From Same-Sex Marriages to Brutal Murders: 2015 in Gay Rights

VICE News looks back at a year that saw same-sex marriage legalized in the US and Ireland, and images of gay men apparently being hurled to their deaths by Islamic State militants.
December 30, 2015, 6:10pm
Photo by Sally Hayden/VICE News

This year began with images of gay men apparently being hurled to their deaths by Islamic State (IS) militants in Mosul, Iraq. Across the world in 2015, religious leaders and LGBT campaigners were pitted against each other, but they also joined together for some unlikely unions.

Cheers and jubilant tears followed the ruling in the US Supreme Court that legalized gay marriage in every state in June, while thousands burst into a chorus of the national anthem in Ireland's capital city in May after the country became the first in the world to approve same-sex marriage by popular vote.

At the end of 2015, 78 jurisdictions worldwide continue to criminalize sexual relations between same-sex adults, while at least 22 countries have now legalized gay marriage.

In January, IS provoked shock and anger after releasing photos purportedly showing gay men falling to their deaths after being thrown off a high building in Mosul, Iraq.

Near the northern Nigerian city of Kano, a group of 12 men was arrested by Islamic law enforcement agency Hisbah for allegedly planning a gay wedding ceremony.

Meanwhile in Ireland, a Catholic priest received a standing ovation from his congregation after announcing he was gay. Father Martin Dolan, the priest and administrator at Church of St Nicholas of Myra in Dublin for 15 years, was appealing for a positive vote in the approaching same-sex marriage referendum when he uttered the declaration: "I'm gay myself."

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Gruesome Photos Allegedly Show Islamic State Throwing Gay Men Off a Tall Building

Nigerian Islamic Officials Arrest 12 People In Raid of Alleged Gay Wedding Ceremony

Irish Priest Tells Congregation He's Gay, Receives Standing Ovation

On February 7, largely Catholic Slovakia held a referendum in an attempt to pre-emptively ban any move towards allowing same-sex marriage. The initiators received the blessing of Pope Francis, but failed to motivate the majority of the population.

While 94 percent of voters agreed that it should be banned, the referendum failed to receive a turnout large enough to render it valid, with only 21 percent of citizens casting a vote.

A woman passes by a billboard in Bratislava featuring the portrait of the Pope Francis with text encouraging people to vote at a referendum to maintain a ban on same-sex marriage in Slovakia. (Photo by Jakub Gavlak/EPA) 

On February 15, a New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that gay conversion therapy is consumer fraud, and any company that labels being gay as a disorder was guilty of committing a crime.

The lawsuit in question was filed against a group called Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing, which allegedly charged clients between $60 and $100 per session for "treatment" which involved attacking effigies of their mothers, wrestling two oranges — representing testicles — away from another individual, and getting naked in a circle with their counselor.

Also this month, a report by the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) found that it's not safe to be gay or support LGBTI rights in Cameroon, and that violence against the LGBTI community and its advocates has increased significantly over the last few years.

Near the end of February, relatives of Alan Turing — the computer scientist who helped crack the Nazi Enigma code during World War II — delivered a petition with over 500,000 signatures to the British prime minister, requesting pardons for 49,000 men who, like Turing, were convicted of "gross indecency" for laws outlawing homosexuality in the UK.

Read more here:

Slovakia Is Holding a Referendum to Ban Same-Sex Marriage

Judge Says Gay Conversion Therapy Is Consumer Fraud in Groundbreaking Ruling

A Human Rights Group Says It's Not Safe to be Gay in Cameroon

Alan Turing's Family Wants Britain to Pardon All 49,000 Gay Men Convicted of 'Gross Indecency'

Utah's state senate voted to approve a bill which would ban employers and landlords from discriminating against LGBT people, making it the 19th US state to pass this sort of anti-discrimination legislation.

Two months earlier the Mormon church had announced its support for the bill as long as religious institutions and individuals could also be allowed refrain from providing services that violated their beliefs.

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Utah's LGBT Anti-Discrimination Bill May Become Law Thanks to the Mormon Church

Laurent Stefanini — a senior diplomat, advisor to the French president, and gay man — was nominated to be France's ambassador to the Vatican on January 5. Though the Vatican will normally accept a chosen nominee's credentials within weeks, on this occasion the Church remained silent and refused to provide a public explanation for the delay.

This led to a nine-month deadlock that ended in October, when France abandoned the bid to appoint Stefanini. The ambassador's post has been vacant since 2012.

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China's Attitude Toward Homosexuality Is Beginning to Shift, With Parents Leading the Way

On May 23, traditionally Catholic Ireland became the first country in the world to approve same-sex marriage by referendum. All but one constituency voted yes on the ballot, and 62 percent of voters nationwide — more than 1.2 million people — voted in favor of the change.

