LGBT rights in Georgia (country)

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Europe-Georgia.svg
StatusLegal since 2000
Gender identityChange of legal gender allowed, following sex reassignment surgery
MilitaryNo known policy
Discrimination protectionsYes, for both sexual orientation and gender identity
Family rights
Recognition of relationshipsNo
RestrictionsSame-sex marriage constitutionally banned
AdoptionNo

Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people in Georgia face legal challenges that non-LGBT people do not experience. Georgia is one of only a few countries in the former Soviet space (others being the EU-member Baltic states, and Ukraine) that directly prohibits discrimination against all LGBT people in legislation, labor-related or otherwise. Since 2012, Georgian law has considered crimes committed on the grounds of one's sexual orientation or gender identity an aggravating factor in prosecution.[1] Despite this, homosexuality is still considered a major deviation from highly traditional Orthodox Christian values prevalent in the country, where public discussions of sexuality in general tend to be viewed in a highly negative light. Consequently, homosexuals are often targets of abuse and physical violence, often actively encouraged by religious leaders.[2][3][4]

The Government tries to bring the country's human rights record in line with the demands of Georgia's European and Euro-Atlantic integration. Former Georgian Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili has stated that "sexual minorities are the same citizens as we are... [and that] the society will gradually get used to it."[5] Since 2014, discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity has been outlawed. Moreover, recent street tensions in the country over LGBT rights have generated unprecedented media coverage and public discussion of this previously neglected topic.

Legality of same-sex sexual activity[edit]

Both under Czarist rule and the Soviet rule, male homosexuality was prohibited in Georgia. In 1933, Article 121 was added to the Criminal Code, for the entire Soviet Union, and expressly prohibited male homosexuality, with up to five years of hard labor in prison. The precise reason for the law is still in some dispute. Some historians have suggested that Joseph Stalin's enactment of the anti-gay law was, like his prohibition on abortion, an attempt to increase the Soviet birthrate. The article was also used by Soviet authorities against dissident movements, with many activists being arrested on trumped-up sodomy charges.

After Georgia obtained its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, the aforesaid practice fell out of use and there are no recorded cases of sodomy article being openly used against political opponents ever since. Despite this, the freedom of same-sex sexual activity was not officially enshrined in the law until 2000, when the Georgian Government put in place an amended criminal code to meet the standards set forth by the Council of Europe and the European Convention on Human Rights.[6]

The age of consent for both heterosexual and homosexual sex stands at 16 years of age as set by the Georgian Penal Code, articles 140 and 141.[7]

Recognition of same-sex relationships[edit]

Georgia does not recognize same-sex unions, either in the form of marriage or civil unions. Since 2018, the Constitution of Georgia has defined marriage as a union of a woman and a man for the purpose of founding a family.[8] Although, there is an open discourse to recognize same-sex unions by introducing civil partnership for couples.

2016 constitutional reform crisis[edit]

In March 2016, the ruling Georgian Dream coalition proposed a constitutional amendment, which would define marriage as a union of a man and a woman. Although Georgia's Civil Code already defines marriage as a heterosexual union, thus effectively preventing same-sex marriages, the Constitution of Georgia was gender-neutral, specifying that "Marriage shall be based upon equality of rights and free will of spouses." That gender-neutral wording caused conservative elements in the Georgian society to worry that the Civil Code may be challenged and struck down in the courts, potentially paving a way for same-sex marriages.[9]

The proposed constitutional amendment caused a backlash from Georgian civil society and human rights organizations, which assailed the legislation as way of politicizing this sensitive issue and capitalizing on popular societal prejudices ahead of the upcoming 2016 parliamentary elections. LGBT activists also distanced themselves from suggestions that they would use constitutional ambiguity to seek same-sex marriages, noting that gays in Georgia face much more immediate and existential problems than marriage, such as "physical, psychological and verbal abuse and violence".[9]

The constitutional amendment caused a split within the ruling coalition itself, with members of the liberal-leaning Republican Party of Georgia campaigning against the initiative. The opponents pointed out that besides substantive considerations, the proposed constitutional ban is a futile move since it will very likely fail to garner enough votes to pass, as was the case with a similar proposal in 2014.[9]

After a month of public consultation, the proposal was considered in Parliament. Public meetings on the ban were scheduled from mid-March until April 15 in various cities throughout the country.[10] The proposal then required three hearings on two different sessions with at least a three-month interval in between them. For the ban to be successful, a minimum of three-fourths of Parliament, or 113 of the 150 MPs, must vote in its favor.[11]

The constitutional amendment passed the Parliament on 26 September 2017, establishing that marriage exists solely as "a union between a woman and a man for the purpose of creating a family".[12] It also does away with direct elections for president and switches to a system of proportional representation in Parliament. President Giorgi Margvelashvili vetoed the constitutional amendment on 9 October, describing it as an "anti-people constitution". Parliament overrode his veto on 13 October.[13] The constitutional amendments went into effect after the 2018 Georgian presidential election and the inauguration of President Salome Zurabishvili in 16 December 2018.

President Giorgi Margvelashvili had previously announced that Georgia would not hold a referendum on whether to ban same-sex marriage in the country's Constitution, saying he does not support the constitutional amendment because the Civil Code already bans same-sex marriage.[14]

Civil partnerships[edit]

In April 2017, several human rights organisations called on the Georgian Government to legalise same-sex civil partnerships.[15]

In April 2018, the Georgian Ombudsman urged the Government to allow civil partnerships for same-sex couples. Citing Oliari and Others v. Italy, he reminded the Government that not recognising same-sex relationships is a violation of the European Convention on Human Rights. He also criticised the constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, arguing that it would "increase hatred".[16]

Discrimination protections[edit]

Since 2006, Article 2(3) of the Labor Code has prohibited discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in employment relations.[17]

According to the amended Georgian Criminal Code (since 2012), committing crimes against individuals based on sexual orientation, among other things, is an aggravating factor that should result in tougher sentences during prosecution.[1]

On 2 May 2014, the Parliament approved an anti-discrimination law, banning all forms of discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. It took effect upon publication, on 7 May 2014.[18][19][20] Article 1 of the Law of Georgia on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination (Georgian: დისკრიმინაციის ყველა ფორმის აღმოფხვრის შესახებ, translit.: diskriminatsiis qvela pormis aghmopkhvris shesakheb) reads as follows:[21]

Hate crime laws[edit]

In spite of the legislative amendment to article 53 of the Criminal Code of Georgia, which ensures that bias motivated by the sexual orientation or gender identity of a victim may be taken into account as an aggravating circumstance when determining sanctions, there are still no official statistics about crimes conducted on sexual orientation or gender identity grounds in the country. According to the registered cases and conducted studies, it has become clear that the law prohibiting hate crime is not efficient.[22]

A study on discrimination among LGBT people in Georgia entitled "From Prejudice To Equality: study of societal attitudes, knowledge and information regarding the LGBT community and their rights" conducted in 2012 by the Women's Initiatives Supporting Group (WISG) revealed the following:[3] 32% of surveyed respondents had at least once experienced physical violence and 89.93% had experienced psychological violence. On average, among the 134 respondents, who had experienced psychological violence, 73.13% had become victims three or more times, 13.43% had experienced it twice, whereas 13.43% once. All six respondents from the 16-18 age group had admitted that at school they had often become victims of bullying.[22] Among 48 respondents, who had been victims of physical violence, 73% had never reported to police. Among the reasons for not reporting to police the following was mentioned ineffectiveness of police (21.62%), fear of homophobic treatment (29.73%), and failure by the police to treat the matter in a serious manner (21.62%). Among those who had reported to police, 46.15% were dissatisfied with this decision, as they experienced a homophobic reaction from the police, 30% admitted that the police acted in a friendly manner, while 23.08% stated that they were treated neutrally.

Gender identity and expression[edit]

Since 2008, transgender persons in Georgia can change documents and personal names to reflect their preferred gender after having undergone sex reassignment surgery.[23]

Discrimination on the basis of gender identity is outlawed.[18]

Blood donation[edit]

In July 2017, Georgia's Constitutional Court lifted a ban on gay and bisexual men donating blood, ruling that it was unconstitutional. In its ruling, the court pointed out that modern technologies allow for the detection of HIV/AIDS in donations, making a ban unnecessary.[24]

Previously, on 4 February 2014, the Constitutional Court also declared the ban unconstitutional. The ban stated that homosexuality was a restricting factor for donating blood. In response, the Health Ministry changed the wording to "men who have sex with men".

LGBT freedom of expression[edit]

An event in 2006 that was supposed to promote tolerance and cultural dialogue was canceled after rumours spread that it was supposedly a gay parade. The head of Georgian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Ilya, stated that any kind of rally which features LGBT people is "offensive".[25]

On 17 May 2012, Georgian LGBT organisation Identoba (იდენტობა) organized a peaceful march in observance of the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia. This was the first public march in support of LGBT equality in Georgia. The march was discontinued soon after it started, however, because the marchers were assaulted by religious counter-demonstrators, including representatives of the Georgian Orthodox Church and radical Christian groups.[26] Police intervened to protect the march participants only after the fighting had already broken out and arrested some of the victims instead of the perpetrators.[27]

Amnesty International criticized the Georgian Government for failing to effectively protect the march.[28] On 14 January 2013, LGBT organization Identoba and the participants of the march filed an application against Georgia with the European Court of Human Rights. The application claims that Georgia failed to effectively protect the participants of LGBT march and did not investigate or adequately punish the perpetrators.[29]

The 2013 observance of International Day against Homophobia was also met with aggression. LGBT activists scheduled a rally to mark the occasion; however, it never took place. Thousands of anti-LGBT protestors, led by Georgian Orthodox priests, held a counter-demonstration. Protestors carried images of Jesus and signs reading "Stop promoting homosexual propaganda in Georgia" and "We don't need Sodom and Gomorrah." Some women waved symbolic bundles of nettle to "beat the gay people", including one woman who labeled the rally a "gay parade" held by "sick people ... against our traditions and ... morals" and proclaiming her readiness to fight. Despite a heavy police presence, the protestors stormed the barricades protecting the pro-LGBT rally. At least 28 people were slightly injured, with many trapped in buses and nearby shops and homes that were attacked by the protestors. According to a video from the scene, the police saved one young man from an apparent lynching by several dozen people. According to the Georgian Young Lawyers Association, however, the state "failed to ensure conduct of the scheduled event ... and thus [the] rights of rally participants to assembly and manifestation were grossly violated." Observers indicated that the police allowed Orthodox clergymen and other demonstrators to enter the barricaded area and were, in private communications, cynical and humiliating to the rally participants. Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili, along with other leading officials, condemned the violence. He said, "The right to gather peacefully and to freely express one's opinion is fundamental to our democracy. Every Georgian citizen benefits fully and equally from this right. Acts of violence, discrimination and restriction of the rights of others will not be tolerated, and any perpetrators of such acts will be dealt with according to the law."[30][31][32][33][34][35]

Besides Identoba, Equality Movement (თანასწორობის მოძრაობა) is another Georgian LGBT advocacy group striving for equal human rights for LGBT people.[36]

In February 2019, it was announced that the first LGBT Pride Week and Tbilisi Pride would take place from 18 to 23 June in Tbilisi. The event would include a "March of Dignity", which would be held on 23 June, and according to the organisers "it will not take the form of a holiday nor of a carnival because we are not in the mood for a celebration now".[37][38] Ultra-right groups, such as the Georgian March organization, responded by threatening to violently attack the participants. Sandro Bregadze, one of the leaders of the organization, said "they will have to march over our dead bodies if they decide to hold this celebration of perversion".[39] On 31 May 2019, just two weeks before the planned event, the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Georgia said that it is "impossible" for Tbilisi Pride to go ahead in the planned locations in the city centre "due to safety risks", and recommended a closed event indoors at a facility such as a stadium or a club. Civil society organisations including the Open Society Georgia Foundation, Human Rights Education and the Monitoring Center and Georgian Young Lawyer's Association called upon law enforcers to "take adequate measures to secure security of participants in peaceful assembly", and said that "It’s the State's obligation to ensure timely and adequate protection [of Tbilisi Pride participants] from possible violence". They called the ministry's actions "humiliating, anti-state, and anti-constitutional". The Equality Movement, which is the organizer of Tbilisi Pride, said they had been experiencing pressure for the past weeks from an "unidentified government official" to cancel the march. The organisers said that "he tried to make us change or abolish our plans by intimidating us. It is not the first time that the government has resorted to intimidation and terror towards LGBT people". The organisers accused the authorities of trying to "hide LGBT people" instead of tackling the hatred and aggression towards them. They promised that they would carry on working on various events despite the ministry's position.[40] On 20 June 2019, following riots, Tbilisi Pride postponed the march due to take place on 23 June. Organisers said that "in this political situation we cannot allow ourselves to further escalate the tensions in the country. We will not give pro-Russian, neo-fascist groups the opportunity to weaken Georgia's statehood.[41] However, on 8 July 2019, about 20 to 40 demonstrators, including human rights activists and members of the LGBT community, held an impromptu, small scale pride parade for about 30 minutes outside the Ministry of Internal Affairs while holding signs and rainbow flags and flying a drone that carried a rainbow flag over protestors who had gathered in front of the Parliament. Reports suggested information concerning the march was leaked online, raising security conerns, as several violent radicals, including clerics, nationalist groups and their supporters gathered at several locations in Tbilisi to prevent the march from taking place. Far-right anti-gay groups planned to disperse protesters, however, the march had already been completed when they arrived at the place.[42][43][44][45] Opponents spend the whole night on central Rustaveli Avenue protesting againt Tbilisi Pride and demanding the abolishment of the anti-discrimination law and introducing a law banning what they called "perverted behavior".[46][47]

