Some facts about gay rights (or LGBT/Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Rights).
This is a problem of discrimination and unequal treatment, both in law (legal discrimination) and in social life (homophobia and hate crime). It’s not about special rights or special treatment for homosexuals as some kind of minority group with a separate identity, but about their equal rights and treatment.
First a word about so-called “reparative therapy”. Of course, attempts to change gay, lesbian and bisexual people into heterosexuals should be opposed, but this can be done on the basis of normal human rights. No special group or identity rights are necessary. Changing people’s behavior through force is in general a human rights violation.
The underlying question in the debate over reparative therapy is whether homosexuality is a choice or an innate characteristic with which people are born. But this question is irrelevant with respect to the human rights of gays or LGBTs. These rights should be unconditionally respected, as all human rights, whether or not the people who have these rights choose a certain life style, whether or not they are born with certain characteristics. It’s not as if people who are born with certain characteristics have more human rights than people who choose to adopt these characteristics.
Article 2 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights states:
Each State Party to the present Covenant undertakes to respect and to ensure to all individuals within its territory and subject to its jurisdiction the rights recognized in the present Covenant, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.
Sexual orientation is not mentioned but it is accepted that the list given here is a list of examples and not complete. “Without distinction of any kind” is clear enough.
Article 3 states:
The States Parties to the present Covenant undertake to ensure the equal right of men and women to the enjoyment of all civil and political rights set forth in the present Covenant.
And Article 26:
All persons are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to the equal protection of the law. In this respect, the law shall prohibit any discrimination and guarantee to all persons equal and effective protection against discrimination on any ground such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.
Many objections to gay rights have religious roots (recall the story of the people of Lot and Sodom and Gomorrah, which, by the way is also mentioned in the Qur’an). Most major religions oppose homosexuality. In the US, conservative white evangelicals who attend their places of worship weekly are more likely to oppose gay marriage and gay rights (see here). Opponents of homosexuality or equal rights for homosexuals also point to human anatomy and reproduction as proof that same-sex intercourse is unnatural. However, if we start branding all unnatural activity as immoral, we may as well stop living.
In a 2003 decision striking down anti-sodomy laws, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that gays and lesbians have a right to sexual privacy and are “entitled to respect for their private lives.”
Over the last centuries and especially the last decades, acceptance of homosexuality by people in the West and in Asia has increased, as is shown by this graph (figures for the US):
However, in large parts of Africa and the Middle East this is not yet the case. The following graph shows the status of homosexuality laws in the world. I know one cannot deduce public opinion from laws in non-democratic countries, but there must be some correlation:
Public opinion is as follows:
But even in the countries with the most liberal legal systems and the most favorable (or least unfavorable) public opinion, there is still discrimination based on sexual orientation. Areas where most work still needs to be done are:
- Protection against discrimination in employment and housing
- Domestic partner benefits similar to those granted to married couples, or
- The right to marry or have their relationships recognized in “civil unions”
- The ability to serve in the military without hiding their sexuality.