

Aritha Wickramasinghe, a lawyer from Sri Lanka whom I recently met, explained to me that essentially all sex that was not intended for procreation was targeted. Anal sex anyway, but also oral sex for example. There have been lawsuits of women (often because they wanted a divorce) who wanted to see their husbands convicted “because he had asked her to give him a blowjob”. Unnatural sex.

The judges then ruled that this only was ok if immediately after the sucking there was also sex for the purpose of procreation. The blowjob shouldn’t be too much fun, because if the man came right away (and no more vaginal sex followed), he would have committed a criminal offence. Masturbate together or jerk someone off? Criminal. And even the use of contraceptives actually fell under the law.

Sword of Damocles

In practice, of course, homosexual men and women were the main victims of these laws. Officials, police and judges are usually heterosexuals who want to be a bit more creative in the bedroom or limit the number of children they have. And so the law has not been used in recent years to punish heterosexuals.

For homosexual men and women, however, it always hung over their heads like a sword of Damocles. Any country that deletes this kind of law is a country where we can finally speak openly and freely. And make love.

Celebrating victories

I know. It’s not just a story of success. There are countries where the situation is not as good now as it was a few years ago. But if we don’t let that paralyse us, if it motivates us to continue the fight with even more energy, then that LGBTI+ friendly world is getting a step closer every day. So let’s celebrate every victory, no matter how small. I hope that in 2020 I will be able to bring out the rainbow garlands and flags very often.

This text is a translation of a text originally written in Dutch. As the translation is generated by machines, not all translations will be perfect. The original can be found here: