By Adi Chowdhury
“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights…Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, 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.”
—Articles 1 and 2, Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948)
“Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family. They are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution.
Marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending spouses.
The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.”
–Article 17, Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948)
The United Nations posits itself as an authoritative harbinger of social progress, a mediator of democracy, a watchful and concerned guardian of human rights and well-being on a global scale. And, generally, the UN has succeeded in this vision. The UN has contributed massively to the international crusade for the enhancement of social protection and political cooperation and continues to do so.
The UN-backed World Food Program has consistently combated starvation and suffering in natural disaster areas, war zones, and in impoverished regions, feeding 104 million people in 80 nations. The refugee agency UNHCR has received multiple Nobel Peace Prizes and is a beacon of hope for millions of refugees across the globe, especially today amid the Syrian civil war’s expulsion of innumerable citizens. Also a victor of a Nobel Peace Prize recipient, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has defended the rights and well-being of over 90 million children since 1990. The UN agency World Health Organization (WHO) virtually eliminated smallpox after more than a decade of devoted efforts. Multiple UN peacekeeping missions are currently active in sensitive areas and regions of conflict across the world. Very recently, the United Nations General Assembly has announced that it is poised to establish an international panel for analyzing war crimes in Syria and hold perpetrators accountable for years of massive human rights abuses.
Of course, the United Nations deserves its position in the pantheon of global accomplishments, providing an inspiring and international sense of protection and supervision through its systematic efforts to preserve the dignity and well-being of the human race, as well as nature itself. The Bangladeshi Humanist sincerely applauds the UN for its ceaseless devotion to an honorable cause–perhaps the most honorable cause of all: the betterment of humankind, and the promotion of peaceful diversity.
But, in the face if a new age of LGBT rights, the United Nations must ramp up its fight for same-sex marriage. Far too long has the meaning of marriage been unjustly controlled and vilified by homophobes and anti-gay crusaders; far too long have same-sex relationships been denigrated and deemed “impure”; far too long have the words “sanctity of marriage” been used for stifling gay rights and for inciting intolerance. The United Nations, in its position as a global defender of progressive values, must take greater strides for the upholding and normalization of marriage equality.
One of the most widely popular and fundamental charters for international law is the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). This covenant, ratified in 1966, forms the legal backbone for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and outlines the basic rights that all citizens of the world are entitled to. From the American Civil Liberties Union:
“The ICCPR is a key international human rights treaty, providing a range of protections for civil and political rights. The ICCPR, together with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights, are considered the International Bill of Human Rights. The ICCPR obligates countries that have ratified the treaty to protect and preserve basic human rights, such as: the right to life and human dignity; equality before the law; freedom of speech, assembly, and association; religious freedom and privacy; freedom from torture, ill-treatment, and arbitrary detention; gender equality; the right to a fair trial, and; minority rights.”
Disappointingly, nowhere in the ICCPR is the importance of LGBT rights. In fact, sexual orientation–a human trait that has attracted violence, prejudice, and stigmatization throughout history–is not even mentioned. Here is what the ICCPR has to say about marriage:
1. The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.
2. The right of men and women of marriageable age to marry and to found a family shall be recognized.
3. No marriage shall be entered into without the free and full consent of the intending spouses.
4. States Parties to the present Covenant shall take appropriate steps to ensure equality of rights and responsibilities of spouses as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution. In the case of dissolution, provision shall be made for the necessary protection of any children.
Dismally incomprehensive of the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and queer citizens. The absence of even a mention of same-sex couples is alarming, given the extent and influence of the ICCPR.
The lack of relevance granted to same-sex couples in the ICCPR is not just disappointing–it’s proved to be destructive. In a 2002 case in New Zealand known as Joslin vs New Zealand, a lesbian couples sued the government for its ban on same-sex marriages. The United Nations Human Rights Council rejected the case, seeing that the ICCPR did not recognize marriage equality as a basic human right–setting back the advancement of the LGBT community with a deterrent blow.
Another similar case (with a brighter ending) was Toonen vs Australia (1994), in which a citizen retaliated against anti-LGBT laws in Tasmania. This landmark case resulted in the ban of Tasmania’s “sodomy laws” criminalizing homosexuality. However, this upturning was limited to Tasmania, and it did not achieve any laws officially recognizing same-sex marriage–it only swept away policies criminalizing it.
Only in recent years has the UN sought to establish the safety and protection of LGBT citizens. According to the Human Rights Campaign, the very first time that a UN body affirmed the equal rights of LGBT citizend was in June 2011, when the UN Human Rights Council passed a resolution that called for a study on discrimination, gender identity, and sexual orientation. In 2015, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) issued a new report titled“Discrimination and violence against individuals based on their sexual orientation and gender identity” (A/HRC/29/23). This report outlines the needs for member states to embrace LGBT inclusiveness and reiterates the inherent equality of humans regardless of sexual orientation.
Here is elaboration on the report, from the Human Rights Campaign:
“According to this report, LGBT people have made notable advances since 2011. 12 more countries have introduced marriage or civil unions for same-sex couples (taking the total to 34 countries) and 10 more countries have made it easier for transgender people to obtain accurate legal documents. However, these advances have been overshadowed by continuing violence and impunity, criminalization and discrimination in a variety of settings such as legal frameworks, healthcare, housing and education.
In many countries, LGBT people suffer under discriminatory and punitive laws. The report unequivocally notes that “States that criminalize consensual homosexual acts are in breach of international human rights laws…” Discrimination against LGBT people in many countries is exacerbated by other factors such as race, gender and poverty. The report notes that “All human beings, irrespective of their sexual orientation and gender identity, are entitled to enjoy the protection of international human rights law…” and states have an obligation to protect their LGBT citizens from violence.”
The UN has made also other appreciable efforts, such as the Free & Equal Campaign, to legitimize and promote LGBT inclusiveness. Yes, these are admirable, dynamic, and impactful endeavors that make possible a global advancement of LGBT rights. The UN has placed a vigorous emphasis on violence targeting the LGBT community and has taken steps to eradicate such abhorrence.
However, the need for same-sex marriage remains avoided in the resolutions and doctrines put forth so far. The importance of establishing marriage equality at a stage level has been eschewed. While the (previous) Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon has thankfully been an ardent support of same-sex relationships, and the UN has decided to recognize gay unions among its own employees, the United Nations has yet to concretely solidify international legislation approving of same-sex marriage across the globe.
The chants and vigorous sentiment heard at anti-gay marches and conventions reflect the core essence at the heart of the movement: baseless and devoid of facts, only unsubstantiated emotions backed more by religious tradition than legitimate information. “One man, one woman” and “It was Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve,” are equal in their commonality and also in their laughable baselessness. The energetic claims of “preserving the sanctity of marriage” is a defense perpetrated to justify the suppression of gay rights–despite the fact that much of the anti-gay movement’s hate-driven hyperbole undermines the basis of marriage: love, not reproduction.
The UN has the decisive power to ward away such superstition, and instill compassion and reason in its place.
The LGBT rights movement has been gaining momentum in recent years, enjoying rapid advancement in this age of progressive and liberal thinking. And this age must bring with it a newly consolidated defense of the progress we’ve made. Primitive beliefs and lingering prejudice pose an immense threat to the movement rallying for marriage equality. The United Nations, as a global watchdog human well-being, must be at the forefront of our defense lines against the battalion of bigotry and inequality. To accomplish this, the UN must solidify its strides to protect same-sex marriage–affirming LGBT inclusiveness’s rightful place in the secular, progressive democracy that the world is evolving into.