Wednesday, April 24, 2013

LGBTQ Rights Worldwide: A Love Story

The Global Atlas of late has been consumed by the tragedy in Boston that affected all of our contributors directly. Yet while many bad things were happening in the world, there have been distinctly positive developments on the world stage. In one realm of human rights where many feared there would never be progress, especially in more conservative religious societies, major gains were made just in the last week: France and New Zealand each legalized gay marriage nationwide, bringing the total number of countries with legalized same-sex marriage to fourteen. Fourteen out of nearly 200 countries isn’t great, but consider this: it is a 1,300 percent increase in just the last ten years. At the beginning of this century, not a single country had legalized equal marriage rights. Not a single US state had legal same-sex marriage. Not. One. Now nine have fully recognized equal marriage as well as the District of Columbia. So 2013, with 14 countries and 9 US states having legalized equal marriage rights, marks a sea-change from the world in which we were living not even 15 years ago.

Protests in favor of equal marriage rights in January in Paris. Courtesy of AFP/Thomas Samson

Such rapidly changing norms and legal standards have been the hallmark of the age of human rights. Ever since the widely agreed-upon human rights were codified in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1948, our notion of equal treatment under the law has evolved to encompass gender, ethnicity, religion, race, and the disabled. The LGBTQ community is increasingly being drawn into the fold of standard human rights practices with every state that enacts protections and promotes equal status. It was unthinkable at the dawn of the 20th century that women, minorities, and people from different religions should be treated as equals under the laws of at least the United States; at the beginning of this one, it was unthinkable that they should not share rights equally. By the beginning of the next, I'd wager that people won't be able to imagine a time when two people in love were denied the right of marriage regardless of their sexual orientation.

People celebrate news that same-sex marriage has passed in France

Worldwide, some places have matured on the spectrum of rights recognition more quickly (ahem, Scandinavia). Others drag their feet and some reject the human rights regime outright as a Western imperialist invention. Yet even the worst offenders now feel the need to resolve highly publicized cases by releasing the arbitrarily detained, reducing the use of torture, and not executing someone extrajudicially. Much of this is tied to a country’s desire for external assistance, both economic and military. As long as the United States is the primary holder of both the carrot and the stick, it will set the tone for human rights requirements among its allies as well as its enemies. Staying the current path of ignoring our friends’ abuses (ahem, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, Israel) while decrying those of our enemies (à la Iran) is, in the long-term, folly: the beautiful thing about human rights is that once people know that they have them, you can never, ever take them away. When those people find liberation, as the course of history shows that they so often do, the US will have many sins of its own to answer for. Yet in the fight for equal rights for the LGBTQ community, the U.S., especially under the current administration, has done fairly well to maintain a consistent message, in the words of Hillary Clinton, that “gay rights are human rights.”

LGBTQ rights are often described as the last vanguard of the human rights movement. While this might be truer in the developed world than the developing, it is still a false hope. There are many more battles left to be fought on behalf of human rights, and the war against tyranny and abuse is not likely to draw to a close anytime soon. But when I’m feeling particularly disheartened after reading yet another story of human suffering at the hands of other humans, I like to remind myself of this: There has, overall, been no better point in history to be a human being. The respect of human rights this century is so far ahead of the centuries that preceded it that it becomes difficult to imagine how so many people changed how they think about their fellow humans so quickly and so drastically. Especially astounding is how so many people with power derived from the very system that human rights would destroy stood behind equal rights time and time again. 

Does this mean the fight is over, that we can content ourselves that we've "made it this far" and give up? Absolutely not. While there are places in the world that condemn homosexuals to death for loving who they love, places where torture and brutality are the order of the day, the fight will never be over. Even in places where LGBTQ people are at least protected from state-sanctioned murder, the pace of reform is beyond frustrating; it’s maddening. The world is not changing fast enough, and it won’t be perfect in our lifetimes, either. But the important thing is: it’s changing.  And given the past week, for now, that’s enough to keep me hopeful for the future.


  1. Great post. I especially liked "There has, overall, been no better point in history to be a human being." Good perspective lest we get lost in the day-to-day setbacks.

  2. Very good written article. It will be supportive to anyone who utilizes it, including me. Keep doing what you are doing – can’r wait to read more posts. 9 Ways You Can Use Love Spells