Coming more than 36 hours later, I’m not going to claim to present Hillary Rodham Clinton’s speech on Tuesday on LGBT rights as news. It was a great speech though, and well worth watching if you’ve only read the text.
Some have suggested that gay rights and human rights are separate and distinct; but, in fact, they are one and the same. Now, of course, 60 years ago, the governments that drafted and passed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights were not thinking about how it applied to the LGBT community. They also weren’t thinking about how it applied to indigenous people or children or people with disabilities or other marginalized groups. Yet in the past 60 years, we have come to recognize that members of these groups are entitled to the full measure of dignity and rights, because, like all people, they share a common humanity.
This recognition did not occur all at once. It evolved over time. And as it did, we understood that we were honoring rights that people always had, rather than creating new or special rights for them. Like being a woman, like being a racial, religious, tribal, or ethnic minority, being LGBT does not make you less human. And that is why gay rights are human rights, and human rights are gay rights.
It is wrong to make legal distinctions, prohibitions against lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender people because no one should be subject to any special exception from human rights. It is not about creating exceptions, but ending them. Culture and religion can be no excuse for an infringement on human rights.
As I posted on Facebook, she didn’t start being great on Tuesday. This speech consciously mirrors her speech in Beijing at the Fourth World Conference on Women. This is a speech should be read again now by all those inspired by her speech on Tuesday,
It is time for us to say here in Beijing, and for the world to hear, that it is no longer acceptable to discuss women’s rights as separate from human rights.
These abuses have continued because, for too long, the history of women has been a history of silence. Even today, there are those who are trying to silence our words. But the voices of this conference and of the women at Huairou must be heard loudly and clearly:
It is a violation of human rights when babies are denied food, or drowned, or suffocated, or their spines broken, simply because they are born girls.
It is a violation of human rights when women and girls are sold into the slavery of prostitution for human greed — and the kinds of reasons that are used to justify this practice should no longer be tolerated.
It is a violation of human rights when women are doused with gasoline, set on fire, and burned to death because their marriage dowries are deemed too small.
It is a violation of human rights when individual women are raped in their own communities and when thousands of women are subjected to rape as a tactic or prize of war.
It is a violation of human rights when a leading cause of death worldwide among women ages 14 to 44 is the violence they are subjected to in their own homes by their own relatives.
It is a violation of human rights when young girls are brutalized by the painful and degrading practice of genital mutilation.
It is a violation of human rights when women are denied the right to plan their own families, and that includes being forced to have abortions or being sterilized against their will.
If there is one message that echoes forth from this conference, let it be that human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights once and for all. Let us not forget that among those rights are the right to speak freely — and the right to be heard.
The problems she refers to are unfortunately as alive today as they were 16 years ago, and we must continue to scrutinize our approaches to human rights issues around the world to ensure that we do not place the right to life and personal autonomy of any individual on a lower scale for any reason.
I had a letter published in today’s Irish Times, in response to Breda O’Brien’s article on Saturday, “Genuinely tolerant society will not be a cold house for religion”.
A chara, – Breda O’Brien writes that “how we handle gay rights versus religious rights will determine whether we become a polarised society that is a cold house for religion, or a genuinely tolerant society”.
Implicit in this comparison is a faulty assumption these rights fall under equivalent categories. Ms O’Brien might plausibly contrast religious views of society against secular views, both being deeply held outlooks.
However, the same cannot be said of gay rights, which are a recognition of an innate characteristic. In classical liberal terms, the rights afforded to religion are derived from freedom of speech and association, and in a pluralist society we should naturally be respectful of differences in such matters, whereas the rights recognised for gay people are a matter of equality before the law, which surely ranks higher in any estimation of rights. – Is mise,
Bray, Co Wicklow.
On Tuesday, the Supreme Court ruled that Portmarnock Golf Club was entitled to exclude women from full membership (I covered this on Facebook, still not in the habit of posting such things here). I would agree with their decision in this case, based on the idea that individuals have the freedom to associate with others on the terms they decide for themselves. I’m not saying that this is an absolute right in all cases, particularly that there could be discrimination on the basis of race that should at times be prevented.
(Having said that, while it cost them money in the courts, and anything that hurts them is a good thing, I see little sense either in forcing the British National Party to allow membership to those who aren’t white. They very clearly are a racist party, I can think of no reason someone who wasn’t white would wish to join, and allowing them to be explicit about it had the benefit of discouraging votes from them.)
This is a different case to whether sex discrimination should be allowed in matters of employment. It is easy to conflate issues because of the broad similarity of what is involved, and the common principles, but because there are no economic structures, the principles are subtly different. In this case it is simply a matter of the freedom of association, that in a free society any group of people may come together to decide how they want to organize.
There are any number of ladies’ clubs around the country, which no one objects to. They may not bother stating explicitly in their rules that their membership is exclusively for women, but it is understood to be so. For whatever reason, men and women often like to associate without the other. Some women might like to chat at their book club, while men might like there to be only other men while chatting in the members’ bar in Portmarnock. Perhaps a ladies’ sports gym would have been a better example, as men and women respectively often like to be with their own before and after sports. Not all do, of course. I have little interest in sport myself, and in general, prefer mixed groups. And in any case, I hope never to middle-aged enough to wish to join a golf club.
The bigger perspective really is where does what is known as the equality agenda end. As far as I’m concerned, the state should tackle discrimination in as far as it is directly responsible for the employment or association. However people wish to organize socially should be their affairs. What those on the left of this and related issues forget is where we’ve come from, and what they historically fought against. In years gone by, conservatives sought to mould society in a particular image, and interfered with matters that should have been the private domain, controlling the interactions between individuals. This is now what those who wish to force social clubs to open their membership are trying to achieve in reverse. Until all units of society are tolerant and diverse, at least in principle, they don’t seem to be happy. Except, that is, that they won’t tolerate those who have no wish for diversity.