Flashback 2013: Progress vs. backlash around the globe

Lisa Neff, Staff writer

France, Uruguay, New Zealand and England legalized same-sex marriage in 2013 — unprecedented advancements in the quest for equality for LGBT people.

And spring arrived with the election of a pope who brought hope that the Catholic Church, a leading force in a global campaign against LGBT rights, would change its ways.

But anti-LGBT violence around the world marred a year hailed by some in the United States as the greatest in gay rights history. Activists documented a rise in anti-gay extremism in Africa. Pride celebrants faced arrest and assault in parts of Asia and Europe. And Russian President Vladimir Putin spearheaded a Soviet-style persecution of gay people even as the country prepared to host the 2014 Winter Olympic Games.

A look at some of the big stories of 2013:

• In March, after an abrupt announcement that Benedict XVI was retiring, the world was introduced to a new pontiff — Pope Francis, who has repeatedly affirmed the Catholic Church’s opposition to legalized abortion but also has said church leaders cannot be fixated on the politics of abortion or gay marriage.

• New Zealand, which had allowed civil unions since 2005, legalized same-sex marriage on April 17. In a speech before the final vote on the bill, which took effect in August, lawmaker Tau Henare concluded with a traditional greeting in his indigenous Maori. He said, “My message to you all is, ‘Welcome to the mainstream.’ … Do well. Kia Ora.”

• Vincent Autin and Bruno Boileau became the first same-sex couple to marry in France, their wedding in May taking place in the southern city of Montpellier under tight police surveillance. In the months before and the weeks after, right-wing protesters demonstrated against the marriage equality law, which President François Hollande had made a priority. The anti-gay demonstrations drew hundreds of thousands of protesters and, on multiple occasions, turned violent.

• In June, human rights advocates urged President Barack Obama to address rising levels of anti-LGBT violence in Africa when he visited the continent. “These attacks, sometimes deadly, must be stopped,” said Widney Brown of Amnesty International. “In too many cases, these attacks on individuals and groups are being fueled by key politicians and religious leaders who should be using their position to fight discrimination and promote equality.” Homosexuality is a crime in 38 countries in sub-Saharan Africa.

• In the summer, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed into law a measure that bans giving young people information about homosexuality. The ban on “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations” was enacted as part of an effort to promote traditional Russian values over Western liberalism. The law allows for fines and arrests of Russian citizens and tourists. It has fueled a wave of anti-LGBT violence in Russia and boycotts of Russian products elsewhere.

• Queen Elizabeth, on July 17, signed a bill legalizing same-sex marriage in England and Wales. The bill, passed after a long and hard fight in Parliament, won’t go into effect until next year. “The title of this bill might be ‘Marriage’ but its fabric is about freedom and respect,” said Culture Secretary Maria Miller.

• Same-sex couples began marrying in early August in Uruguay, the third country in the Americas, after Canada and Argentina, to legalize gay marriage. Sergio Mirando and Rodrigo Borda became the first gay couple to marry. “No longer will there be first- and second-class citizens,” Borda said. “This will be seen in many countries where this option still isn’t possible, and hopefully help people in those places live more freely.”