HuffingtonPost -Gay Rights Are Human Rights: Advancing LGBT Protections At The UN

Gay Rights Are Human Rights: Advancing LGBT Protections At The UN
by GUEST AUTHOR on MARCH 29, 2012
in INTERNATIONAL,NEWS,POLITICS

A Landmark occasion for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender human rights.

Guest post by Peter Dunne, International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission

At the United Nations Human Rights Council March 2012 meeting in Geneva, an expert panel was convened to discuss the first-ever UN report focused on violence and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity: “Discriminatory laws and practices and acts of violence against individuals based on their sexual orientation and gender identity,” ( A.HRC.19.41.)

Navi Pillay, High Commissioner for the Human Rights addresses during the Panel discussion on the issue of discriminatory laws and practices and acts of violence against individuals based on their sexual orientation and gender identity, 19th Human Rights Council. Room XX, Palais des Nations, Geneva. Wednesday 7 March 2012. Photo by Violaine Martin (UN Photo/Violaine Martin)
The document, published by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights at the close of 2011, identified widespread and systematic rights violations that LGBT individuals are subject to around the world. Given that less than ten years ago much of the UN was silent on even the most extreme atrocities committed against Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) people, this event represents a truly historic moment.

The High Commissioner’s Report presents significant opportunities for advancing human rights as well as raising important questions.

First, what role should international law play in protecting LGBT individuals? The report clearly refutes arguments that international human rights do not apply to violations committed on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. At the same time, it might also serve as a guide to those countries that seek to achieve change through bilateral channels.

In October 2011, British Prime Minister David Cameron announced that the U.K would consider conditioning foreign budgetary aid on the repeal of anti-gay laws. His comments were criticised as an example of neo-colonialism and as a failure to appreciate the sensitivities of sexual politics in the Global South. In some countries, homosexuality is seen as a ‘western’ idea, imported by the United Kingdom and the United States to undermine local values.

The new report illustrates that international law is a viable and perhaps more neutral alternative to bilateral diplomacy. Resulting from a South African-led resolution (Res. 17/19), the report challenges the suggestion that homosexuality is a ‘western’ notion. The many references to sexual orientation and gender identity in the official documents of the UN Treaty Bodies and of the UN Special Rapporteurs are evidence that LGBT rights are now firmly established within the international human rights framework.

Second, what is the importance of decriminalization in any LGBT rights strategy? Today, seventy-six countries worldwide apply criminal penalties to same-sex conduct. Criminalization leaves LGBT persons vulnerable to State persecution and legitimises other forms of abuse, such as social stigmatization and hate crimes. While the repeal of discriminatory laws must be a long-term aim, can there be a justification for focusing resources on short-term goals which do not reach the level of full decriminalization?

According to some governments, homosexuality and transgenderism are seen as being in fundamental conflict with cultural and religious traditions. In such environments, it may be counterproductive to prioritize full decriminalization. Where a societal framework does not permit even the mention of homosexuality, can one actually begin to debate anti-gay laws?

In many countries, it is not only the existence of homophonic laws but the discriminatory manner in which they are applied that affects people’s daily lives. In such circumstances, it may be most effective to focus immediate resources on working at the local level, within the existing legal framework, to ensure the greatest possible security for LGBT communities.

Finally, what are the needs of LGBT people beyond decriminalization?

In 1996, South Africa became the first country in the world to constitutionally prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Yet, despite legal protection, LGBT individuals in South Africa continue to experience discrimination and violence. In March 2006, Zoliswa Nkonyana, a nineteen-year old lesbian, was stoned to death by a Cape Town mob who accused her of being a “tomboy” who “wanted to be raped”. Nkonyana’s killers were finally brought to justice six years later, with four men each receiving prison sentences for the killing.

Zoliswa Nkonyana’s story illustrates that even where legal protections have been introduced public education is critically important. By courageously taking the lead at the UN and making LGBT rights a priority in its foreign policy, the Government of South Africa has struck a blow for LGBT equality that hopefully will encourage a level of social acceptance domestically and globally which mirrors its own existing legal protections.

The frank and open discussion of LGBT rights in Geneva supported by South Africa’s lead and fed by the High Commissioner’s report were indeed historic…but only if the messages and lessons learned are carried forth to positively impact the day-to-day lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people around the world.

