In many of the world’s countries, anti-gay laws are still profoundly illiberal and repressive and it’s often fairly easy to see why:  religion, of which the most notorious of all is Islam.  I have the deepest and sincerest respect for anyone who is gay - even secretly gay - and lives in, for example, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Iran or any of several other Middle-East states.

It’s just as bad in huge swathes of Africa, too, where being gay can result in Islam-inspired persecution, victimisation, imprisonment, mutilation, torture or even death - or a blood-curdling combination of some or all of these things.

A Roman Catholic or Orthodox tradition is also often the progenitor of the repression of gay people.  Italy, Poland, Russia, Romania and Bulgaria all have a peculiarly harsh, Victorian attitude to homosexuality and are obstinately defying European trends to liberalise their law.

There are occasional, and sometimes puzzling, exceptions, though.  By Islamic standards, the laws of Turkey are oddly accepting of gay people; rainbow flags fly unmolested from gay bars in İstanbul as in London or Amsterdam.

Catholicism, too, does not always guarantee institutionalised homophobia.  Argentina has recently introduced gay equality legislation of a very high order and is quickly becoming the world’s centre for exotic gay wedding ceremonies - and their accompanying celebration parties (as you can see in posting 345).

Ireland - about as deeply Catholic as you can get - has some of the oldest and most liberal gay laws in Europe.  Spain, too, has freed its gay people to live openly - and marry if they want to - without any noticeable backlash from the general population.

All of which means that being gay is no longer an issue in...Ireland, Spain, Germany, Denmark, Holland, the UK, Norway, Sweden, Finland or Iceland, as well as in Canada, Australia, South Africa, Argentina and New Zealand.

Western Europe’s main - and least explicable - exception to the ongoing trend of gay law reform is France.

Its new President, Francois Hollande, promised to introduce gay equality law when he was elected - and has kept his promise.  But I have been genuinely surprised by the very vocal and hate-filled protests that have taken place there as a result.

Being gay and ‘out’ in either France or Italy isn’t exactly easy.  Both countries have a hopelessly outdated idea of ‘masculinity’ and sexuality.  The frankly bizarre Silvio Berlusconi just about says it all for Italy but French attitudes are more difficult to explain.  This is a nation, remember, that embraced revolution - and its ideals of ‘liberty, equality, fraternity’ - over 200 years ago.

Opinion polls in France seem to suggest that most of its people have no objection at all to M Hollande’s proposals to legalise gay marriage (even though he has become a deeply disappointing  - and thus disliked - President).  What is worrying, though, is the stridency and sheer loudness of its opponents and the terrible street-violence it has engendered.

The photo above is of Wilfrid de Bruijn, a Dutchman who lives in Paris.  He and his boyfriend were attacked on their way home from a friend’s house there last Sunday night.  The assault has thankfully made national news in France, a country whose people hate, almost more than anything else, to feel ashamed of being, and embarrassed to be, French.

The French Parliament has passed the gay marriage bill into law.  This summer should see the first gay weddings in French history - a measure of equality long overdue in what is otherwise an enlightened, liberated and friendly country that I love very much indeed.

But please spare a thought for Mr de Bruijn, his boyfriend and all the other embattled gay people of France who still suffer at the hands of a noisy minority of religious bigots on a daily basis.


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