LGBT rights in Serbia

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LGBT rights in Serbia
Location of Serbia (green) – Kosovo (light green) on the European continent (dark grey)
Location of Serbia (green) – Kosovo (light green)
on the European continent (dark grey)
Same-sex sexual activity legal? Legal nationwide since 1994,
age of consent equalized in 2006
Gender identity/expression right to change gender, discrimination banned by Anti-discrimination Law since 2009
Military service Gays and lesbians allowed to serve openly
Discrimination protections Sexual orientation protection in labor code since 2001 (see below)
Family rights
Recognition of
No recognition of same-sex relationships.
Same-sex marriage constitutionally banned.

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons in Serbia may face legal challenges not experienced by non-LGBT residents. Both male and female same-sex sexual activity are legal in Serbia. Households headed by same-sex couples are not eligible for the same legal protections available to opposite-sex couples.

In May 2014 Amnesty International identified Serbia as one of a number of countries where there is a marked lack of will to tackle homophobia and transphobia, noting that since 2011 public authorities have banned Pride marches on the basis of violent threats from homophobic groups.[1] Since then a Pride parade successfully took place in September 2014 in Belgrade.[2]


Law regarding same-sex sexual activity[edit]

First Serbian Uprising (1804-1813)[edit]

During the period of Ottoman rule of Serbia, homosexuality faced religious and cultural prohibition. The early nineteenth century saw a time of relative turmoil for Serbia, with sporadic periods of stability. In 1804, Serbia gained its autonomy from the Ottoman Empire following two uprisings. The Karađorđe's Criminal Code (Карађорђев криминални законик) was subsequently promulgated by the Serbian Jurisprudential Council (Praviteljstvujušči sovjet serbski) sometime in late spring or early summer 1807, and remained in force until 7 October 1813, when the Ottoman Empire re-gained control of Serbia.[3] The Code penalised certain issues related to marital life and sexuality (such as forced marriage, rape, separation/divorce without the approval of a clerical court, and infanticide). It did not, however, mention same-sex sexual activity; and so homosexuality became effectively legal for a period of six years.

Principality of Serbia[edit]

In 1858, the Ottoman Empire of which Serbia was nominally a vassal, legalized same-sex sexual intercourse.[4]

However, the progressive reforms introduced by prince Alexander Karađorđević and Prince Mihailo were quashed when Miloš Obrenović returned to power. In the first post-Mediaeval criminal code in the Principality of Serbia, named "Kaznitelni zakon" (Law of Penalties), adopted in 1860, sexual intercourse "against the order of nature" between males became punishable by 6 months to 4 years imprisonment. Like in many other countries' legal documents of the time, lesbian sexuality was ignored ie not mentioned in the Kaznitelni zakon of 1860. [5][6]


In 1918, Serbia became a part of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. At first the new state effectively inherited the different laws that applied to the different territories that joined together (often contradictory). Eventually the new Yugoslav Criminal Code of 1929 banned "lewdness against the order of nature" (anal intercourse) between human beings (heterosexual and homosexual). The Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia later restricted the offense in 1959 to only apply to homosexual anal intercourse; but with the maximum sentence reduced from 2 to 1 year imprisonment.[4]

Socialist Autonomous Province of Vojvodina[edit]

In 1977, same-sex sexual intercourse was legalized in the Socialist Autonomous Province of Vojvodina, while male same-sex sexual intercourse remained illegal in the rest of the Socialist Republic of Serbia. In 1990, Vojvodina was reincorporated into the legal system of Serbia, and male homosexuality once again become a criminal offense.[7][8]

Yugoslavia/Serbia and Montenegro[edit]

In 1994, male homosexual sexual intercourse was officially decriminalised in the Republic of Serbia, a part of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. The age of consent set at 18 years for anal intercourse between males and 14 for other sexual practices. An equal age of consent of 14 was later introduced on 1 January 2006, regardless of sexual orientation or gender.[8]

Recognition of same-sex relationships[edit]

Laws regarding same-sex partnerships in Europe
  Foreign marriages recognized
  Other type of partnership
  Unregistered cohabitation
  Constitution limits marriage to opposite-sex couples

Includes laws that have not yet gone into effect.

