Tunisia, a predominantly Muslim country has been debating social issues, including gay rights and may soon become the second African country after South Africa to legally recognise same-sex marriage. Just recently, the country’s leading lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and Queer (LGBT+) rights group won a four-year battle against the government and with that, the group believes it will win the same-sex relations battle it has been fighting.
Homosexuality is illegal in Tunisia and the law does not include sexual orientation or gender identity in its civil rights laws and there is no legal recognition for same-sex couples. Article 230 of Tunisia’s Penal Code of 1913 allows for prison sentences of up to three years for people who have homosexual sex.
Gender inequality and a lack of openness towards diverse sexual orientations exist in every country however, they are more pronounced for the Muslim countries than in other countries. Tunisia has a Muslim population ratio of 97 percent. Religious and cultural beliefs have stifled people’s ability to accept change but this is likely to change in Tunisia.
In 2015, the Tunisian government went to court to block the LGBT+ advocacy group, Shams, saying that the correct process had not been followed when the group registered. The court ruled in favour of Sham and the matter which was taken to the court of appeal was upheld on Monday, May 20, 2019. This means that the court has recognized that LGBT rights advocacy is a legitimate human rights work.
According to the director of Sham, Mounir Baatour the court victory would help Sham’s campaign to legalize same-sex relations, it also validates the legal right of Shams to fight against Article 230 and confirms the right for Shams to fight for the rights of LGBTQI+ people in Tunisia. He spoke to Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Tunisia has been facing tensions between what is religiously acceptable and what is socially right. The country is very conservative when it comes to social issues and homosexuality and the LGBT human rights movements are frowned at. LGBTQ and its cohorts, cross-dressing are seen as decadence and Immorality even when cross-dressing is not expressly illegal in the country.
In August 2017, Tunisia’s President Beji Caid Essebsi set up the Individual Freedoms and Equality Committee (COLIBE). By 2018, a 300-page report suggesting reforms to advance women’s rights and civil liberties, including decriminalizing LGBT+, in Tunisia were produced.
“The state and society have nothing to do with the sexual life amongst adults … sexual orientations and choices of individuals are essential to private life. Therefore the commission recommends cancelling article 230 since it violates the self-evident private life, and because it has brought criticism to the Republic of Tunisia from international human rights bodies.” the report had stated.
Following the acceptance of the LGBT+ advocacy groups and the suggestions of COLIBE, the push to end gay sex, and in turn, gay marriage has become harder. With Essebsi, who believes that the will of the people and the supremacy of law should be upheld rather than religion, remain in office as the president of Tunisia, There is still a chance that same-sex relations would be decriminalized.
Right now, the convictions for same-sex relations are already rising in the country. It rose by 60 percent in 2018 to 127 from 79 in 2017, and this 2019, more than 25 convictions have already been recorded in the first quarter of 2019.