It's a very special year for Fouad from Lebanon and André from Brazil, who chose to celebrate love in Switzerland in September 2018.
This is unusual news to many Lebanese who've been reacting on a video shot during the wedding ceremony. The video reflects attendees who appear to be friends, relatives and parents of the grooms and celebratory applause while the couple joins the officiant on stage.
Civil Rights in Lebanon
Until date, heterosexual couples are unable to engage in civil marriage, noting that personal affairs are dealt with in Lebanon's religious courts, although civil rights groups have been constantly calling for the establishment of political marriage and its separation from the personal status law. In short, a Lebanese citizen's religion can determine some of the most personal choices and decisions such as marriage, divorce, or adoption.
In the last decade, Lebanon's LGBTQI+ movement has been thriving. Article 534 of Lebanon's penal code condemns sexual relations that "contradict the laws of nature", but opinions split between judges with some opting to decriminalize homosexuality and calling for a public clarification of this article that is often used to arrest and exploit members of the LGBTQI+ community. Earlier in September 2018, officials put pressure on human rights organization "Arab Foundation For Freedoms and Equality" to cancel a conference on diversity and inclusion, although the freedom of assembly is constitutional.
Democracy and Human Rights
The Lebanese constitution, in its preamble, states that "Lebanon is a parliamentary democratic republic based on respect for public liberties, especially the freedom of opinion and belief, and respect for social justice and equality of rights and duties among all citizens without discrimination". However, Lebanese citizens have been subject to a series of arrests relating to their sexual orientation, gender identity, or even views shared on social media. One of those arrested for investigation was activist Hadi Damien, who was ordered to shut down Beirut Pride's 2018 series of events. At the United Nations General Assembly 2018, Lebanon's president bragged about Lebanon being a founding member of the United Nations and advancing the human rights agenda on the national level. Human rights organizations often denounce gaps in Lebanon's systems in protecting its citizens from abuse, including homophobia and transphobia.
A Culture of Fear and Hate
In Lebanon's majority of conservative areas, bringing the subject of LGBTQI+ is controversial and can lead to discrimination and exclusion. Online, an important mass of Lebanese social media users normalize negative comments and hate speech, which was the case on Fouad and André's video. Some classified it as "catastrophe" or "social pollution", while another minority showed its support and endorsement.
In public and private religious schools, gender identity and sexual education are still considered taboo, and are not officially integrated in Lebanon's educational system. With significant lack of information, awareness and dialogue, the qualities of tolerance and acceptance are hard to be acquired by adolescents and future generations.
A country where human rights are enjoyed by all
Lebanese educational institutions must encourage gender and sexual education in their premises, delivered to girls and boys starting adolescence and in consideration with their age and capacity.
Lebanese faith leaders and representatives must be self-aware of their rhetoric and how they choose to preach their audience, taking into account that hate speech can have severe repercussions on both intrapersonal and interpersonal levels.
Lebanese lawmakers and parliamentarians must contribute to the full implementation of the Lebanese constitution in line with ratified international conventions, preventing human rights abuses and building a culture of human rights and freedoms by amending or passing laws that aim to protect the rights of vulnerable and/or marginalized groups including LGBTQI+.
Lebanese government institutions must enforce the rule of international law in line with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights ratified by Lebanon since its establishment in 1948, and must condemn any pressure on the rights of citizens.
At the end of the day, human rights are universal and indivisible, it's all or nothing.
About the author: Samir Chalhoub is currently the Policy and Advocacy Coordinator at World Vision in Lebanon. He is also a talk show host on Noursat TV, and the editor of Middle East Sight. He's a holder of a B.A. in Social Work and Community Organization from the University of Saint Joseph in Beirut, and is an M.A. candidate in Foreign Policy and International Cooperation at the Institute of Political Science. He is a strong advocate for human rights, social justice issues, and marginalized groups in Lebanon. His articles do not necessarily reflect the views of his employers.