Images:
Top: UN 19th Human Rights Council – Human Rights Council – 19th Session
The Panel discussion on the issue of discriminatory laws and practices and acts of violence against individuals based on their sexual orientation and gender identity, 19th Human Rights Council. Room XX, Palais des Nations, Geneva. Wednesday 7 March 2012. Photo by Violaine Martin

(UN Photo/Violaine Martin)

The Edge -In Tight Election, French President Appears to Support Marriage Equality

In Tight Election, French President Appears to Support Marriage Equality
by Jason St. Amand
Web Producer / Staff Writer
Friday Mar 30, 2012

French President Nicolas Sarkozy
France’s President Nicolas Sarkozy may change his views on same-sex marriage in order to defeat his rival in the upcoming elections, the conservative right wing website Life Site News reported.

Sarkozy is falling behind his opponent Francois Hollande, who supports marriage equality, in the polls. Now the French president says he will create a marriage ceremony that would be performed by the government. The new measure would be part of France’s Pact of Civil Solidarity (PACS), which is similar to a civil union in the U.S.

“I am ready to propose — it would be a matter of a decree-that the marriage ceremony, for a homosexual PACS, be made a right,” Sarkozy said in an interview with the French magazine Tetu. He added, “the ceremony would permit a true social acceptance” same-sex relationships.

Sarkozy went on to say that he supports non-traditional families as well.

“A family can be one father-one mother, two fathers or two mothers. I think that it’s necessary to leave the situation as it is, in a somewhat unclear area, that we are not obligated to legislate everything, to vote for laws for everything,” Sarkozy said.

Hollande told the gay glossy magazine Tetu that he wants to legalize gay marriage in the country by early 2013. According to several opinion polls, the majority of the French public support marriage equality, Life Site News points out.

“I know that the first months of the parliamentary session will be essentially committed to elements of financial planning, so I prefer to be honest: if we want a good debate, it’s better to start at the beginning of 2013 and to finish by spring,” Hollande told Tetu.

But just last month, Sarkozy was interviewed by a conservative French magazine and he told the publication that he would not support gay marriage in his re-election platform.

“In troubled times, when our society needs to keep its bearings, I don’t think that it is necessary to blur the image of this essential social institution that is marriage,” Sarkozy said.

He also told the magazine that even though he won’t back gay marriage he would support other rights for gays, including inheritance rights. But Sarkozy went on to say that he is against civil unions because it would “tend to harm the institution of marriage.”

“I know that there exists, in fact, particular situations with men and with women who assume their parental roles perfectly. But they do not lead me to think that it is necessary to inscribe in law a new definition of family,” Sarkozy said.

Malta to Propose Marriage Equality Law (The Edge – Boston Mass)

Malta to Propose Marriage Equality Law
by Jason St. Amand
Web Producer / Staff Writer
Wednesday Mar 28, 2012

Malta’s government recently announced that it will propose a law that supports civil partnerships for same-sex couples, Malta Today reported. The tiny and ultra-Catholic country sits in the Mediterranean Sea just 50 miles south of Sicily.

The country’s justice minister, Chris Said, told the newspaper, “The bill on co-habitation will be discussed in Cabinet and within the Parliamentary Group shortly. It will be presented to Parliament soon after. The government’s position is that the relationship between gay couples should be regulated by the law regulating cohabitation, including the institute of civil partnerships.”

In the past, the Maltese government has not been clear where it stands with marriage equality but this decision might pave the way for an intense fight for the liberal vote between the country’s political parties.

Currently, Malta does not recognize gay marriage or any kind of legal partnership. Gays and lesbians, however, are allowed to openly serve in the military and transgender people can legally change their gender on official documents. Additionally, Malta has a ban on anti-gay discrimination in employment and the country’s gay rights movement is urging the government to add sexual orientation to the country’s discrimination laws for the provisions of goods and services and other areas.

In 2006 a poll asked Maltese citizens if they support same-sex marriage. The results were dismal as only 18 percent said they back marriage equality. But a poll shows that the country’s youth may be more accepting of the LGBT community. A 2007 poll found that 54 percent of Maltese under 34-years-old supported gay marriage while 82 percent of people over the age of 55 were against it. Another poll from 2009 asked university students how they felt about gay marriage. Forty-nine percent supported it, 35 percent opposed and 16 percent were undecided.

John Boehner Has Collected $742,000 For DOMA Defense, Top House Official Says – (Huffington Post)

John Boehner Has Collected $742,000 For DOMA Defense, Top House Official Says
Posted: 03/27/2012 6:38 pm Updated: 03/27/2012 7:06 pm

 

WASHINGTON — Ever since House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) signed on last year to defend the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in court, it’s been a mystery trying to figure out where, exactly, he was getting the taxpayer funds to pay for it.

But those numbers became clear Tuesday as lawmakers sparred over the point, and the costs, of the House hiring outside attorneys to defend the federal ban on gay marriage at a time when money is tight and when various courts — but not the U.S. Supreme Court — have ruled that the law is unconstitutional.

