UN Report Falls Short of Calling Same-Sex Marriage a Human Right

AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky, File
AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky, File

A report issued this week by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights tells UN Member States that “sexual orientation and gender identity” are new categories of non-discrimination in international human rights law, though not to include same-sex marriage.

The UN General Assembly has steadfastly resisted such a notion and after many years of fighting by LGBT advocates has only allowed the phrase “sexual orientation and gender identity” (SOGI) into a non-binding resolution on summary executions and extra-judicial killings.

It is likely that Member States will largely ignore this new report, even though it was issued by the new High Commissioner for Human Rights, Prince Zeid bin Ra’ad of Jordan.

Prince Zeid bin Ra’ad, son of the Lord Chamberlain of Jordan, was appointed to the post of High Commissioner for Human Rights last fall. Educated at Johns Hopkins and Cambridge, Zeid served as Jordan’s Ambassador to the United States, along with various UN posts before becoming the first Muslim to head the UN human rights office.

Given Islam’s strong conservative stand on homosexuality, some expected that the Office of High Commissioner would become less assertive on the controversial topic of sexual orientation and gender identity. This report belies those expectations.

The report is the result of a hard-fought battle at the Human Rights Council for that body to issue a report on violence against individuals based on SOGI that has long been a key part of the effort to make SOGI a protected category in international law.

The report lists “…a variety of initiatives aimed at reducing levels of violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity” including introduction of hate crimes laws, legal protection of “intersex” persons, abolishing criminal penalties for homosexuality, same-sex marriage and civil unions, and the ability of the transgendered to have their new gender recognized in law.

The report, however, claims that since 2011 “hundreds of people have been killed and thousands more injured in brutal, violent attacks” because of their sexual orientation.

The report asserts that laws “criminalizing homosexual acts at in breach of international human rights law since these laws, by their mere existence, violate the right to privacy and non-discrimination.” Such an assertion is hotly debated at the UN and elsewhere and opens up the question of who decides human rights obligations. No treaty specifically mentions SOGI as a protected category and no body of States Party to any human rights treaty has ever decided to include SOGI as a protected category. States Parties to treaties generally resist the imposition of new obligations by bodies of UN bureaucrats no matter the rightness of the claim.

Zeid’s report cites the universality of human rights law and then inserts SOGI into it. The push for including SOGI as a new category, on par with freedom of religion, has largely come from UN Treaty Monitoring Bodies, the UN Secretary General, and the Office of High Commission for Human Rights. In fact, so frustrated have LGBT activists become that they openly object to the lack of progress for their issue at the UN.

One of the more controversial claims in the report is the reference to “sexual orientation change efforts” as a form of “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment…” Though the psychological establishment no longer includes same-sex attraction in its list of mental disorders, the American Psychological Association does not hold that same-sex attraction is immutable and it allows for the possibility of change. Psychologists who practice treatment for unwanted same-sex attraction would consider Zeid’s report an unethical governmental intrusion into the doctor-patient relationship.

An important part of the report’s preparation was input from non-governmental advocacy groups. A group of American LGBT activists dedicated to outlawing any kind of therapy for unwanted same-sex attraction met with the UN Committee on Torture last fall and made widely discredited claims about “conversion therapy” torture. Samuel Brinton told the committee that he had electrodes attached to his fingers during therapy. Noted gay activist Wayne Besen of Truth Wins Out says he cannot verify the story Brinton told the UN committee.

One section of the report goes specifically at the Russian Federation and other countries that have instituted so-called anti-propaganda laws that keep the LGBT narrative from school children. The report says such laws have contributed to persecution of same-sex attracted individuals and have violated rights of assembly and freedom of expression.

Though the report does not call same-sex marriage a human right, it does praise those governments that have allowed for it.

 Follow Austin Ruse on Twitter @austinruse