No to the Article 534
Article 534 of the Lebanese Penal Code states that "sexual intercourse contrary to nature" is punishable for up to 1 year in prison. The article is used by the Lebanese ruling classes to criminalize homosexuality for ordinary people and block democratic debate on sexuality.
Article 534 is a product of French colonialism, in consideration of reactionary religious circles
This article was derived from French legislations during the so-called French "mandate" on Lebanon, which introduced the article into the Penal Code based on its consideration of conservative circles, and bias towards religious ideas and "family values" that rejected homosexuality. In order not fall in contradiction with the French law, homosexual acts were criminalized with imprisonment of up to one year only. On the other hand, we find that laws relating to homosexuality in countries that were colonized by Britain have a more severe punishment, where the penalty is capital punishment, in some cases.
Despite the lack of a definition to what is meant by "intercourse contrary to nature", many of the judiciary, security, and legal community read Article 534 as criminalizing homosexual acts.
According to the legal reading of Article 534, it includes the act of Sodomy, or any sexual intercourse between two men, which includes penetration. The article, theoretically and legally, does not apply to sexual practices that do not include penetration, and does not include sexual acts between two women.
Article 534 is applied in a discretionary and incorrect manner and prevents debates on sexuality
The presence of the phrase "contrary to nature" in the text of the article is problematic in defining the contrary to nature act, and poses a threat to liberties and rights. This ambiguous expression is reflected in implementation. For while this article, as we mentioned, does not include lesbian acts or same sex acts not entailing anal penetration, it has already been applied on women and men, despite medical reports proving the lack of penetration in the recent period.
The implementation of Article 534 of the Lebanese Penal Code remains limited to a few cases, and only five cases were recorded in the last five years. It appears that the real purpose of this article is to prevent stirring up a debate on the issue of homosexuality and sexuality in general.
Article 534 violates human rights conventions, the Lebanese constitution, and the essence of Lebanese laws
The continued existence of Article 534 under the Lebanese Penal Code is a clear violation of the human right to decide private affairs freely and without interference. It contrasts with many of the rights recognized in the Preamble of the Lebanese Constitution, such as respect for individual liberty, equality before the law, and the respect of the liberty and privacy of a home. Furthermore, the criminalization of homosexuality is a crime without a victim, in addition to its contradiction with principles enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, and other conventions.
Article 534 incompatible with modern scientific foundations
The association of unnatural acts with homosexuality contradicts modern scientific foundations, especially psychological and medical studies and research that removed homosexuality from the list of mental illnesses, something recognized by the World Health Organization on 17 May 1992, a date that was announced as “the international day against homophobia”.
Article 534 increases the risk of infection with HIV/AIDS and sexually transmitted diseases
In 2008, Helem worked on getting the support of the National AIDS Prevention Program (under the supervision of the Ministry of Public Health) to consider Article 534 as a barrier to communication with gay men and other men who have sex with men (MSM) in order to make them aware on HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases, because of legal discrimination and associated stigma in society, imposed by the above-mentioned law. It thus explicitly violates the terms of human rights conventions concerned with the right to health and other public services.
Article 534 promotes hatred and social and political marginalization
Retention of the article, particularly in its ambiguous text, promotes abuses and acts of hatred directed against homosexuals: from discrimination against homosexuals in employment, arbitrary dismissal, or in the field of housing, health, and social services, to political and financial extortion. It also keeps the subject of homosexuality among the restricted, banned, and taboo subjects, in line with the wishes of the political and religious elites that want to maintain a conservative society to be able to control it.
The application of Article 534 remains largely discretionary, where the poor get the largest share of acts of hatred and aggression, and of the total number of cases applying the article. Also, ruling differs between one judge and another, depending on the degree of leniency or fanaticism of the judge, in addition to the amount of "connections" of the accused.
Article 534 deprives a large segment from participation in society
The maintenance of the Article 534 and the accompanying assaults, physical punishment, acts of hatred, and violations of liberties poses a threat to the individual, on the one hand, and to society in general. On the psychosocial level, homosexuals remain in a constant state of anxiety and fear. At the community level, criminalization of homosexuals leads to the isolation and marginalization of a large section of society, denying them the right to exercise their role in the political, intellectual, cultural, and social life.
Article 534 has no place in the Lebanese law
We must work to repeal Article 534 of the Lebanese Penal Code, for it is based on restricting liberties, like much other legislation that impose strict control on peoples' private lives and thus limit their freedom of choice and reflects on their behavior.
It is worth mentioning that the abolition of Article 534 can be done through a case law issued by a judge. Despite this, we must strive to repeal the text from the Lebanese Penal Code since it does not only violate the rights of homosexuals, but sexual freedoms and private liberties in general. The use of generalized terminology in the law affects many segments of the population and maintains arbitrary and selective forms in dealing with such issues.
Prepared by: Hiba Abbani