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Sexual Resolution

Sexual Resolution


The Obama administration's decision to support the U.N. declaration to decriminalize homosexuality is cause to celebrate -- and cause for gay rights activists to hold the new president accountable for real change.

The hosannas are flying in response to news that the United States will sign onto a United Nations General Assembly declaration urging all of its member states to decriminalize homosexuality. "The Administration's leadership on this issue is a rebuke of an earlier Bush administration position that sought to deny the universal application of human rights protections to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals," said Mark Bromley of the Council for Global Equality. Joe Solmonese of the Human Rights Campaign applauded the State Department's decision as "a welcome step forward as it signals to the world that, after years of a hostile administration, the United States recognizes the humanity of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people at home and abroad."

The decision by the Obama administration to support the French-drafted statement and thereby join 66 other countries in denouncing government-endorsed homophobia represents a welcome reversal from the policies of its predecessor. In December the Bush administration refused to sign the decree, citing the bogus rationale that the declaration's legal stipulations would impinge on the ability of state governments to legislate on matters of sexual orientation-based discrimination (in most states it remains legal to fire someone because of their sexuality). While the statement is sponsored by a diverse set of democratic nations ranging from the entire European Union to Israel and Japan, it is opposed, naturally, by a motley crew of Muslim states, African dictatorships, and the authoritarian behemoths of China and Russia. Those governments signed onto a rival declaration drafted by Syria stating that the resolution would "usher into social normalization, and possibly the legitimization, of many deplorable acts, including pedophilia." With this laudable turnaround, the United States finds itself not only on the right side of a fundamental human rights issue but in pleasant and proper company.

This auspicious move by the new administration, however, carries the danger of lulling gay rights activists into a sense of complacency. International homophobia is something so entrenched that mere statements protesting it will have little to no effect in mitigating its horrendous consequences. While the decision of the Obama administration marks a welcome change in American foreign policy, it is ultimately a hollow victory.

That such a progressive statement would emerge from the United Nations is unusual. Ever since its establishment in 1945, the U.N. has been little more than a money pit and a propaganda platform for the world's worst human rights abusers. Throughout most of its existence, the U.N. was a sideshow to the larger drama of the Cold War. The Soviet Union and its satellites routinely denounced American "imperialism" and very little was achieved in forwarding the cause of international peace, the reason for the U.N.'s creation. Although the superpower rivalry is long over, the U.N. still functions mainly as a way for global Lilliputians to tie down the American Gulliver.

One need only look to the other resolutions passed by the United Nations General Assembly to see just how futile are the organization's diktats. The body regularly calls for the end of racism, poverty, hunger, genocide, and war, among other blights on mankind, as if publishing a resolution on overpriced letterhead is enough to solve problems intrinsic to human existence. And because the General Assembly has no actual power aside from the issuance of pieces of paper expressing its feelings about various and sundry matters, the gravity of its resolutions can only be measured by the bravado of the language contained therein.

According to the sponsors of the French resolution, homosexuality is illegal in nearly 80 countries and the punishment often includes a death sentence. In some places, homophobia is deeply ingrained in the culture, but in many others is a prejudice employed by illiberal regimes to suppress dissent, instill fear in the populace, and exercise ultimate control over society. Iran, for instance, has a rich history of homosexual relations, whatever the absurd attempts of its president to deny its existence, and there is little evidence to suggest that the Iranian people themselves support the murderously antigay policies of the mullahs who rule over their lives. As in every other nation unfortunate enough to live under the boot of religious fascists or authoritarians, U.N. resolutions condemning state-sponsored homophobia will not save the gays of Iran. Regime change will.

Focusing so much attention on toothless U.N. resolutions misses the forest for the trees. Over the next few years, the Obama administration will be confronted with many decisions carrying far greater consequences than whatever effect its decision to append our name to this document might have. For instance, will the United States allow Iran to go nuclear? What sort of political arrangement will we leave behind in Iraq? The answer to these questions matters far more than anything the United Nations will ever do.

The wrong lesson to draw from this move would be to consider it momentous evidence of the Administration's commitment to gay rights. Obama's reversing Bush administration policy was a cost-free decision that angered only far-right conservatives who never supported him nor had any intention of doing so. The president will face more important tests on the domestic front in the upcoming years -- like revoking "don't ask, don't tell" and the Defense of Marriage Act, bestowing federal recognition of gay unions, and passing the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, for instance -- all of which carry long-term consequences.

So, yes, let's celebrate the long-overdue decision by our government to stand on the right side of history. Let's do what we can to ensure that this declaration has some appreciable effect on the miserable lives led by so many gay people around the world. But let's not forget that righteous statements cannot be a substitute for action.

Advocate Channel - The Pride StoreOut / Advocate Magazine - Fellow Travelers & Jamie Lee Curtis

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James Kirchick