Those accused of homosexuality have long faced prosecution in Lebanon, but some judges have refused to recognize the act as a violation of the law.
In a decision issued on Saturday, Lebanon's top military prosecutor, Judge Peter Germanos, decided against the prosecution of four military personnel on charges of "sodomy."
According to a judicial source who spoke to The Daily Star, this marks the first decision of its kind within the military judiciary.
According to news reports, the personnel in question faced disciplinary action and were subsequently dismissed from their functions and referred to the military court for allegedly violating Article 534 of the Lebanese Penal Code. The aforementioned article, under which LGBTIQ+ individuals are sometimes prosecuted, stipulates that sexual acts that "contradict the laws of nature" are punishable by up to one year in prison.
However, according to Germanos, "sodomy is not punishable by law" since Article 534 does not clearly define according to what criteria acts can be deemed as "contrary to nature."
The prosecutor thus decided not to issue arrest warrants against the persons in question nor charge them with violating Article 534. Still, it remains unclear how Germanos' decision will influence their respective careers.
While this is considered a landmark decision within the military judiciary, similar rulings have been issued in civilian courts over the past two years.
In 2017, Judge Rabih Maalouf acquitted nine individuals suspected by police of being members of the LGBTIQ+ community, explaining in his verdict that "homosexuality is a personal choice and not a punishable offense."
In 2018, the Penal Court of Appeal in Mount Lebanon upheld Maalouf's ruling, asserting that consensual sex between people of the same gender does not constitute a violation of the law. The appeals court's decision was celebrated at the time as the first of its kind by a high-ranking court.
According to Annahar, four similar judgments had been issued by lower courts between 2009 and 2017.
In 2018, nearly 100 candidates running for the parliamentary elections openly called for the decriminalization of homosexuality. That same year, however, a Lebanese delegation headed by Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri voted against an international bill that seeks equality for the LGBTIQ+ community.
Despite the recent court decisions, social stigma and misconceptions surrounding the homosexual community remain a pervasive problem throughout Lebanon. Authorities continue to to harass, arrest, and imprison LGBTIQ+ individuals, as well as crack down on events pertaining to the community.
However, activists are not pulling any punches. Non-profit organizations such as Helem and the Lebanese Medical Association for Sexual Health (LebMASH) regularly launch campaigns and host events that shed light on the struggles of the queer community and challenge the stigma surrounding its members.
In 2017, Lebanon hosted what organizers described as the country's first LGBTIQ+ Pride week. In November 2018, LebMASH organized a campaign titled "Homosexuality is not a Disease," with plans to display billboards across Beirut. While the association was banned from showcasing the billboards, it carried through with its campaign on social media platforms and other means of communication.