The human-rights abuse that dare not speak its name is finally being taken seriously. The Obama administration is directing that foreign-aid efforts be tied to fighting discrimination against homosexuals. British Prime Minister David Cameron also recently threatened to cut aid to countries that don’t recognize gay rights. Canada has laudably spoken out against such anti-gay laws, but could do more.
In October, Canada was part of a group of Commonwealth countries that tried, and failed, to convince other member states to rescind anti-gay laws. Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird’s recent criticism of a new Nigerian anti-gay law that would make same-sex unions punishable by 14 years in jail similarly had no impact. While it is good that Canada is on the record as opposing such human-rights abuses, it should consider using other tools at its disposal, such as tying some aid to reforms.
In a recent speech, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton compared the struggle for homosexual equality to the struggle for women's rights and racial equality, adding that “gay people are born into and belong to every society in the world,” and “it should never be a crime to be gay.”
The U.S. and U.K. measures were in response to a June resolution by the United Nations Human Rights Council that condemned anti-gay discrimination. The resolution was fiercely opposed by some African and Middle Eastern governments that still actively prosecute men and women for their sexual preferences.
Five countries still have laws that make homosexuality punishable by death – Iran, Mauritania, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Yemen – and 76 other countries criminalize consensual homosexual practices in some fashion. As an example of the latter, two Russian regions have laws that extinguish fundamental rights of homosexuals, such as to assemble and exercise free speech.
The world has, over several decades, made important strides toward improving the status of women, protecting indigenous peoples and eliminating explicitly racist regimes. Homosexuals also merit protection. While individual gays can be punished, homosexuality will persist. Denying the existence of homosexuality is to deny something of the essence of humanity.
Canada, which protects gay rights at home, should do so vigorously abroad. Such cruel and repressive laws should be strongly opposed by the global community, and states that practice them should not just be singled out, but made to pay a price for their intolerance.