A recent ruling by a Metn judge that has set a new precedent for court cases against LGBT individuals was met with support from activists working on the case who called it a significant development. “It is a huge step forward for the sexual rights movement,” Ghenwa Samhat, executive director of Lebanese LGBT organization Helem, told The Daily Star Monday.
The Jan. 26 ruling by Judge Rabih Maalouf referred to the court’s role in protecting freedoms and safeguarding human rights in the ruling. Maalouf specifically invoked Article 183 of the Penal Code that states “the act committed is not considered to be a crime if exercised as a right without exceeding its limits.”
Samhat explained the ruling meant “a sexual orientation is not a crime. So that was a very progressive step.”
Helem works toward decriminalizing homosexuality and ending discrimination against people with nonnormative sexualities or gender identities. The group’s lawyer led the defense in the case and according to Samhat, Helem’s approach formed the basis for the ruling.
Those charged with homosexuality in Lebanon have largely been accused of breaking the law based on Article 534 of the Penal Code that prohibits “sexual intercourse against the order of nature,” which carries a punishment of up to a year in prison.
Samhat highlighted that there have been three previous rulings since 2009 where the court refused to apply Article 534. In these cases the judges looked to define “nature” and ruled similarly that same-sex relations were an exercise of personal freedoms. However, activists say that despite this existing precedent, the latest case represents real progress against the criminalization of sexual orientation.
“When it comes to this case it’s quite a success and quite progressive,” Samhat said. “[The judge] provided a legal approach that can be used by other judges in the future and it’s a very concrete ... justification.”
She added that the ruling also took an important step of invoking rights to privacy in the justification, “The judge actually talked about privacy of the individuals in Lebanon, that we should respect people’s privacy and this is a huge step forward. This has not been talked about before.”
Helem was at the forefront of the campaign that led a judge in Batroun to rule against the use of Article 534 in 2009. It also provided the basis for the 2014 ruling by Jdeideh court Judge Naji al-Dahdah that threw out a case brought by the Lebanese state against an unnamed transgender woman. Details of this most recent case have not been released.
Recent years also saw the Lebanese Psychiatric Society rule that homosexuality is not a mental disorder and does not require treatment.