How can we tolerate the fact that people are stoned, hanged, decapitated and tortured only because of their sexual orientation? — Rama Yade
During the Victorian Era, the British systematically outlawed homosexuality in their colonies, beginning with India in 1860. Today, many former colonies still have anti-homosexual laws on their books dating from their colonial past. The British imposition of Victorian morality — and its modern day legacy — is documented in a report issued by the organization Human Rights Watch. Summing up the harm done even to this day, the report states:
More than 80 countries around the world still criminalize consensual homosexual conduct between adult men, and often between adult women.
These laws invade privacy and create inequality. They relegate people to inferior status because of how they look or who they love. They degrade people’s dignity by declaring their most intimate feelings “unnatural” or illegal. They can be used to discredit enemies and destroy careers and lives. They promote violence and give it impunity. They hand police and others the power to arrest, blackmail, and abuse. They drive people underground to live in invisibility and fear.
More than half those countries have these laws because they once were British colonies. (—This Alien Legacy p. 4-5 .pdf)
I’m not about to start British bashing here. All societies and cultures make mistakes. The collection of norms that are today called “Victorian morality” were in some cases appropriate for their day, and in other cases — such as regarding homosexuality — were non-adaptive and barbaric for any day and age. The point here is not to bash the British — no matter how much fun that might be — but simply to understand one source of the problems homosexuals face in tens of countries.
Of course, not every country’s persecution and abuse of homosexuals can be traced back to British colonization and the imposition of Victorian morality. Many cultures and societies have made similar mistakes even without Britain’s help. Fortunately, there is now some genuine international interest in rectifying those mistakes.
In December of last year, France sponsored “an unprecedented [United Nations] declaration seeking to decriminalize homosexuality”. The declaration was immediately signed by all 27 European Union members as well as Australia, Japan, Mexico and three dozen other countries. But the United States under the Bush Administration joined China, Russia, and members of the Organization of the Islamic Conference in refusing to sign. And that’s how things stood until Tuesday.
On Tuesday, the Obama Administration notified France that the U.S. wants to be added as a signatory of the declaration. Hopefully that lays to rest a minor national disgrace.
I’m of the opinion there are extremely few issues in this world that are black and white. It just never happens — at least, it almost never happens — that one side is entirely right and the other side entirely wrong. But if anything comes close to that being the case then the issue of gay rights does.
I have yet to hear even one well reasoned argument to oppose gay rights. Instead, it seems all the well reasoned arguments are squarely on the side of granting gays full and equal rights. Since there appears to be no rational reason why gays should be discriminated against, the fact they are discriminated against is morally unbearable. As the French minister Rama Yade suggested: How can we tolerate it?