Helem’s latest publication, Only 534, offers a concise and informative analysis of article 534 of the Lebanese penal code, which criminalizes “unnatural sexual intercourse”. Following Nizar Saghieh’s excellent legal analysis of the application of article 534 published by Helem earlier this year, this booklet aims to distill some of the most relevant ideas in a manner that is clear, accessible, and useful for LGBTs in Lebanon. It is also unique in pushing forward very explicit rights-based language for issues of sexual orientation (and to a lesser degree) gender identity.
In this vein, Only 534 begins with an overview of some of the violations LGBT people are subjected to because of their sexual orientation – violations that are facilitated and exonerated by the existence of laws that are understood to criminalize homosexual sexual behavior. The analysis offered of article 534 in the Lebanese penal code is also worth noting. Helem unabashedly take aim at the legislative language of article 534, which privileges a particular set of moral and social considerations at the expense of an individual’s personal freedoms. While all societies regu late sexuality in myriad ways, this particular legal regulation was introduced to Lebanon by the French during the colonial period, basing it on the regressive sexual mores of the Catholic Church, which views sex as dirty, shameful, and purely for the purposes of reproduction. On a societal level, the law also represents part of social order whose basic unit is the patriarchal family – any behavior seen to be threatening to that order is therefore criminalized (apart from 534, marital rape laws and adultery laws for example also serve this purpose while maintaining the privileged status of the male within the familial unit).
Continuing to destabilize the logic behind article 534, Helem question the usefulness of the category of the “natural”, the antithesis of which is used as the basic reasoning behind criminalization. Even within the Lebanese judiciary there is a push against this regressive mode of thinking. In November 2009, a Batroun judge ruled that homosexuality cannot possibly be considered unnatural, and that therefore the criminalization of homosexual behavior was legally unjustified.
Rather than focus solely on the right to freedom of sexual expression, Helem have made a plea for article 534 to be annulled on the basis of respect for privacy and personal liberties, concepts that already exist and have some traction within Lebanese law. If the boundaries of such concepts are pushed further and the state loosens its grip on what people say, think, believe, or sleep with, then we, as an entire society, stand to gain.
- Helem: Only 534 (PDF)