Last week it was party time in Northern Ireland. On January 13th, same-sex marriage finally became legal there. Throughout 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 those videos several times over, and I got goose bumps and tears in my eyes every single time.

1 in 6

Meanwhile, there are about 30 countries in the world where we are allowed to marry each other. Today, 1.25 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 at a stretch – have been taking action, lobbying and sticking their necks 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 here.


Of course, the progress we’re making doesn’t always seem spectacular. There are many countries where, before we can even talk about same-sex marriage, we have to work on decriminalising homosexuality. This doesn’t always get a lot of attention from the press, but it’s 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. The United Kingdom abolished the law in the late 60s, but it continued to exist in many former colonies. 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, definitely, but also oral sex for example. There have been lawsuits by 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 would be ok only if the sucking was immediately followed by 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 get a bit more creative in the bedroom or limit the number of children they have. And so the law has not been used to punish heterosexuals in recent years.

For homosexual men and women, however, it has always been hanging over their heads like a sword of Damocles. Any country that does away with 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 success story. There are countries where the situation is actually worse than it was a few years ago. But if we don’t let that paralyse us, if we use it as motivation 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’ll be able to bring out the rainbow garlands and flags way more often.

This text is a translation of a text originally written in Dutch. The original can be found here: