5 surprising places where it’s not actually illegal to be gay

Across the globe, there are over 70 countries where being gay or having sex with someone of the same sex is illegal. There are a few places where you might expect same-sex relationships to be against the law. Nevertheless, we’ve found a few surprising exceptions.

Free-Photos / Pixabay

Many of the world’s anti-gay countries tend to be in Arabic regions, eastern Asia and central Africa, however, we’ve found some surprises in and amongst the homophobic countries where it’s legal to have a same-sex relationship. Although homosexuality may be legal in these nations it mustn’t be inferred that LGBT+ people do not face discrimination due to their sexuality or gender expression.


ErikaWittlieb / Pixabay

Despite being in the centre of one of the most homophobic and anti-gay regions of the world, it’s not illegal to be gay in the majority of Iraq. Same-sex relationships became legal in 2003. However, it is worth noting that despite the legality of sexual intercourse between men it was illegal in areas controlled by ISIS between 2014 – 2017. There were many reports of executions of gay men, or men thought to be gay by ISIS fighters during 2015 and 2016.

LGBT+  people are subject to widespread discrimination and have no legal recognition of their relationships and are banned from serving in the military.

Homosexuality was not always illegal in Iraq during the Ancient Mesopotamia times (3500 BC) the Šumma ālu, an Akkadian tablet, includes this code, where it regarded male homosexuality positively, even stating,

“If a man copulates with his equal from the rear, he becomes the leader among his peers and brothers”

Nevertheless, when the land came under British administration, the country was given a ban on sodomy.


stux / Pixabay

While there have been reports of gay people being punished for same-sex relations in recent times in Indonesia, it’s not illegal under national law. It is however against the rules in the Muslim majority province of Aceh. The same rules apply for Muslims in the city of Palembang in South Sumatra.

Gay people are not allowed to serve in the military, and they do not have discrimination protections. There is also no recognition of same-sex relationships.

Transgender people are allowed to change their sex, but with several conditions. It should be noted just because being LGBT is legal it doesn’t mean that LGBT+ people do not face discrimination or even violence in their day to day lives in Indonesia.


designerpoint / Pixabay

Russia has become one of the most infamous places on earth with regards to the way in which it treats its LGBT+ population. Russia has a very chequered past when it comes to recognising homosexuality.

It was first decriminalised in 1917. It was re-criminalised in 1933 and remained that way until 1993. 2013 when President Putin enshrined a law which made it illegal to effectively speak about homosexuality to anyone under the age of 18, a harsh international spotlight was shone upon the country. However, it is not actually against the law to have same-sex relationships.

However other rights afforded to LGBT+ people are pretty thin on the ground. There is no recognition of same-sex relationships. Article 12 of the Family Code explicitly states that marriage is a union of a man and a woman.

North Korea

MichaelGaida / Pixabay

North Korea may not be on the top of any humanitarian lists due to the overall treatment of its people and the alleged human rights abuses, but it’s not technically illegal to be gay there. In fact, there are no laws against homosexuality recorded in history. The same can be said for its neighbour, South Korea.

Vatican City

martineci999 / Pixabay

Despite being the centre of Catholicism, there is no law about being gay in world’s smallest state, the Vatican City. There are however no discrimination protections, and it does not recognise same-sex relationships. Homosexuality has been legal since 1890; this is largely due to the fact that the Vatican City’s laws are based on the Italian penal code. There are no other protections for LGBT+ people.