"The Irish people have said resoundingly yes," prominent gay rights campaigner David Norris told VICE News. "A victory is a victory. But this is a resounding statement. This is the Irish people speaking. It's not a court. It's not a government. This is the people themselves welcoming their gay fellow citizens into the Irish family, and for that reason it's very moving."

Ireland votes on gay marriage. (Photos by Sally Hayden/VICE News)

That same month, VICE News obtained a translation of a speech in which Gambian President Yahya Jammeh threatened to slit gay men's throats while on a tour of the West African country. "If you are a man and want to marry another man in this country and we catch you, no one will ever set eyes on you again, and no white person can do anything about it," he said.

A group of activists were also arrested in Russia's capital Moscow while attempting to take part in the city's outlawed gay pride parade.

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Ireland Just Became the First Country to Approve Gay Marriage by a Popular Vote

Gay Muslims Find Sanctuary in South Africa's 'People's Mosque'

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Gambian President Says He Will Slit Gay Men's Throats in Public Speech

Photos Show Activists Being Attacked and Arrested at Gay Pride Parade in Moscow

On June 26, the US Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples had the right to marry in all 50 states. The judges split 5-4 on the Obergefell v. Hodges case, which was based on suits filed by couples in Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee — four of the 14 states that did not permit same-sex unions.

Following the ruling, US President Barack Obama spoke from the White House Rose Garden, saying the decision would end the "patchwork system" the country had in regards to same-sex marriage. He also called it a victory for the plaintiffs and their families, allies, friends, and supporters.

Today is a big step in our march toward equality. Gay and lesbian couples now have the right to marry, just like anyone else. — President Obama (@POTUS)June 26, 2015

"This ruling is a victory for America," he said. "This decision affirms what millions of Americans already believed in their hearts. When all Americans are treated as equal we are all more free."

Newly married couple Emma Foulkes (left) and Petrina Bloodworth (right) cut their wedding cake after becoming the first gay couple to be legally married in Georgia. (Photo by Erik S. Lesser/EPA)

Meanwhile, participants at Istanbul's annual gay pride parade were hit with rubber bullets and tear gas, and knocked off their feet by water cannons after Turkish police moved in to disperse the crowd.

In a statement posted on Facebook, the Istanbul LGBTI Pride Week Committee said the Istanbul Governor's Office had prohibited the event with very little warning, naming the Muslim holy month of Ramadan as the reason.

Clashes also broke out at a gay pride parade in Kiev, Ukraine. The event — named the "March of Equality" — was only the second of its kind. It was attacked by members of a far-right nationalist group, resulting in nine people, including five police officers, being injured.

Revelers at Istanbul's annual gay pride parade were knocked off their feet by water cannons, and hit with rubber bullets and tear gas after Turkish police moved in to disperse the crowd. (Photos by John Beck/VICE News)

Read more here:

US Supreme Court Ruling Legalizes Same-Sex Marriage Nationwide

Tears, Laughter, and Triumph for a Lesbian Couple in the Supreme Court's Gay Marriage Case

Turkish Police Use Water Cannons, Rubber Bullets, and Tear Gas on Gay Pride Parade

Ukraine's LGBT Community Is Fighting for Visibility in a Time of Revolution and War

The Boy Scouts of America (BSA)'s 71-member board moved to remove the ban on gay men becoming scout leaders, though they said local troops still had the ability to maintain their own prohibitions.

Scouts for Equality — a group of current and former boy scouts who had been pushing for the change — said the "historic" vote marked "the beginning of a new chapter" for the organization. Meanwhile, the Mormon Church, a sponsor of many BSA chapters, said it was "deeply troubled" by the move.

Scouts prepare to march during the 44th annual Gay Pride Parade in New York City on June 29. (Photo by Peter Foley/EPA)

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The Boy Scouts Have Approved a Plan to Allow Gay Troop Leaders

Indiana's Religious Freedom Law Takes Effect as LGBT Activists Call for Protection from Discrimination

In August, 16-year-old Shira Banki died after being stabbed by an ultra-Orthodox man, Yishai Schlissel, who had just been released from prison. He had been convicted of stabbing three people at the same parade in 2005. Five more people were wounded.

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu swiftly called the attack a "despicable hate crime" and "an incident of the utmost gravity."

Mourners attend a memorial for 16-year-old Shira Banki, who died after being stabbed by an ultra-Orthodox man at Jerusalem's gay pride parade. (Photo by Abir Sultan/EPA) 

Ugandan gay pride went ahead without incident, though organizers warned attendees to be aware of a backlash, which could include being evicted from accommodation and being outed in the press.

Mexico's Supreme Court overturned a law prohibiting same-sex couples from adopting children, saying that it "unjustifiably violates the exercise of founding a family," and that legislation cannot unjustifiably exclude "any person or family group."

August also saw the United Nations Security Council holding its first-ever session devoted to discrimination facing the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community.

