5 Shocking Laws Modern Countries Had Until A Few Years Ago
Social progress is not a series of boxes to check in consecutive order. First we stop enslaving people, then we let women vote, now we work on LGBT rights, and at some point in the future we should probably figure out healthcare or something -- it doesn't work like that. It's really more like trying to assemble a series of jigsaw puzzle while some jerk keeps stealing key pieces. That's how some supposedly modern societies end up ridiculously behind the curve in areas others take for granted. For instance ...
In The U.S., Gay Men Couldn't Donate Blood Until 2015
Say you're a healthy man (a stretch, we know), and you're willing to donate blood to those who are in desperate need of a transfusion. You consume pretty much nothing but purified water and air for 24 hours, get a good night's sleep, and then proudly walk into the donation center with your sleeve rolled up, ready to face down your primal fear of needles to save a life and maybe score a free cookie. The doctor asks you some simple questions about what genitals you may have interacted with recently, and suddenly you're being shown the door.
What the heck happened?
The FDA has a longstanding restriction that prevents men from donating blood if they've ever had sex with other men. The rule dates back to 1983, when AIDS was still new and scary and called "a gay plague." But we're much more educated on AIDS and same-gender sex these days, so the FDA finally loosened its restrictions ... in 2015. All men can now donate blood! Uh, as long as they haven't slept with another man in the last 12 months. Sorry, guy in intensive care with a severe gunshot wound, but if you think about it, a year can really fly by, right?
Given that blood shortages are a continual pressing concern, discriminating against a good chunk of the population seems counterproductive. The FDA's stance is that it's all about safety, that 12 months ensures that if someone were unknowingly HIV positive, it would still show up in screenings. Makes sense, right? But straight people who have slept around all year are still welcome to donate, while gay men in healthy monogamous relationships are turned away. Meanwhile, Italy has performed individual risk assessments on donors instead of relying on blanket bans since 2001, and they haven't seen any increase in HIV infections. So maybe we shouldn't be making non-straight men choose between doing a good deed and enjoying sex this year, especially since we all know what we'd choose.
In France, Trans People Were Forced To Get Sterilized Until 2016
Legally requiring people to get sterilized sounds like a sci-fi dystopia, but for transgender people in France, it was a dark reality all the way up until October of 2016. Before then, French trans people who wanted to change their legal name and sex had to first obtain proof that they'd been permanently and irreversibly sterilized.
France wasn't alone in being behind the times. Germany only dropped its sterilization requirements in 2011, Sweden did it in 2012, and Norway waited until 2014. And all of those countries are ahead of an eye-watering 22 European states that still have mandatory sterilization laws on the books, including some places you wouldn't expect, like Finland and Switzerland. In the 1970s, Sweden became the first country to allow people to legally redefine their gender, but also declared those same people mentally ill and unfit to reproduce. In fact, being diagnosed with a mental illness is still a requirement to transition in some countries, which we're sure gets people queuing right up.
This all paints a grim picture, but the European Court of Human Rights did recently rule that mandatory sterilization was a clear rights violation. In April 2017, the court ruled in favor of three French citizens who refused to undergo mandatory sterilization, which buttressed the new law in France and made repealing sterilization easier elsewhere. Europe's legal system may be messy and fragmented, but the court's opinion is influential enough that those fighting sterilization laws in other countries now have an important precedent in their corner. They also have the "Come on, guys, haven't you seen The Handmaid's Tale?" argument.
In 2015, South Koreans Finally Agreed That Adultery Shouldn't Be Punished With Prison Sentences
Adultery sucks, true. But it's generally agreed upon that it should be punished by getting together with your friends on Margarita Monday to affirm that Steve was a jerk who sucked in bed anyway, and not jail time. But from 1953 to 2015, the Republic of Korea would throw your cheating ass in jail for up to two years, which must have really raised the stakes in local soap operas.
The law started with good intentions -- giving women in a male-dominated society some measure of protection against awful spouses. But it soon evolved into a nightmarish morass of problems, including partners using it as a tactic to force divorces and men using it to blackmail married women. So the exact opposite of why they introduced the law in the first place.
At least 53,000 people were charged with adultery, and that's only since they started counting in 1985. And while jail time did become increasingly rare in modern times (thanks to couples reaching financial settlements and courts demanding more proof before conviction), the whole ridiculous law still occasionally led to a bevy of cops raiding a motel room based on a tip from a jilted lover. Which really doesn't seem like a productive use of their time, although it would admittedly make for an entertaining reality show.
South Korea's top court finally struck the law down in 2015, declaring that modern-day marital issues were best solved by those involved, especially since the country's courts were probably tired of hearing arguments more suited for Judge Judy. Some advocacy groups decried the ruling as a slide into immorality that could doom conventional families, but shares in condom and morning-after pill manufacturers shot way up right afterward. The will of the people was clear.
Swiss Women Couldn't Vote Until 1971
We don't spend a lot of time thinking about Switzerland, but they've always seemed like they're reasonably with it. Hell, Swiss men started voting way back in 1291. So they must have seemed like a bastion of progressiveness for a few hundred years ... right up until other governments starting noticing these women all over the place and wondered if they might be people too. America gave (white) women the vote in 1920, and Britain followed suit in 1928. Switzerland didn't get around to giving women voting rights until disco got big.
Switzerland is one of the few countries in which citizens vote directly on referendums to change their constitution. That has its advantages, but it also meant that while other countries only had to convince their representatives that women were 100 percent for sure human, the Swiss had to win over a majority of adult men, some of whom might not feel like sharing their power. And indeed, 67 percent of Swiss men voted to shoot down a 1959 referendum that would have given women the vote.
It wasn't until the 1960s, when Switzerland was turned away from the European Convention of Human Rights, that it started getting really embarrassing. After an application for a special exemption under extenuating circumstances failed (those circumstances being that they really didn't want to count women as people), the Swiss finally went with Plan B, holding a second referendum on female suffrage in 1971. That one passed, with 66 percent of men in favor of not being jerks, making Switzerland the final Western democracy to let women vote. Although one small canton did keep refusing to let women vote on local issues all the way up until 1991, when the courts stepped in and issued a ruling that we assumed amounted to "Holy crap, you guys, get it together."
Japan Only Got Around To Cracking Down On Child Porn In 2014
Anti-child-pornography laws seem like the one cause that every country in the world could agree on, but Japan had some ... issues getting on board. They only banned the production and distribution of child pornography in 1999, which feels like, oh, roughly several centuries too late. Even worse, the law was poorly enforced, so Japan earned a reputation as an "international hub for the production and trafficking of child pornography," which is slightly less quirky than their reputation for weird video games and giant robots.
Oh, and that 1999 law didn't even ban possession of child pornography, so demand for the product remained. It's like banning the growing of weed, but leaving consumption legal ... except we're talking about goddamn child pornography. 2012 alone saw investigations involving 1,264 victims. The law against possession didn't come into effect until 2014, and it included a one-year grace period so people could dispose of their porn like they were hesitantly cleaning out beloved childhood comic books.
Now that the grace period has ended, offenders can be prosecuted with up to one whole year in prison and a fine of up to $10,000. Notably, the law doesn't include anime and manga that portray child sex, both because their publishing houses have some serious clout and because Japan has a super weird attitude toward schoolgirl sex.
It's a complicated issue, but at least they're slowly making moves in the right direction. And in the meantime, some American with an anime avatar who's never been to Japan will be happy to explain why this is the worst thing that has ever happened to civilization.
Did you recently study abroad in Europe? Do you want everyone to know about it? Then hang up a bloody map of Europe in your dorm, you jetsetting explorer!
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