Boehner so far has collected $742,000 to defend DOMA, and that money was skimmed from funds that would normally go toward House officer and employee salaries, Chief Administrative Officer Dan Strodel told members of a House Appropriations subcommittee. Strodel said none of that money came out of the budget of the Justice Department, which dropped its defense of DOMA in February 2011 after Attorney General Eric Holder determined it to be unconstitutional. Boehner, in his authority as speaker, has been defending the law on behalf of the federal government ever since.

House leaders agreed to a contract in October 2011 to spend as much as $1.5 million in their defense of DOMA. Amid the confusion of how they would pay for it, GOP aides in past months have suggested that the House had slashed funds for the Justice Department as a kind of payback for the House incurring the costs of defending DOMA. But Democratic aides said Tuesday’s hearing clarifies that was never the case.

“False reports that Republicans were able to get funds from the Dept. of Justice have now been thoroughly debunked,” Ryan Nickel, a spokesman for Democrats on the House Appropriations Committee, told The Huffington Post in an email. “In these difficult fiscal times, Democrats will continue to ask Republican leadership how they intend to pay for this contract.”

A GOP spokeswoman for the Appropriations Committee declined to weigh in on the funding streams and deferred to Boehner’s office. A Boehner spokesman reiterated that the Justice Department’s budget was cut last year. This was, of course, the case with nearly all federal agencies.

House General Counsel Kerry Kirchner, who was appointed by Boehner and whose job it is to represent lawmakers in legal disputes, said Tuesday that the House has ties to 12 DOMA lawsuits so far. The House is currently involved in nine active cases, there are two it is still preparing to intervene in, and one case is complete. In an effort to cut the costs of paying for outside counsel, Kirchner said that Boehner has been forking over money from his own budget to the House General Counsel’s office to cover legal expenses.

“We’ve brought more of the DOMA work back into my office in order to reduce the amount that we expend on outside counsel,” he told the subcommittee.

Kirchner stopped short of saying how much of that $742,000 has actually been spent. Asked by The Huffington Post how much has already gone out the door to attorneys, Kirchner said that he knew what the number was, but wouldn’t share it. “If you want the answers to questions like that, just ask the speaker’s office,” he said.

The Boehner spokesman deferred to the House Appropriations Committee, which previously deferred to Boehner’s office. So it still remains unclear how much money the House has actually spent on DOMA to date.

One committee member, Rep. David Price (D-N.C.), pressed Kirchner to give an estimate on what the total costs will be to the House to defend DOMA. Kirchner said that figure remains elusive.

“It’s very difficult for me to answer questions about how much because I just don’t know how long this is going to play out,” Kirchner said. The goal is to get the issue before the Supreme Court and let them resolve it once and for all, he said. Until then, debate over the constitutionality of DOMA will continue to play out in lower courts and the House will continue to defend it.

“There are a lot of balls in the air on this one,” Kirchner said, which “has monetary implications for the House.”

The issue of the House defending DOMA rarely comes up for debate, so when it did on Tuesday, it brought with it some fiery exchanges.

As Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.) pressed Kirchner on why the House is defending an “unconstitutional law that separates all of us,” Rep. Steven LaTourette (R-Ohio) jumped in and asked, “When is the Department of Justice going to do their job? You can’t pick which laws you want to defend and which laws you don’t feel like enforcing.”

Honda then said that defending DOMA is a waste of money that could be put to better use, such as for “resources to the family of Trayvon Martin in Florida.”

“Bill Clinton signed DOMA! It’s the law of the land!” LaTourette shouted back. “The Department of Justice can’t cherry-pick what they choose to defend or don’t defend. It’s costing more because the Department of Justice is in bed with the plaintiffs!”

In a bizarre moment, a Republican lawmaker proposed paying for DOMA legal fees by getting rid of organic food in the House cafeteria.

“I think organic food is a wonderful thing. I know most American families can’t afford to buy organic food, but it’s a nice choice for folks to be able to make in a free marketplace. But I don’t know if that’s necessarily the case here that people must eat it at the cafeteria,” Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Calif.) said.

He pressed Strodel to renegotiate the food service contract with Restaurant Associates, the company that runs the House cafeterias, to cut costs by removing organic food options. When Strodel said that it didn’t cost the House anything extra to provide organic versus non-organic food, Calvert then switched gears and lamented that Hill staffers who eat in the House cafeteria may be not able to afford buying organic food.

“I think that’s an option, that for any future contract you can have organic food that people can have the choice to acquire, but they shouldn’t be forced to acquire something at a higher price,” he said. “I believe in choice.”

This story has been updated to include a Boehner spokesman’s response as to how much the House has spent on DOMA.