The Lebanese LGBT community celebrated a huge legal victory last week when Judge Rabih Maalouf failed to prosecute a gay couple for having sexual relations.
Though homosexuality is illegal in Lebanon, there is no actual law prohibiting it. Instead, gay men are prosecuted under Article 534, which states that “any sexual intercourse contrary to the order of nature is punishable” by up to a year in prison.
With no clear definition of “order of nature,” this law is open to interpretation. Maalouf’s ruling was partially based on Article 183, another penal code provision that protects freedom of expression.
“Homosexuality is a personal choice, and is not a punishable offense,” said Maalouf.
“The new ruling is remarkable but not unique, two similar rulings involving LGBT individuals . . . have already happened before in Lebanon,” Tarek Zeidan, a Lebanese LGBT rights activist, told the Washington Blade.
Zeidan said he has noticed the ruling has “drawn the attention of several religious figures and establishments.”
“This suggests that the frequency by which these rulings are coming is increasing,” he said.
Dr. Omar Fattal from the Lebanese Medical Association for Sexual Health (LebMASH) told the Blade he does not want Article 534 to “apply to homosexuality.”
“This ruling is very significant because the judge affirms that homosexuality is natural and specifically mentions that the world health organization (WHO) does not consider it an illness,” said Fattal.
“Homosexuality is technically illegal in Lebanon, however the new generation of judges are less likely to apply the law and the police forces will not reinforce it,” Georges Azzi, executive director of the Arab Foundation for Freedoms and Equality, told the Blade.
“In a sense that there is no active persecution of the LGBT community in Lebanon,” he said.
Azzi also pointed out that not everyone in Lebanon has these freedoms.
“As the law exists LGBT people are less likely to report any abuse they face because of their sexual orientation,” he said.
Mahjub, a gay man who lives in Lebanon, described the dual life many in the community live.
“They go partying every weekend in gay clubs but pretend to be straight in front of their families,” he said. “Legalizing homosexuality would be a first step towards a more tolerant society.”
Ruling “important step” for Lebanese LGBT community
Fattal told the Blade the “short term goal is to separate 534 from homosexuality by reminding everyone over and over again that 534 punishes sexual intercourse that is ‘against nature’ while homosexuality is a completely natural human behavior.”
“The decision of one judge does not engage and cannot be forced on another judge,” explained Azzi. “Its helps future cases in terms of argumentation but also in terms of creating a culture where judges feel comfortable making progressive decisions.”
“It is better to think of it as an important step to galvanize the community and demand more such rulings happen in Lebanon,” he said.