In what has become an ongoing skirmish over homosexual rights, the United Nations General Assembly two weeks ago narrowly rejected a reference to a controversial re-writing of a foundational human rights treaty. In the voting, Catholic countries did not conduct themselves very well.
The treaty is called the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights and is one of the two implementing hard-law treaties of the iconic, but nevertheless non-binding, Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Last summer the U.N. committee charged with monitoring compliance with the treaty re-wrote the forty-four-year-old treaty to include “gender identity and sexual orientation” as new categories of non-discrimination, similar to established categories such as race, sex, religion, and national origin.
What happens at the United Nations and the international level generally is that one action builds upon another and another until eventually proponents claim there is a new international norm that is binding upon states. Following this strategy, homosexual advocates in the General Assembly included a reference to this re-writing of the treaty in a largely non-controversial resolution on human rights. If the reference had been accepted, advocates would have claimed General Assembly approval of the new interpretation, hence adding authority to what for now is the action of a small and unknown committee.
Here are just a few problems with this latest front established by the homosexual internationale.
First, this is a sneaky and even dishonest way to establish human rights. Why not try to walk through the front door rather than using the pronouncements of unknown committees? Among other things, the recent effort has the effect of undermining a genuine understanding of human rights and international law.
Second, “sexual orientation and gender identity” are elastic terms that will come to mean practically anything in the hands of ideologically motivated lawyers and judges.
Though the vote was close, 76-72, there is nonetheless a solid bloc of states at the United Nations who are willing to stand up to elite opprobrium and reject the homosexual agenda. The bad news is that the effort to stop this nonsense is being led almost exclusively by Arab and Muslim states, while largely Catholic countries are voting on the other side.
The effort to retain the language was led by Finland and supported by such traditionally Catholic European countries as Ireland, Italy, Spain, Poland, Portugal, and Malta. Catholic countries in Latin America followed suit including Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay, and the Philippines.
The Holy See is a non-voting member of the General Assembly, so it did not vote and did not make a statement. However, the Holy See’s position is fairly clear.
In a statement to a U.N. panel exploring discrimination against homosexuals, a Holy See representative reiterated the Church’s position that homosexuals should not be executed or subject to “torture, or other cruel and inhuman and degrading punishment.”
However, the 1986 Letter on the Pastoral Care of the Homosexual Person published by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (then headed by Cardinal Ratzinger) is still operative. It says, “the proper reaction to crimes committed against homosexual persons should not be to claim that the homosexual condition is not disordered. When such a claim is made and when homosexual activity is consequently condoned, or when civil legislation is introduced to protect behavior to which no one has any conceivable right, neither the Church nor society at large should be surprised when other distorted notions and practices gain ground, and irrational and violent reactions increase.”
And last year, when given a chance to sign a French petition calling for “sexual orientation and gender identity” as new protected categories, the Holy See declined. Why? Because the Church holds there is a distinction between just and unjust discrimination. Establishing “gender identity and sexual orientation” as new protected categories would eliminate that distinction and impinge upon religious freedom and protections for children, the family, and society at large.
The current international flirtation with homosexual rights is a creature almost exclusively of northern elites and a few in the south who want northern approval and northern money. Wherever you go in the world – Africa, Asia, Latin America – traditional people uniformly reject approval of the homosexual lifestyle. If these efforts ever succeed at the United Nations or elsewhere, it will be against the overwhelming wishes of the people. In the meantime, let us pray for the continuing resolve of the Muslims.
Austin Ruse is the President of the New York and Washinton, D.C.-based Catholic Family & Human Rights Institute (C-FAM), a research institute that focuses exclusively on international social policy.
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