While same-sex couples have never been recognized by law, the new Serbian constitution, adopted in November 2006, explicitly defines marriage as being between a man and a woman (Article 62).[9] However, other forms of recognition, such as civil unions or domestic partnerships, are not explicitly mentioned nor prohibited.

In January 2011 the Ministry of Foreign Affairs gave permission to the British Embassy in Belgrade to conduct civil partnership ceremonies between two Britons or a Briton and a non-Serbian national. The French Embassy in Belgrade also offers Pact Civil to French citizens and their foreign partners.

Military service[edit]

In 2010, the Serbian Army agreed that gay men and women may openly serve in the professional army, but that news was not broadcast widely across media. Nevertheless, Serbian LGBT rights activists transmitted the news within their communities, encouraging people to apply.

Legal protections[edit]

Until 2002, Serbia had no special protection specifically aimed at LGBT rights.

In 2002 parliament approved the Broadcasting Law (Article 21) which permits the Broadcasting Agency to prevent the spreading of information encouraging discrimination, hate and violence based on sexual orientation (among other categories).[10]

In 2005, through a change in the Labor Law, discrimination based on sexual orientation in employment was banned. However, there are no public records of any prosecutions being made.

In 2005, parliament approved its Law on Higher education, which guarantees equal rights regardless of sexual orientation in those institutions (among other categories).

On 26 March 2009 parliament approved a unified Anti-Discrimination Law which prohibits, among other things, discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and transgender status in all areas.[11]

On 5 July 2011, the parliament approved a Youth Law, prohibiting discrimination on the ground of sexual orientation.

On 28 July 2011 the parliament approved a change in the Health Insurance Law, based on which sex change surgeries will be fully subsidized by the State, beginning in 2012.[12]

Laws against anti-LGBT speech[edit]

Since 2003, there has been legislation (part of the "Information Law") specifically in place to counter verbal discrimination based on sexual orientation within the media. The same prohibition formed part of the "Radio Emitters Law" adopted in 2002; however, it was never effectively observed, with the Radio Emitters Agency (an independent government agency) having failed to take any action against offenders. More widely, the Anti-Discrimination Law of 2009 prohibits hate speech on the basis of sexual orientation across wider Serbia society.[13]

Hate crime[edit]

On 24 December 2012, the Serbian parliament approved changes to the Penal Code to introduce the concept of a "hate crime", including on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.[14]

LGBT rights movement[edit]

Organizations, sorted by founding date, descending[edit]

Online Communities and News Portals, sorted by founding date, descending[edit]

Social conditions[edit]

Gays and lesbians continue to face discrimination and harassment in Serbia. The majority of Serbian people display vast anti-gay attitudes. There have been numerous instances of violent gay-bashing, the most extreme during the first Belgrade Gay Pride.

There were three other plans for Pride Day celebration in Serbia, one in Belgrade in 2004 initiated by activists around GSA and another in Novi Sad initiated by LGBT Vojvodina in 2007, but because of low cooperation between activist groups and inability to provide adequate safety against violence due to limited funding, these two never made it. The third one, Belgrade Pride 2009, was canceled for similar reasons – police could not guarantee security to participants.[15] The second Belgrade Pride Parade took place on 10. October 2010, with participation of one thousand people. It was followed by violent reaction and riot that gathered 6,000 anti-gay protesters and extreme nationalist group members.

Official medical textbooks that classify homosexuality under "Sexual Deviations and Disorders" are widely used. After several requests to do so, Serbian Medical Society has finally stated that same-sex orientation is not a disease in an official letter to Labris in 2008.

The protection of LGBT people in Serbia is further complicated by the existence of various nationalist and pro-fascist associations like 'Obraz', '1389' and 'Stormfront', which are supported by some right-wing political parties. These groups have, on several occasions, made their threats to LGBT people publicly known, though the media and the police are increasingly reacting to deter such threats publicly.

