Text last Updated 28 January 2017
Links last Updated 28 January 2017
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What this is about
Gay men living in the UK are being forced into marriage with a female by their families.
Gay men living in the UK of the South Asian and other communities are being forced by their families into entering into forced marriages with women. Gay men born in those communities face the same pressures they would do were they in India or Pakistan to get married to a woman, while at the same time they are living in a liberal society which presents them with opportunities they would not get in India or Pakistan, for instance, to explore their sexuality and choose their own partner like anyone else. 15% of forced marriage cases being recorded concern gay men being forced into marriage.
Is forced marriage legal in the UK?
Forced marriage is illegal in England and Wales. The law makes illegal:
taking someone overseas to force them to marry (whether or not the forced marriage takes place), and
marrying someone who lacks the mental capacity to consent to the marriage (whether they’re pressured to or not).
Forcing someone to marry can result in a prison sentence of up to 7 years, under a law passed in 2013. Disobeying a forced marriage protection order can result in a prison sentence of up to 5 years.
Why do some gay people submit to forced marriage?
Coming out to their families risks being rejected by their family and their own community unless they agree to get married to a woman and live a hidden, secret gay life. There has in the past been a suspicion that there have been honour killings of Asian gay men in the UK. To deny a gay man or lesbian the free choice of lifestyle and expression of his sexuality is a denial of his or her human rights.
It is possible to obtain a forced marriage protection order to protect you. A forced marriage protection order is issued by a court and stops people forcing you into a forced marriage. If they fail to comply with the order they can be sent to prison. Forced marriage orders were introduced by the provisions of the Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act 2007 and became legal on 25 November 2008.
The Forced Marriages Unit of the Home Office reported a 65% increase in helpline calls from men, many of them linked to sexuality. In south Asian societies, being gay is a taboo beyond words. It is considered a betrayal: to yourself, your family, your friends, and of course, your community, that is to say, your roots and your culture. You may wonder where religion exerts its influence on all this. Hinduism and Buddhism have surprisingly little to say about sexual plurality, and they don’t really care much if you’re gay. If you’re Muslim, as a significant proportion of the south Asian diaspora are, then, the common interpretation is that it is un-Islamic (some would even say anti-Islamic) to be gay. Indeed, beyond forced marriages, honour killings, especially directed against women, are not uncommon.
In July 2011 the organisation Plan UK reported that some families of LGBT young people try to force them into marriage because of fears about their sexuality and that the Forced Marriage Unit is reporting a growing number of calls from young LGBT people.
On October 12th, 2011 the UK Supreme Court threw out an outright ban on the provision of marriage visas for those under 21, on the grounds that the ban had prevented couples who were not in a forced marriage situation, from marrying, in denial of their human rights.
How many people in the UK are forced into marrying someone they do not want to? A government survey in 2009 estimated that between 5,000 and 8,000 young people are forced into marriage each year in the UK. You are already aware of Your Activist’s strong distrust of estimates and surveys and other statistics. Family Law Week has some real data:
The Forced Marriage Unit advised in 1485 cases in 2012. The youngest victim was 2 years old; the oldest victim was 71 years old. Young people aged between 16 and 25 are most at risk of being forced into marriage.
Out of the 1485 cases, the age of the victim was known in 744 cases: 13% involved victims below 15; 22% involved victims aged 16-17; 30% involved victims aged 18-21; 19% involved victims aged 22-25; 8% involved victims aged 26-30; 8% involved victims aged 31+.
The cases involved 60 different countries. They included Pakistan (47.1%), Bangladesh (11%), India (8%), Afghanistan (2.1%), Somalia (1.2%), Turkey (1.1%), Iraq (1%), Iran (0.9%), Nigeria (0.9%), Sri Lanka (0.9%), Egypt (0.6%), Saudi Arabia (0.6%), Yemen (0.6%), The Gambia (0.5%), Morocco (0.5%), and Ukraine (0.5%). The origin was unknown in 7.7% of cases.
82% of cases involved female victims and 18% involved male victims. 114 cases involved victims with disabilities.
By 2015, 1,220 possible cases were reported that year, hopefully indicating that the new law is beginning to have an effect in reducing the problem.
22 involved victims who identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.
What the gay community can do to help
As gay activists and gay brothers and sisters we need to:
understand the dilemmas faced by gay men and lesbians of these communities,
examine our own attitudes, policies and groups to ensure they welcome Asians,
listen to the stories and experiences of our South Asian friends to learn from them,
support them in their work towards better understanding, tolerance and acceptance in their own communities as well as in ours,
follow the guidance now published (links below).
The Naz Foundation assists Asian gay men and lesbians.
The Mens Advice Line: The Men’s Advice Line is available on freephone number 0808 801 0327 (free from landlines and most mobile phones)
Monday – Friday 10am-1pm and 2pm-5pm. Or email firstname.lastname@example.org. The Men’s Advice Line is funded by the Home Office and the Scottish Government.
Contact the Forced Marriage Unit if you’re trying to stop a forced marriage or you need help leaving a marriage you’ve been forced into. 020 7008 0151 Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm; out of hours, phone 020 7008 1500 and ask for the Global Response Centre.
Acts of Parliament
Men’s Advice Line, Undated: Forced marriage and men [pdf]
Plan UK, July 2011: Breaking Vows Report [pdf]
The Guardian. 12 Oct 2011: Government attacks judges for rejecting marriage visa ban
Euronews, 9 June 2012: British PM plans to make forced marriage a criminal offence
Guardian, 8 Mar 2016: Number of forced marriages in the UK continues to fall