European Court Declares Gays Can Seek Asylum in EU

The European Court of Justice declared that sexual orientation is a fundamental characteristic for which many people in nations around the world are persecuted, and can now seek asylum in the European Union.

BY Sunnivie Brydum

November 09 2013 7:00 AM ET

In a decision that's expected to have far-reaching implications, the European Court of Justice ruled that three gay men must be granted refugee status in the Netherlands, clearing the way for other gay and lesbian people to seek asylum in nations within the European Union. 

The case before the court involved three gay men, from Sierra Leone, Uganda, and Senegal, who each sought refugee status in Holland, citing persecution in their homelands for being openly gay. A Dutch court initially rejected the asylum petitions, claiming that the men could "exercise restraint" to avoid persecution, according to German news site DW.

But on Thursday, the European Court of Justice, the highest court that handles laws within the EU, rejected that ruling, declaring that the men had a "well-founded" fear of persecution in their homelands. 

The court ruled that it was unreasonable to expect people to hide their sexual orientation to avoid persecution, reports DW. 

"A person's sexual orientation is a characteristic so fundamental to his identity that he should not be forced to renounce it," the Court ruled on Thursday, according to DW. 

But the Luxembourg-based court also ruled that simple criminalization of homosexuality in one's home nation isn't enough to classify as persecution. "The acts of persecution must be sufficiently serious by their nature of repetition as to constitute a severe violation of human rights," the judges ruled, according to DW

Homosexuality is criminalized in 38 countries in sub-Saharan Africa, notes Amnesty International. In Uganda, the national parliament is still considering a bill that would impose the death penalty for certain instances of same-sex sexual conduct.

Thursday's ruling could also have implications for LGBT people from other nations with laws criminalizing an LGBT identity who want to seek asylum in the EU, including Russia, which enacted a nationwide ban on "propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations" earlier this year.

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