Development of LGBT rights and culture in Serbia is contributed by LGBT sites such as the oldest Adriatic LGBT Activism mailing list in the region, GayEcho and Gay-Serbia; the last two are primarily online gay portals.

The depth of Serbia's homophobia played a role in the breakup of Yugoslavia.[dubious ] One of the major landmarks of escalating tensions between Albanians and Serbs was an affair involving the forceful insertion of a bottle into the anus of Đorđe Martinović, a Serb resident of Kosovo.[16] At first, he said it was due to accidental injuries, but later he said that an Albanian had done the deed, leading to mass media attention and a nationalistic outcry in Serbia.[17] There was later circulation of nationalistic material comparing the "impalement of Đorđe Martinović" with Turkish forms of torture due to the shared Islamic religion between Albanians and Turks.[18]

Gay culture[edit]

The gay scene is small but growing. As of 2011, Loud & Queer operates monthly club nights at different venues throughout Belgrade. Pleasure and Apartman operate Fridays and Saturdays in the city.

Bars and cafes include Fenix, Smiley, Espeho, 24 and Mystik in the capital (as well as the gay-friendly Downtown Cafe), alongside others in the downtown areas of Novi Sad and Subotica.

Public opinion[edit]

According to the Commissioner for Protection of Equality, research done in 2012 shows that 48% of Serbs believe that "Homosexuality is an illness".[19]

Summary table[edit]

Same-sex sexual activity legal Yes (Since 1994)
Equal age of consent Yes (Since 2006)
Anti-discrimination laws in employment Yes (Since 2005)
Anti-discrimination laws in the provision of goods and services Yes (Since 2009)
Anti-discrimination laws in the media Yes (Since 2002; violated with impunity)
Anti-discrimination laws in all other areas Yes (Since 2009)
Same-sex marriages No (Constitutional ban since 2006)
Recognition of same-sex unions No
Adoption by same-sex couples No
Gays allowed to serve in the military Yes (Since 2005)
Right to change legal gender Yes (Since 2007)
Access to IVF for lesbians No
Commercial surrogacy for gays No (Banned for heterosexual couples as well)
MSMs allowed to donate blood No/Yes (Six months deferral period)

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]


  1. ^ "Homophobia still tolerated by governments around the world". Amnesty International. 16 May 2014. Retrieved 23 December 2014. 
  2. ^ "USPEH: Beograd Prajd 2014 – nova strana istorije!". Parada ponosa Beograd. Retrieved 23 December 2014. 
  3. ^ The full text was rediscovered in the State Archives in 1903, upon accession of Karađorđe's grandson Peter I of Serbia to the throne.
  5. ^ V. Para # 206, p. 82 of the "Kaznitelni zakon 1860" in Slavo-Serbian orthography [1]
  6. ^ Mihailo will go on with liberalising and modernising Serbia during his own second reign, q.v. in Mihailo Obrenović III, Prince of Serbia
  7. ^ LGBTQ Timeline
  8. ^ a b The Hidden Europe: What Eastern Europeans Can Teach Us
  9. ^ Serbian Constitution
  10. ^ [2]
  11. ^ [3]
  12. ^ [4]
  13. ^ European Commission, Serbia 2009 Progress Report, p. 14
  14. ^ [5]
  15. ^ "Pride Parade won't be held". B92. 19 September 2009. Retrieved 19 September 2009. 
  16. ^ Julie A. Mertus, Kosovo: How Myths and Truths started a War, pp. 100-10. University of California Press, 1999. ISBN 0-520-21865-5
  17. ^ Jasna Dragović-Soso, Saviours of the Nation?: Serbia's Intellectual Opposition and the Revival of Nationalism, pp. 132-135. C. Hurst & Co, 2002. ISBN 1-85065-577-4
  18. ^ From "Kosovo 1389, Kosovo 1989", Serbian Literary Quarterly, Writers' Association of Serbia, 1989, p. 94. Quoted in translation in Fred Halliday, Islam and the Myth of Confrontation: Religion and Politics in the Middle East, fn. 10, p. 241. I.B. Tauris, ISBN 1-86064-868-1
  19. ^