There is some that is commendable and much that is pernicious in Secretary Clinton’s speech Tuesday announcing that the United States will be making “LGBT rights” — that is, the rights of lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgendered persons — “a priority of our foreign policy” and a factor in determining the uses of “foreign assistance.”
Support for human rights has a place in foreign policy, albeit a subordinate one. Among those rights, certainly, is the right of homosexuals to be free from violent attacks and other draconian punishments. As Clinton rightly notes, if there are fundamental rights at all (and the foundational premise of this republic is that there are) then they “are not conferred by the government,” but ours “because we are human.” The secretary then goes on to claim that human rights and gay rights are “one and the same,” which we suppose is true insofar as the latter collapses into the former. What we don’t understand is how Clinton’s view — that being human vests us with certain rights — entails or even is compatible with a second set of rights that one enjoys by virtue of being homosexual. When Clinton says, “It is a violation of human rights when people are beaten or killed because of their sexual orientation,” no recourse is required to a gay right. The words “because of their sexual orientation” are superfluous. When she says that the horrors of “corrective” rape against women who are suspected of being homosexual are violations of a right, to what right could she be referring besides the right not to be raped, simpliciter?
This is an old and ongoing fight about a distinction the Left has long been uninterested in making, but Clinton’s speech presented some novel problems, as well. For instance, in making her case, Clinton allowed that “my own country’s record on civil rights for gay people is far from perfect,” citing pre-2003 state laws that formally prohibited homosexual conduct (often without enforcement) as cases of human-rights violation. In the future, a secretary of state who thinks like Clinton could cite the United States of 2011 as similarly culpable, since we do not universally recognize same-sex marriage or mandate “gay history” education, or push other countries to join our newfound enlightenment. Meanwhile, Clinton’s speech was scant on talk of freedom of conscience as a human right, as the administration by its actions and inactions seems to be downplaying religious freedom as relevant to foreign policy. It has done nothing, for example, to fortify the Commission on International Religious Freedom. Dwelling on the supposed moral backwardness of America in the 1990s while ignoring the fact that in a great many parts of the world — notably the Islamic ones — members of religious minorities are regularly persecuted, imprisoned, and killed for their beliefs shows a certain lack of proportion. Whether this curious emphasis is attributable to domestic political concerns — President Obama is not long out of the doghouse among the gay-rights crowd — or merely a reflection of the distorted vision of liberal ideology, we cannot say.