On 17 May 2019, after warnings from far-right groups that anti-homophobic demonstrations would be met with violence, activists abstained from holding a demonstration in Tbilisi for that year's International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia over safety concerns and decided to limit themselves to online campaigns only, and hung a lone rainbow flag in Tbilisi. Meanwhile, hundreds of priests, churchgoers and far-right groups took to the streets to protest "sodomy". Some of them came out to celebrate "Family Purity Day", a holiday created by the Georgian Orthodox Church in 2014, a year after thousands of people led by priests attacked several dozen LGBT rights demonstrators in the city.[48][49]

Social attitudes[edit]

According to 2011 social attitude questionnaires, homosexuals remained one of the most disliked groups in society – with most respondents preferring an alcoholic rather than homosexual colleague at work.[50] According to the same questionnaires, an estimated 91.5 percent of Georgians thought that homosexuality is "completely unacceptable".[51]

In October 2007, one of the contestants on the reality TV show Bar-4 outed himself on public television. After reportedly receiving a call from the head of the Georgian Orthodox Church Ilia II of Georgia, the Georgian President allegedly pressured the producers of the show into evicting the gay participant from the TV program.[52]

Quantitative research performed in a recent large scale study dated June 2016 identified that negative attitudes towards LGBTI people remain dominant in Georgia.[3] Respondents expressed more negative attitudes towards bisexual and gender non-conforming men than bisexual and gender non-conforming women. Attitudes towards lesbians and gay persons were equally negative. The study showed that adverse attitudes towards lesbian and gay people had various predictors. Biphobic attitudes in Georgian society were stronger than homophobic sentiment. The higher level of biphobia was determined by bisexuality being perceived as a "fluid, unstable orientation". In terms of transphobia, sex constitutes a significant predictor: men were more inclined to express negative attitudes towards transgender and gender non-conforming persons than women. Negative attitudes towards select groups varied by village/town/capital, gender, age, level of contact/acquaintance with the LGBTI community, and level of knowledge about homosexuality. Homo/bi/transphobic attitudes were largely determined by respondents' perceptions of traditional gender roles, and the level of right-wing authoritarianism and religious fundamentalism (the degree of influence evidently varies among individual groups). Respondents ranking high on the right-wing authoritarianism and religious fundamentalism scales far more frequently exhibited negative attitudes towards LGBTI community members. The more rigid the respondents' understanding of traditional gender roles, the higher they rank on the homophobia, biphobia and transphobia scales.

In October 2017, Georgian football player Guram Kashia expressed support for LGBT rights, appearing at a match in the Netherlands with a rainbow armband as part of National Coming Out Day. Far-right groups held rowdy protests and violent riots in front of the Georgian Football Federation, demanding Kashia's expulsion from the national team. 8 people were arrested at the riots.[53] Other fundamentalists, including singer Gia Korkotashvili, appeared on national television, screaming prophecies of an imminent gay apocalypse. However, many supported Kashia's right to freedom of speech including many other athletes and politicians. These included President Giorgi Margvelashvili. Kakha Kaladze, a retired footballer, former Deputy Prime Minister and newly elected Mayor of Tbilisi, expressed support for Kashia, saying: "We are a democratic country. Everyone has the right to express their views, regardless of their nationality, sexual orientation or religion."[54] In 2018, Kashia, who had since been elected the captain of the Georgian national football team, received the UEFA #EqualGame Award for his support of the LGBT community.[55] In response to winning the award, Kashia said "I believe in equality for everyone, no matter what you believe in, who you love or who you are."[56]

