Gay Rights Are Human Rights
First and foremost, it is important to note that sexual and gender minorities are systematically denied rights in the local, national, regional, and international spheres. This is problematic not only for sexual and gender minorities, but also for human rights as a concept and a standard for global achievement; (The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) is “a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations, to the end that every individual and every organ of society, keeping this Declaration constantly in mind, shall strive by teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and freedoms and by progressive measures, national and international, to secure their universal and effective recognition and observance, both among the peoples of Member States themselves and among the peoples of territories under their jurisdiction”).
Human rights are the rights that humans have simply because they are human. To deny sexual and gender minorities their rights is to deny their humanity. Either sexual and gender minorities are less than human, therefore deserving less rights, or the system of human rights is currently flawed. I choose to believe the latter, that the exclusion of sexual and gender minorities is a fundamental weakness of the theory and practice of human rights that endangers the rights of all. If we can pick and choose who has what rights when, then they must not be human rights, because not all humans have them simply because they are human. If that is the standard, what is there to prevent, for example, another Holocaust, where millions of Jews, homosexuals, and gypsies, among others, were killed for being Jewish, homosexual, and gypsy? Indeed, there have been plenty of genocides since the Holocaust. I am not suggesting that we determine the denial of rights to sexual and gender minorities genocide (though the argument could certainly be made convincingly); I am affirming that denying any rights to any threatens the rights of all. When it comes to human rights, it must be all or nothing (and I’m betting this world would rather “all,” considering the consequences of a world without human rights).
Why Same-Sex Marriage Matters
To recognize the human rights of sexual and gender minorities, we must move beyond tolerance. Here, tolerance means primarily the decriminalization of homosexuality. Further protections such as legislation preventing firing employees for their sexuality or gender identity, ensuring equal housing opportunities, and adoptive rights are additional important progressions. Next, “[a]fter decriminalization and the prohibition of discrimination against individual lesbian women and gay men, the next logical step is the recognition of lesbian and gay relationships for the purposes of laws or arrangements which recognize heterosexual marriage or cohabitation. Such recognition, dealing with employment benefits, health insurance, residential tenancies, and immigration rights, has been developing quite rapidly in the West on an ad hoc basis” (Sanders).
Recognizing same-sex couples as equal to opposite-sex couples is the foundation of securing equal rights. Therefore, same-sex marriage is a fundamental element of our progress toward equality. It serves as the catalyst within society to create equality. Before society can reach the point that it will allow same-sex marriage, as mentioned above, there must be anti-discrimination legislation in place. True nondiscrimination begins with respect and recognition of same-sex couples as equal to opposite-sex couples, and therefore of sexual minorities as equal to heterosexuals. This opens the door to further rights, freedoms, and protections for sexual and gender minorities. Once sexual and gender minorities are provided equal access to the rights they supposedly hold as humans, then we will truly have a system of human rights, one that affords certain rights to all humans because they are human.
The Same Rights with the Same Names
Okay, so if the point is to recognize same-sex couples as equal to straight couples by giving them the same rights, why do we have to call it marriage? As long as the rights are the same, can’t we just call it something else? Like a civil union?
Well, yes, we can call it something else. But if we call it something else, it’s just that—something else. Why? It’s called “separate but equal.” It’s a contradiction in terms. If it must be separate, it can’t be equal. Calling it something else says: You can have the rights, sure, fine, but we have to call it something else because you’re only deserving of something else, not actual equality. It is important to offer the same rights with the same names. “Marriage” is a human right: According to Article 16 of the UDHR: “(1) 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. (2) Marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending spouses. (3) The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.” Equality only comes when people are equal. If you can have marriage and I can’t, we aren’t equal.
Same-sex marriage matters, not just to sexual and gender minorities, and not just to the United States. If the United States can catch up to countries like Argentina, and call marriage the union of two people, not a man and a woman, we can set a precedent. We will not only move our own nation towards true equality for all, but we will make a statement to the world. Being an extraordinarily privileged and powerful nation, we can have an impact. Sexual and gender minorities around the world still suffer violations of their most basic human rights. If the United States pushes the human rights of sexual and gender minorities, the issues will gain greater presence on the international stage. In a world where a lesbian can be raped multiple times to “correct” her sexuality (known as corrective rape), where a gay couple can be sentenced to 14 years hard labor for their sexuality, where a travesti can be stabbed and burned to death, and where many more unimaginable horrors occur on a daily basis, this presence is essential. We can, we should, we must do something. Support for same-sex marriage is not simply offering gays the opportunity to put a ring on it. It is support of global progress toward true equality, toward a system of human rights that are actually human rights.
Sanders, Douglas. Getting Lesbian and Gay Issues on the International Human Rights Agenda. Human Rights Quarterly 18.1, 1996. pp. 67-106. 13 January 2011. <http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/human_rights_quarterly/v018/18.1sanders.html>.
- An interacttive map of LGBTI rights worldwide from the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, and Intersex Association (ILGA)
- The Universal Declaration of Human Rights
- International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
- International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
- The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW)
- The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC): “An organization filling the gap between the international human rights movement and the gay rights movement.”
- Los mismos derechos con los mismos nombres: “‘Los mismos derechos con los mismos nombres’ or ‘The same rights with the same names’ is the motto that identifies the current campaign for marriage equality in Argentina.”
- Los mismos Derechos, con los mismos nombres: La Federación Argentina de Lesbianas, Gays, Bisexuales y Trans
- Human Rights Campaign (HRC): “Send your message now and tell President Obama to publicly and vocally support marriage equality for all Americans.
Other thoughts on why marriage matters:
- Why same-sex ‘marriage’ matters (One News Now)
- Why gay marriage matters to me (CNN Living)
- Why Gay Marriage Matters (The Wall Street Journal)
- Why Marriage Matters: America, Equality, and Gay People’s Right to Marry (Freedom to Marry)
- Gay Or Straight, Marriage Matters–For Taxes (Forbes)
- Civic, religious, civil rights leaders join to declare ‘Marriage Matters’ (The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force)
- Gay Marriage Debate (C-SPAN)