In a landmark decision for Lebanon’s LGBTQ community, a court in Beirut ruled in January, and made public only yesterday, that same-sex relations are not “contradicting the laws of nature” and therefore are not a crime. The decision was reported in The Daily Star, the leading English language newspaper in the Middle East.

Lebanon’s penal code includes Article 534, which punishes sexual acts “contradicting the laws of nature” with up to a year in prison. This provision has been traditionally used to prosecute LGBT people.

Judge Naji El Dahdah of Jdeide Court in Beirut rejected the case that was brought up by the state against a transgender woman who was accused of having “same-sex relations.” This decision was based on a 2011 ruling by Judge Mounir Suleiman, which stated that same-sex relations were not against nature, and hence could not be prosecuted under Article 534. Both decisions could influence how other courts interpret what is regarded as “against nature” by Article 534 even though other courts are not bound to follow the recent court decisions.

“It’s a big step; it shows we’re moving in the right direction,” said Georges Azzi, a prominent activist for LGBT rights who is also the co-founder of Helem, a Lebanese group that has long been campaigning to change the law.

In a step forward for gender identity and expression rights in Lebanon, Dahdah also stated that a person’s gender should not simply be based on their personal status registry document, but also on their outward physical appearance and self-perception.

In a country where only 18 percent say that LGBT people should be accepted by society according to a 2013 Pew Global Attitudes Project poll, Lebanese LGBT people are optimistic that change is possible.

"I wish the courts would protect us," said Jimmy, who only gave his first name in an email to HRC, noting that Lebanese society and the government have been slow to embrace homosexuality. Mohammad, a gay man living in Beirut, added that the court's decision is a good one, "especially in a country that claims to respect freedom and democracy.""Gay people are natural, not sick," Mohammad said. "Society has to respect them and their decisions, recognize their rights."

Last year the Lebanese Psychiatric Society issued guidance saying that homosexuality is not a mental disorder and does not warrant treatment, going as far as to state that "conversion therapy” has no scientific backing.

" The Lebanese judicial system is sending a powerful message to the region that a deeper spiritual calling of truth to sanctify life and human dignity far surpasses the hate that drives a wedge between our shared and common humanity," said Michael Toumayan at HRC's Religion and Faith Program. Commenting on the ruling, a Lebanese university student studying in the District of Columbia was hopeful, adding, “I hope the ruling gains traction in the national agenda to propel and change conversations among Lebanese families on LGBT rights. We must strive to debunk the myth that one cannot be Lebanese and LGBT.”

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