Sex & Sexuality in Turkey

As befits an old country right in the centre of the old Mediterranean civilisation, Turkey is pretty much on the centre-ground of gender politics.

Introduction

Same-sex sexual activity was legalized in the Ottoman Empire (the predecessor of Turkey) in 1858 and, in modern Turkey, homosexual activity has always been legal since the day the country was founded in 1923. The age of consent is 18.

No specific anti-discrimination laws exist.

It is worth remembering that Turkey is (and has always been) a very conservative, Islamic country where, irrespective of the legal position, attitudes to all sexual matters tend to be very orthodox. Public opinion about homosexuality has generally been conservative, and LGBT people have been widely reported to experience discrimination, harassment, and even violence in recent years. This is particularly so away from Istanbul and the coast.

Displays of public affection are rare, irrespective of the gender of the people taking part. This is still true, but less so, for heterosexual couples. Affection between same-sex couples is almost unheard of except, perhaps, in parts of the largest cities.

Again, irrespective of the gender of the people concerned, ‘indecent activity’ in a public place is illegal. This is interpreted to include nudity. Bikinis etc. are accepted, often even if you are not on the beach.

Attitudes towards the legalization of same-sex unions in Turkey are mixed. In a 2015 poll by Ipsos, 27% of the Turkish public was in favour of legalizing same-sex marriage, while 19% preferred civil unions instead. Some 25% of those surveyed were against any form of legal recognition for same-sex couples and 29% stated that they didn’t know which option to choose.

Turkey is ranked 111 out of 197 countries on the Spartacus Gay Travel Index (PDF).

Video guide to same sex marriage in Turkey

You can get a quick overview of same sex marriage in Turkey by watching this video interview (below) with Turkish lawyer Başak Yıldız Orkun. Learn more by scrolling down and reading the guide she has written with us.

What are a foreigner’s heterosexual and LGBT rights in Turkey?

Heterosexual activity

The age of consent is 18. The punishment for breaking this law is a minimum of three years in jail and a maximum of eight years. However, there are restrictions on the ability to prosecute people for offences against victims aged 15, 16 & 17. In these cases there is also a lower sentence than in the case of younger victims: six months to two years in jail. Sexual activity between a person over 21 and a person under 15 can result in lengthy periods of imprisonment.

The absolute minimum age for marriage is 15 but people under 17 require a court order permitting the marriage. A person aged 17 needs the consent of their parent. Marriage without the consent of your parents requires you to be 18.

Gay (homosexual, male) activity

Homosexual activity between consenting people is permitted in a private place but illegal in a public place. There is no legislation about gay sexual activity, so general interpretation is that the age of consent is the same as for heterosexual couples.

Civil partnerships are not recognised but the courts have some discretion to act to redress the results of unfairness when a same-sex relationship breaks down.

In all other respects, a homosexual has all the same legal rights as a heterosexual.

Lesbian (homosexual, female) activity

This is treated in the same way as male homosexual activity.

Transgender rights in Turkey

This term is not recognised under local law. No special provision is made for transgender people. A transgender person retains the gender of their birth but, when an adult, is permitted to change their official gender with the benefit of a court decision.

Who can help?

If you face any issues concerning sex or gender, your first point of contact should be The Istanbul LGBTI Unity Association. They may direct you elsewhere.

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