In the October 2017 local elections, Nino Bolkvadze, an openly gay candidate, ran for a Tbilisi City Assembly seat as a member of the Republican Party. Bolkvadze was the first openly gay candidate to run for public office in Georgia. While her candidacy was ultimately unsuccessful, her run was viewed as a significant shift in the conservative country.[57]

In 2017, the Prosecutor's Office examined 86 alleged hate crimes, 12 of which were based on sexual orientation and 37 on gender identity. The Public Defender's 2018 report said violence against LGBT people, whether in the family or in public spaces, was a serious problem in Georgia, and that the Government has been unable to respond to this challenge. The report stated that the Public Defender had received numerous complaints regarding homophobic attitudes from law enforcement officials.[58]

In 2018, a poll by the National Democratic Institute (NDI) showed that only 23% of the Georgian population believed that the protection of LGBT rights was important, while 44% thought the protection of LGBT rights was not important and 26% had a neutral attitude. The results showed a 2% gain in support for LGBT people compared to 2015, when 21% of the population considered the protection of their rights as important.[58]

In December 2018, Beso Danelia, a politician from the conservative nationalistic party Democratic Movement – United Georgia who used a homophobic slur against Levan Berianidze, an LGBT rights activist, on TV was issued a fine of ₾1 ($0.37) by the Tbilisi City Court. The incident occurred in April 2016 on Kavkasia TV. Berianidze, who heads the local LGBT rights group, Equality Movement, claimed Danelia insulted him and then tried to physically attack him but was held back by staff at the television company. He appealed to the court, demanding compensation of ₾500 ($190) from Danelia for moral damages. In its ruling, the court upheld Berianidze's claim that his dignity was violated by the homophobic slur, but ordered Danelia pay only ₾1, the minimum fine. Although the ruling set a precedent, as it was the first time a fine had been issued on these grounds, the activist argued the ruling could give the green light for others to express homophobic hate, and said that the court had ridiculed him in their judgement. He said "the court's ruling is basically mocking, and it will encourage homophobic behaviour, because they will know that it will cost them only ₾1". He also said he was considering appealing the ruling.[59]

In December 2018, the Tbilisi City Court ruled in the case of a 15-year-old boy who had attacked an LGBT rights activist on the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia. The 15-year-old punched LGBT activist Nika Gorgiladze in the face as he gave a speech about love in front of the Government Chancellery building on 17 May. The assailant was immediately detained by police as he attempted to flee the scene. The prosecution brought charges of persecution with violence, punishable by a fine, house arrest or up to 3 years' imprisonment. However, the court decided to enrol the boy in a juvenile diversion programme, meaning he might not be prosecuted as an adult and would instead be observed by a social worker.[59]

Summary table[edit]

Same-sex sexual activity legal Yes (Since 2000)
Equal age of consent Yes (Since 2000)
Anti-discrimination laws in employment Yes (Since 2006)
Anti-discrimination laws in the provision of goods and services Yes (Since 2014)
Anti-discrimination laws in all other areas (incl. indirect discrimination, hate speech) Yes (Since 2014)
Discrimination based on gender identity banned Yes (Since 2014)
Hate crime laws include sexual orientation and gender identity Yes (Since 2012)
Same-sex marriages No (Constitutional ban since 2018)
Recognition of same-sex couples No (Proposed)
Stepchild adoption by same-sex couples No
Joint adoption by same-sex couples No
LGBT people allowed to serve openly in the military No
Right to change legal gender Yes (Since 2008, but surgery and sterilization required)
Access to IVF for lesbians No
Commercial surrogacy for gay male couples No
MSM allowed to donate blood Yes (Since 2017)

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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  2. ^ Global Rights report on Georgia (country) Archived 11 January 2012 at the Wayback Machine
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  4. ^ Crowd Led by Priests Attacks Gay Rights Marchers in Georgia
  5. ^ PM Comments on Planned Gay Rights Rally 14 May 2013
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