Early in December, 2011, at a speech at the International Human Rights Day celebration in Geneva, Switzerland, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBTs in the current jargon) people “universal” and criticized nations that criminalize gay behavior or tolerate abuse of gay, bisexual or transgendered people as abuses of basic human rights.
This is part of President Barack Obama’s agenda to make the defense of gay rights official U. S. policy and he directed agencies to ensure that U.S. diplomacy and foreign assistance programs promote and protect human rights of gays and lesbians.
Republican candidates for president, such as Governor Rick Perry of Texas and former senator Rick Santorum quickly took the President and his policy to task for promoting a gay agenda.
African and Asian leaders, both political and religious, also jumped on the bandwagon, criticizing the Obama administration for dictating moralities that contradicted their historical and religious values.
LGBT leaders, such as Jessica Stern of the New York-based Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, were equally quick to applaud the initiative.
So, and here we very gingerly, but necessarily, step into the quicksand of human rights and gays.
And, let’s frame the question right up front: do universal human rights include the LGBT community?
Historically, the concept, principles, and definition of human rights are derived from two broad sources: the concept of natural rights and natural law; and, two, religious rules and laws.
Those two sources are not mutually exclusive.
One of the greatest Christian theologians of all time, St. Thomas Aquinas, wrote of the natural law as pertaining to all men as he sought in his disquisitions to reconcile faith with reason.
Later on the English philosopher John Locke further defined natural rights as life, liberty, health, and property of citizens, and the principal function of the state was to prosecute and punish those who violate the right of others and protect the peace of the citizens.
Moral, rather than legal, distinctions in the rights and obligations of individuals go back to Biblical times.
Very clearly, homosexuality is condemned in the Judeo-Christian context. “Rights” as such simply do not apply in the equation of sin and homosexuality.
Of course, slavery was tolerated in Biblical times, and it has been largely extinguished in the Western world.
So, we are faced with what appears to be a contradiction. Do we pick what we choose to believe, leaving some parts and rules in, dropping some because of changing culture and social habits? Or do we take the Bible literally, accepting absolutely all—unconditionally–, as God’s truth and dictums?
This phenomenon is called the “cultural captivity of the Bible,” or reading and interpreting it in the light of the customs of one’s time. As slavery lost usefulness, for example, in the west due to changing economic circumstances in the nineteenth century, the pressure to end it became powerful.
And added to the equation was the ground swell of humanitarianism in the eighteenth century that propelled the abolitionist movement. Economic and moral circumstances coincided and slavery was largely abolished in the West.
So, it existed and was accepted in the Bible, but it has ceased to exist in most places on earth.
The LGBT community lobbies today on the same grounds: the changing moral calculus of the world. If slavery, and the second class citizenship of women in the Bible for example, have both been altered to conform to modern standards, then so should LGBTs be accorded the same rights as all men and women.
That stands to reason, except for one big exception. Legal rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are already guaranteed to all, including the LGBT community.
But moral judgments and values which clearly distinguish historically between sexual preferences are not legal rights.
A free people have the right (guaranteed to them by the definitions of human rights) to determine how they choose to believe, what standards they choose to uphold, as long as they do not deprive others of their human rights.
Let’s take marriage for example.
Within the Judeo Christian context, marriage is a sacrament, one of seven if you are Catholic, two largely in the Protestant tradition, although terms and numbers vary.
Marriages also have a civil dimension which gives them a legal identity.
Within the Christian context, marriage is between a man and a woman, to provide the context for children and family. That has long been the view and prevailing definition within our country which is largely, but not solely, Christian in tradition, if not practice.
And, you don’t have to marry, if you elect not to. You may elect celibacy for example, to live as a monk or friar. Or, you may choose the life of a profligate, sexual unions with any and all you can find. You are free to make those choices within the principle of natural or civil rights we all enjoy, at least in this country.
Christians also live within a moral order that is ordained in Scripture. There is accountability for all the choices you make.
There are few moral ambiguities for Christians, and certainly none with respect to homosexuality, which is, by definition, is a sexual preference, not a human right.
You have the right to choose, and the right to practice what you choose freely, but not the “right” to change the system of moral values which exists in Scripture.
You may choose to ignore it, since you may be an atheist, an agnostic, or worship in a different faith tradition.
At the core of the Christian argument is that marriage both obeys a natural law and reflects a religious rule, both fundamental sources of human rights.
If you prefer to be a LGTB, that is your choice and you will continue to enjoy all the civil rights guaranteed by the Constitution. You may be stoned to death in Africa or parts of Asia whose level of tolerance for homosexuality is very low, but we live in a country where we defend our human rights.
But it is hardly logical to expect the community at large to endow you with the privileges and responsibilities that come with marriage, as recognized by nature and by religion. Both argue irrefutably that marriage is a sacred union, obeying natural laws, to produce and protect the family.
That President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton want to world to follow this country’s insistence that same sex marriages, and the LGBT community, enjoy the same protection under human rights legislation, such as liberty, freedom of expression, freedom of religion, etc. is a rather odd mixing of rights and preferences.
That they are both Ivy League-trained lawyers (Harvard and Yale) would no doubt have Puritan and Congregationalist ministers who founded the colleges turning over in their graves, or perhaps coming out of them to lecture their descendants.
Published in The Tuscaloosa News Sunday January 8, 2012