Tuesday, December 23, 2008

US Refuses to Officially Condemn Human Rights Violations Based on Sexual Orientation

"More than 70 U.N. members outlaw homosexuality, and in several of them homosexual acts can be punished by execution."

Because of these unfortunate laws, 66 nations recently signed a non-binding United Nations declaration calling for a worldwide decriminalization of homosexuality. George W. Bush's United States was not one of them.

Sex between consenting adults of the same sex was decriminalized in the US in 2003 (Lawrence v. Texas). Nevertheless, some "US officials" were fearful of sliding down a slippery slope:

"According to some of the declaration's backers, U.S. officials expressed concern in private talks that some parts of the declaration might be problematic in committing the federal government on matters that fall under state jurisdiction. In numerous states, landlords and private employers are allowed to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation; on the federal level, gays are not allowed to serve openly in the military."

I know that international law carries with it inherent uncertainties and conflicts, but I would love to hear the specific legal arguments used to come to the conclusion that this nonbinding UN declaration regarding the decriminalization of homosexuality "might be problematic" to our legal system. I read through the declaration and the paragraph that had the closest implications for our civil legal system stated (available here, scroll to the end):

"We are also disturbed that violence, harassment, discrimination, exclusion, stigmatisation and prejudice are directed against persons in all countries in the world because of sexual orientation or gender identity, and that these practices undermine the integrity and dignity of those subjected to these abuses."

Clearly, the United States is not "disturbed" by many of these things and has no regard for the fact that discrimination, exclusion, stigmatization, and prejudice undermine the integrity and dignity of LGBT people. Many of us already know that. Yet, our government should have just made that lack of concern explicit rather than making an inaccurate statement about the effect that a nonbinding UN declaration would have on our sovereignty. By itself, I just don't think the declaration would have interfered with the state and federal government's ability to discriminate against LGBT people in the civil arena.

Anyway, at least our nation is opposed to the criminalization of homosexuality. It's better than nothing I guess:

"Carolyn Vadino, a spokeswoman for the U.S. mission to the U.N., stressed that the United States — despite its unwillingness to sign — condemned any human rights violations related to sexual orientation."

In other words, the US opposes criminalizing homosexuality, but it won't officially oppose the decriminalization of homosexuality because it might lead to equal rights and we simply can't have that. The Bush Administration showed its priorities here. It weighed the chance LGBT Americans had of getting equal rights against the chance that chance that some nations which are currently murdering gay people might stop doing so as a result of the declaration. It made a choice. Given that human rights are the basic rights that all human beings are entitled to and that, as a nation, we should officially condemn violations of human rights, it's not the choice I would have made. Even if it meant angering my voting base.

Others opposing the declaration include the Vatican and 50 other nations, including the Organization of the Islamic Conference. The opposing nations issued a statement suggesting "that protecting sexual orientation could lead to 'the social normalization and possibly the legalization of deplorable acts' such as pedophilia and incest."

Golly. That sounds familiar. For religions that are so different, it's remarkable how similar extremist Muslims and Christians can be when it comes to homosexuality.

We don't always keep the best company as a nation when it comes to symbolic and formal equality for LGBT people.

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