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'Pride Is Assertiveness': Gay Ugandans Are Celebrating This Weekend but Warn of Repercussions

Same-Sex Couples in Mexico Can Adopt Children, Supreme Court Rules

Gay Men Face Horrors at the Hands of the Islamic State, But Few Can Resettle in the US

In Tunisia, a university student was sentenced to a year in prison for sodomy after being subjected to an anal probe. The man was arrested in the Tunisian town of Hammam Sousse and was convicted under article 230 of the Tunisian penal code — which punishes sodomy with up to three years in prison.

Later in September, UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said new videos showed IS militants shooting seven men in the province of Homs. The blindfolded men were accused of charges including "sodomy" and "drug addiction." Militants in Aleppo also reportedly executed two men and a boy, also accused of being gay.

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Outrage After Tunisia Arrests and Anally Probes a Man for Being Gay

The Islamic State Executes Nine Men and a Boy for Being Gay

Canada Accused of Obsessing Over Sexuality of LGBT Refugees

October  The Vatican fired Polish priest Krzysztof Charamsa after he came out as gay in the newspaper Corriere della Sera. "I would like the Church and my community to know who I am: a homosexual priest, happy and proud of my own identity," Charamsa told the Milan paper.

He later told Polish newspaper _Gazeta Wyborcza: _"I have to say who I am. I am a gay priest. I am a happy and proud gay priest."

The Vatican claimed it was the timing they objected to, as it came one day before the 14th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the Family. "The decision to make such a pointed statement on the eve of the opening of the synod appears very serious and irresponsible, since it aims to subject the synod assembly to undue media pressure," Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said in a statement.

Monsignor Krzysztof Charamsa, second secretary of the Vatican's International Theological Commission, (left) and his partner Eduard at the end of a press conference in Rome on October 3. (Photo by Luciano del Castillo/EPA) 

The Catholic Church had already faced criticism in October after it was revealed that Pope Francis met with well-known American gay marriage opponent and Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis, during his visit to the US. Davis was jailed for six days in September after refusing to issue gay marriage licenses.

The Vatican responded to the backlash, confirming that Francis also met with former student Yayo Grassi, a US-based Argentine caterer, and his male partner of 19 years, Iwan Bagus. In a video posted on YouTube, Francis can be seen embracing the two, who greet him along with several other people.

Read more here:

Vatican Fires Polish Priest After He Comes Out as Gay to Reporters

Vatican Confirms Pope Francis Met With a Gay Couple in Washington DC

November  In November, as Pope Francis visited Kenya, Uganda, and the Central African Republic, African gay rights activists issued several pleas for him to be more forthright about his support for LGBT people. In Kenya, a group of young people printed t-shirts with his much quoted words "Who am I to judge?" which they wore to a mass given by the pontiff.

The same month, Kenya's National Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission filed a lawsuit against a judge and police station in the small coastal town of Msambweni, claiming authorities had forced two men to undergo HIV and anal testing to ascertain whether or not they were gay — a crime that carries a prison sentence of up to 14 years.

French Health Minister Marisol Touraine announced that France will lift its ban on gay men donating blood in the spring, following through on a promise made by President François Hollande during his presidential campaign. In April, the European Court of Justice had encouraged the French government to revise its rules on blood donation.

More than 2,500 Mormons in Utah also moved to quit the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints after it announced a new ban on baptizing the children of gay parents, according to a lawyer working against the change.

Read more here:

Activists Ask Pope to Help Us Cure One of the Worst Diseases in Africa: Homophobia

Kenya Is Accused of Forcing Suspected Gay Men to Take HIV and Anal Tests

Gay Men in France Allowed to Give Blood as Long as They Don't Have Sex for a Year

More Than 2,500 Mormons Are Resigning from the Church Over Anti-LGBT Policy

December  A report by the UN's Committee Against Torture condemned China's reported use of private and state-run clinics providing so-called gay conversion therapy which claims to alter the sexual orientation of Chinese homosexuals. This reportedly includes "the administration of electroshocks and, sometimes, involuntary confinement in psychiatric and other facilities, which could result in physical and psychological harm."

China responded, saying the report was based on "unverified information." Spokeswoman Hua Chunying added: "We hope they can scrupulously abide by their mandate, further improve their work style and view China's honoring of its agreements more fully and objectively."

The same month, the US Food and Drug Administration reversed its 30-year ban on blood donations by gay men, saying they can now donate 12 months after their last sexual contact with another man. This brought the country in line with others such as the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand, which also specify 12-month deferment periods

Read more here:

UN Panel Slams the Use of 'Black Jails' and Electroshock Therapy for Gays in China

FDA Says Gay Men Can Give Blood But Only If They Don't Have Sex For a Year

_Follow Sally Hayden on Twitter: _@sallyhayd