Wednesday, December 7, 2011

What Hillary Said: Gay Rights, Human Rights

I noted briefly late yesterday that Ms. Clinton, the U.S. Secretary of State, gave an historic speech yesterday at the Palais des Nations in Geneva in anticipation of International Human Rights Day.  In her address, she focused specifically on the need for universal recognition of the human rights of LGBT persons, and called for international collaboration to protect the LGBT community, which suffers active persecution and outright violence in many nations around the world.  Soon after the address was delivered, Huffington Post featured it for a period of time as the lead headline at that site, with an article providing the full text of the address as well as a video.

And here's what Ms. Clinton said:

1. Gay rights are human rights because gay persons are human persons--fully human beings

Some have suggested that gay rights and human rights are separate and distinct; but, in fact, they are one and the same. Now, of course, 60 years ago, the governments that drafted and passed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights were not thinking about how it applied to the LGBT community. They also weren’t thinking about how it applied to indigenous people or children or people with disabilities or other marginalized groups. Yet in the past 60 years, we have come to recognize that members of these groups are entitled to the full measure of dignity and rights, because, like all people, they share a common humanity. 
This recognition did not occur all at once. It evolved over time. And as it did, we understood that we were honoring rights that people always had, rather than creating new or special rights for them. Like being a woman, like being a racial, religious, tribal, or ethnic minority, being LGBT does not make you less human. And that is why gay rights are human rights, and human rights are gay rights. 
It is violation of human rights when people are beaten or killed because of their sexual orientation, or because they do not conform to cultural norms about how men and women should look or behave. It is a violation of human rights when governments declare it illegal to be gay, or allow those who harm gay people to go unpunished. It is a violation of human rights when lesbian or transgendered women are subjected to so-called corrective rape, or forcibly subjected to hormone treatments, or when people are murdered after public calls for violence toward gays, or when they are forced to flee their nations and seek asylum in other lands to save their lives. And it is a violation of human rights when life-saving care is withheld from people because they are gay, or equal access to justice is denied to people because they are gay, or public spaces are out of bounds to people because they are gay. No matter what we look like, where we come from, or who we are, we are all equally entitled to our human rights and dignity.

2. And if the concept of human rights means anything it all, it applies universally; rights don't recede from certain groups of people simply because a particular culture or particular religious body decides that that group does not deserve human rights:

The third, and perhaps most challenging, issue arises when people cite religious or cultural values as a reason to violate or not to protect the human rights of LGBT citizens. This is not unlike the justification offered for violent practices towards women like honor killings, widow burning, or female genital mutilation. Some people still defend those practices as part of a cultural tradition. But violence toward women isn't cultural; it's criminal. Likewise with slavery, what was once justified as sanctioned by God is now properly reviled as an unconscionable violation of human rights. 
In each of these cases, we came to learn that no practice or tradition trumps the human rights that belong to all of us. And this holds true for inflicting violence on LGBT people, criminalizing their status or behavior, expelling them from their families and communities, or tacitly or explicitly accepting their killing.

As Ms. Clinton points out, it took years of struggle and sacrifice to obtain international recognition of some basic human rights we take for granted nowadays, including the right of women to live fully human and autonomous lives free of unwarranted male dominance and control.  The battles to obtain these now-taken-for-granted human rights often involved fierce battles against religious strictures that sought to deny the full humanity of particular groups of people and to deny rights to particular groups of people.  And they involved fierce battles against leaders of religious groups intent on keeping discrimination alive in the name of religious belief.

And things are no different today with the struggle for LGBT rights.  Though Ms. Clinton's address naturally does not spell out this point, among those who are now suggesting that gay rights are distinct from human rights and that religious groups ought to have particular privileges to deny human rights to LGBT persons is the Vatican itself.  

And this is shameful in the extreme, and should be of great concern to Catholics around the world who care about the concept of human rights and about protecting persecuted minorities from oppression.  It ought to be a cause for tremendous shame on the part of Catholics today that we are hearing from a leader of a secular government sane, humane, and redemptive words that should be coming out of the mouth of our pope and bishops.

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