This example shows that this battle isn’t just about stopping violence. It’s about making SOGI an integral part of human rights law. The violence issue is a way to advance this effort and to paint its opponents as complicit in violence themselves.
Why oppose SOGI coming into human rights law?
First, the terms “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” are vague and ill-defined, and have come to encompass a whole range of morally problematic ideas, including same-sex marriage, adoption by gay and lesbian couples, and presenting the homosexual lifestyle positively to schoolchildren.
Though these intentions are not explicitly part of the push to make SOGI part of human rights law, language in human rights law tends to be twisted far beyond the meaning intended by the drafters and the countries that ratified them. The best example of this is that the “right to life” clause in human rights treaties is now interpreted by UN treaty-monitoring bodies as including a right to abortion. This would never have occurred to those countries that negotiated these treaties or the states that eventually ratified them.
What does “gender identity” mean? Perhaps there is a definition agreed to by the Queer Studies Departments of colleges across the country, but no acceptable definition is conceivable within the UN General Assembly. And even if members reached a generally agreed-upon definition today, the meaning would no doubt change by next year or even next week.
Second, experiences in the US and Europe show that whenever SOGI and religious freedom come into conflict, religious freedom tends to lose. Just ask the people who are losing their jobs in and out of government for voicing opposition to same-sex marriage. Just ask the pastors arrested and criminally prosecuted for preaching the Bible’s injunctions against homosexual acts.
But why oppose inclusion of SOGI in the GA resolution against summary execution and extrajudicial killing? After all, this proposal by its own terms is truly only about violence. The answer lies in the way human rights law is developed these days. It is a less-than- honest practice.
Once a phrase gets into any UN document, even a non-binding one, it becomes what is called “agreed upon language.” And “agreed upon language” is almost impossible to resist in future documents. Here it may refer only to violence, but eventually, at the hands of UN committees and lawyers, its meaning vastly expands. Even this tiny concession in a document about violence rapidly becomes an argument that the international community now agrees that SOGI is a part of international law.
This is the boot-strapping of human rights. Last year the Human Rights Council approved a study of violence against homosexual people. Proponents, including Hillary Clinton, hailed this vote as a great victory for universal human rights. It was only a vote about a study. In the same way, the French statement from 2008 is now routinely called a UN resolution. In fact, it was no more than a press release.
Opponents of any inclusion of SOGI in UN documents understand how this game is played. This is why there were forty-four votes against the amendment last week, and we can be sure the thirty-one abstentions were also votes against but were cowed into abstaining by an aggressive Obama administration.
The Obama Administration
Much of what has happened so quickly would not have happened without President Obama.
Within days of coming into office President Obama signed the US onto the French statement. The US directed all agencies that do business overseas to help advance LGBT rights. Even the State Department directed all US Embassies everywhere to identify and assist domestic LGBT movements. This led to an LGBT party in the US Embassy in Pakistan, something that angered everyone including, according to the New York Times, the Pakistan LGBT community.
A few years ago, Ambassador Thomas Farr, who worked for many years in the State Department, reported that the Obama State Department had folded LGBT rights into the US annual report on religious freedom–an utterly illogical, but tactically ideological, move. In fact, Farr pointed out that LGBT rights are now favored by the State Department Office of Religious Freedom over freedom of religion itself.