Laws and Rights

Victor Asal, associate professor of Political Science, co-authored a book on the history of anti-gay laws worldwide. 

ALBANY, N.Y. (Nov. 18, 2016) — Understanding discrimination is the root to eliminating it, according to Victor Asal, director of the Center for Policy Research and an associate professor of Political Science.

That belief was the impetus for his new book, Legal Path Dependence and the Long Arm of the Religious State: Sodomy Provisions and Gay Rights across Nations and over Time, co-written with Udi Sommer, an associate professor of political science at Tel Aviv University.

The book, published by SUNY Press last month, examines how and why countries enact laws that criminalize same-sex activities, and how countries change these laws over time. The authors used international data on sodomy laws, death penalty laws for same-sex sexual relations, and sexual discrimination practices over decades to create a “Gay Rights Index” that compares the treatment of LGBTQ communities in various nations. Using case studies and legal analyses, they tracked changes and trends in anti-LGBT policies over time.

“I have always believed that understanding why discrimination exists and how it changes to be an important part of challenging such discrimination,” Asal said. “I decided that understanding from a quantitative empirical perspective what the factors were in countries that impacted levels of legal anti-LGBT discrimination was important and that someone had to do it, [and I] decided that I should be one of the people that does it.”

Asal notes that in the past 30 years there has been an “enormous change” in the treatment of LGBT communities worldwide, for the better. Fewer countries criminalize homosexual relations, and more have laws in place that actively protect the civil rights of LGBT individuals and groups. While there are still many places with anti-LGBT laws in place, the improvement is notable, according to Asal, who has a joint university appointment in the Rockefeller College of Public Affairs and Policy and the College of Emergency Preparedness, Homeland Security and Cybersecurity.

As for the factors that initiated anti-LGBT laws in a country, Asal says it often comes down to British colonialism. During Britain’s break with Catholicism and embrace of Protestantism, anti-sodomy laws remained in the common-law system, and were then spread around the world to the countries Britain colonized. When these countries regained their independence, anti-homosexuality laws tended to remain in effect. Asal notes that countries that were once French or Spanish colonies did not have these sorts of laws when they became independent.

Looking to the future, Asal is watching what happens in U.S. politics carefully. He says that the fight for LGBT rights, both domestically and abroad, will be affected greatly by the positions of President-Elect Donald Trump, who could follow through on recent statements against gay marriage and gay rights, or go back to earlier statements of support.

“If President Trump pushes for support of the HB2 Law in North Carolina and overturning the Marriage Equality Act and other laws in the United States, this could lead to an outburst of serious discrimination against the American LGBT community and would end the U.S.’s efforts to improve LGBT rights around the world which could have a detrimental impact worldwide,” Asal said.

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