This was a rollercoaster of a week for gay rights in the U.S.
North Carolina voters approved a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage; President Barack Obama voiced his support for same-sex marriage; and an article in the Washington Post had Mitt Romney apologizing for, but not quite admitting to, harassing closeted gay students in high school.
It’s been enough to give activists on both sides of the issue plenty to talk about, as we found out in Durham and Raleigh, North Carolina. Latitude News went to post-election parties on Tuesday night to ask how people thought the U.S. sizes up against other countries on same-sex marriage.
The American perspective may lie somewhere in the middle of the global experience. Some nations have legalized same-sex marriage, while others put gay people behind bars. But, as it turns out, the U.S. influence on the issue ranges around the world.
Big push from the State Department
So far 11 countries on three continents have legalized same-sex marriage – the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Canada, South Africa, Norway, Sweden, Portugal, Iceland, Argentina and Brazil. Other countries, and cities within countries, offer various levels of rights and protections for same-sex couples. For a thorough rundown, check out this article from CNN.
Meanwhile the U.S. Department of State is targeting nations with strict penalties for homosexuals. Last December, the State Department issued a fact sheet highlighting its record on promoting the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people.
“Gay rights are human rights,” said Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2010, “and human rights are gay rights, once and for all.”
Since 2009, the State Department says it has used a multilateral approach to promote LGBT rights – pressuring the Honduran government to investigate the murders of 30 LGBT individuals; publishing op-eds in local media in Jamaica, El Salvador and Panama; and helping the 2011 Pride parade in Slovakia get down the road without violence, unlike in 2010.
And then there’s the money. An administration official told Latitude News the State Department has committed $3 million to its Global Equity Fund, which “supports the rights of LGBT individuals through funds from U.S. Department of State as well as public and private sources.”
“[The fund] will aim to uphold the dignity and freedoms of the most at-risk LGBT individuals,” said the spokesperson.
There are a few mechanisms for distributing the cash. Through a global network of 270 embassies and consulates, small grants will be given to “short-term” projects run by organizations around the world. Then there’s “Dignity for All,” which “will provide emergency and preventative assistance to support civil society organizations under physical threat due to their work on LGBT rights issues,” according to the Department official.
“It’s very similar to existing programs we have for NGOs and human rights defenders. It could be used to relocate people or replace damaged equipment.
So, in essence, the State Department is broadening the impact of its previous human rights work by broadening the definition of human rights violations.
Uganda’s anti-gay bill
Scott Lively, a Christian activist from Massachusetts, thinks the State Department is on the wrong track. Lively’s Redemption Gate Mission Society, a church he founded in Springfield, Massachusetts, advocates for “demonstrating Biblical principles in every area of life.” Abiding Truth Ministries, also founded by Lively, has also been labeled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
“I think the U.S. should be using its efforts from a biblical perspective, not one that tears down the family,” Lively told Latitude News.
A gay rights group in Uganda has singled out Scott Lively and four Ugandans for what it alleges is their influence on religious and political leaders in Uganda, which Lively told the New York Times was “ridiculous.” The Ugandan group is suing Lively in a U.S. court.
Uganda has been in the press a lot lately for parliamentary efforts to pass an anti-gay bill. The initial bill proposed in 2009 carried a death penalty provision, although that has since been dropped.
In 2009, Lively visited Uganda for a series of lectures and interviews. You can read his full post on his visit here, in which he describes a warm reception by Ugandans.
“The false accusation against me, now circulating in the US, is that I called on the Ugandan government to force homosexuals into therapy. What I actually said is that the law against homosexuality should be liberalized to give arrestees the choice of therapy instead of imprisonment, similar to the therapy option I chose after being arrested for drunk driving in 1985 (during which time I accepted the Lord and was healed and transformed into a Christian activist).”
Lively has also said he did not encourage a death penalty in Uganda.
Jeff Ogwaro is a Ugandan activist with the Civil Society Coalition on Human Rights and Constitutional Law. Ogwaro told us that prior to Lively’s visit in 2009, churches were condemning homosexuality. But it was not very common, he says.
“[Lively] raised the profile of the issue within the church,” Ogwaro says. “The organized kind of workshop focusing on gay therapy and having ex-gay people testify – all that was new.”
President Obama’s announcement this week will continue to put a spotlight on same-sex marriage, and gay rights, both here and abroad. New Vision, one of the leading daily papers in Uganda (and majority government-owned), wrote about Obama and Romney’s opposing views on the issue just yesterday. In the comments section below the article, one reader voiced the following opinion:
“This is nonsense that i have never heard of but Americans are getting crazy in every thing they are doing.”
We can only guess which side of the debate this Ugandan thinks is crazier.
Radio interviews in North Carolina conducted by Richard Ziglar.