(CNSNews.com) - Religious beliefs and cultural values do not justify the failure to uphold the human rights of homosexuals, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told the United Nations in Geneva on Tuesday.
"Now, raising this issue, I know, is sensitive for many people and that the obstacles standing in the way of protecting the human rights of LGBT people rest on deeply held personal, political, cultural, and religious beliefs," Clinton said.
Her speech at the Geneva headquarters of the United Nations and its Human Rights Council (HRC) was delivered ahead of Human Rights Day on December 10, the anniversary of the U.N.’s adoption in 1948 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
With Syrian abuses having been at the forefront of the Human Rights Council’s attention in recent days and weeks, Clinton’s focus on “LGBT rights” was unexpected, even after President Obama’s signing earlier in the day of a memorandum which the White House called the “first-ever U.S. government strategy dedicated to combating human rights abuses against LGBT persons abroad.” (See story)
Clinton said recognition that LGBT people "are entitled to the full measure of dignity and rights" has 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."
Clinton noted that among the challenges facing LGBT people is "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," she said.
"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.
"Rarely are cultural and religious traditions and teachings actually in conflict with the protection of human rights," Clinton continued. "Indeed, our religion and our culture are sources of compassion and inspiration toward our fellow human beings. It was not only those who’ve justified slavery who leaned on religion, it was also those who sought to abolish it. And let us keep in mind that our commitments to protect the freedom of religion and to defend the dignity of LGBT people emanate from a common source.
“For many of us, religious belief and practice is a vital source of meaning and identity, and fundamental to who we are as people. And likewise, for most of us, the bonds of love and family that we forge are also vital sources of meaning and identity. And caring for others is an expression of what it means to be fully human. It is because the human experience is universal that human rights are universal and cut across all religions and cultures."
According to the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association, homosexual acts are punishable by death in Iran, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Mauritania, Sudan and Yemen, as well as in parts of Nigeria under shari’a law.
Countries whose laws allow for imprisonment of 10 years or more for homosexuality include Libya, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Zambia, Malaysia, Bangladesh, Papua New Guinea and Guyana, it says.
A number of other countries have penalties of prison terms of less than ten years, fines or other restrictions.
‘At war with people of faith’
During a background briefing in Geneva, a senior State Department official was asked about the administration’s view on same-sex marriage in the context of its new policy of promoting LGBT rights worldwide.
President Obama and Clinton have both stated publicly that they oppose same-sex marriage.
“I think the secretary and the president have both spoken about their personal views on marriage,” the official replied. “And I think that one of the things that comes up a lot in the international context is that, as in America, elsewhere there’s a ongoing debate about gay marriage.
“But whatever our position on gay marriage, I think one of the things that many of us have been working toward finding an agreement on is the fact that no matter what you think about that question, we can all agree that people ought not be killed or imprisoned for who they are and who they love,” the official said.
Republican presidential candidates Texas Gov. Rick Perry and former Sen. Rick Santorum both criticized the administration’s LGBT announcements.
“Promoting special rights for gays in foreign countries is not in America’s interests and not worth a dime of taxpayers’ money,” Perry said in a statement, adding that the policy was “just the most recent example of an administration at war with people of faith in this country.”
“Obviously the administration is promoting their particular agenda in this country, and now they feel its their obligation to promote those values not just in the military, not just in our society, but now around the world with taxpayer dollars,” CNN quoted Santorum as telling reporters in Iowa
He said Obama must make his stance on same-sex marriage clear.
“He said he’s for traditional marriage, and now he’s promoting gay lifestyles and gay rights and he’s fighting against traditional marriage within the courts, and I think he needs to be honest,” Santorum said.