Iraq passes new ‘morality’ law criminalising LGBTQ+ relationships and making it illegal to be trans

Homophobic protestors in Iraq burn pictures of the LGBTQ+ Pride flag.

Iraq has just passed a sweeping new anti-LGBTQ+ law that criminalises same-sex relationships, with anyone breaking it potentially facing up to 15 years in prison if convicted.

The law also criminalises simply existing as a trans person, with penalties for anyone who changes their “biological gender” or dresses in an effeminate manner, reports the Independent.

Up until now, Iraq was one of just a few Islamic nations which did not explicitly criminalise gay sex, although morality clauses in its penal code have been used to target LGBTQ+ people in the past.

The Law on Combating Prostitution and Homosexuality was passed on Saturday (27 April), and makes it abundantly clear that same-sex relations are now entirely banned in Iraq, punishable by a prison sentence of at least 10 years, up to a maximum of 15.

It reportedly aims to “protect Iraqi society from moral depravity and the calls for homosexuality that have overtaken the world”.

Iraq has been increasingly cracking down on the LGBTQ+ community in recent years. In August 2023, Iraq ordered its media platforms not to use the words “homosexual” or “gender”.

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Iraq’s Media and Communications Commission issued directives to media and social media platforms, ordering them to stop using “homosexuality” when discussing LGBTQ+ people and to instead speak only of “sexual deviancy”.

The April 2024 anti-homosexuality law is less extreme than originally planned: a clause in an earlier version of the bill called for the death penalty for same-sex acts, but was removed in an amendment due to opposition from the US and Europe.

Homophobic protestors in Iraq burn two Pride flags with X's drawn on them
Homophobic protestors in Iraq burn two Pride flags with X’s drawn on them. (Getty)

It also criminalises LGBTQ+ allyship: any individual who even “promotes” homosexuality could face seven years in prison. Penalties for trans people are slightly lighter: a prison sentence of between one to three years for anyone who changes their “biological gender” or dresses in an effeminate manner.

The law has faced widespread condemnation, including from the US. A statement from the US State Department read: “This amendment threatens those most at risk in Iraqi society. It can be used to hamper free-speech and expression and inhibit the operations of NGOs across Iraq.”

The new law comes in the wake of outbreaks of violence in Iraq against the LGBTQ+ community. In February a trans blogger, known as “Simsim”, was reportedly killed in the Al-Qadisiyah governorate of Iraq.

The blogger was killed by unknown assailants, the source told Iraqi publication Shafaq News. The 28-year-old victim was stabbed several times, near the mural roundabout in the centre of the city of Diwaniyah.

“The Iraqi parliament’s passage of the anti-LGBT law rubber-stamps Iraq’s appalling record of rights violations against LGBT people and is a serious blow to fundamental human rights,” said Rasha Younes, deputy director of the LGBT rights programme at Human Rights Watch.