Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Gay Rights Are Human Rights

In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.
Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.
Genesis 1:1-5
One of the most fundamental biblical observations is that words matter.

God speaks and things happen. The heavens and the earth are created by the Word of God.

The Bible is clear that there is a difference between divine speech and human speech. Our words are limited and finite. We cannot speak the world into being. But human speech carries within it echoes of the divine.

On Tuesday, in Geneva, Switzerland, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton delivered a remarkable and important speech in recognition of International Human Rights Day.

She noted that the Declaration was enacted when the world was still reeling from the horrors and atrocities of World War II. The document was drafted over a two year period, culminating in one last long night of debate with the final approval coming at three o’clock in the morning on December 10, 1948. Forty-eight nations voted in favor of the Declaration; eight abstained, but no nation voted against it. The Declaration proclaims a basic truth, that all human beings are born with basic rights. These rights are not conferred by governments, they are inherent in our common humanity.

Over the years since that declaration, the world has made great progress. Barriers to liberty and equality have been dismantled. Racist laws have been repealed. Laws relegating women to second class citizenship have been abolished. Religious minorities have been protected.

After looking back, Secretary Clinton looked ahead. “Today,” she announced forcefully, “I want to talk about the work we have left to do to protect one group of people whose human rights are still denied in too many parts of the world today. In many ways, they are an invisible minority. They are arrested, beaten, terrorized, even executed. Many are treated with contempt and violence by their fellow citizens while authorities empowered to protect them look the other way or, too often, even join in the abuse. They are denied opportunities to work and learn, driven from their homes and countries, and forced to suppress or deny who they are to protect themselves from harm.”

The human rights challenge to which she called the delegates was for “gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people.” The Secretary was quick to confess that “I speak about this subject knowing that my own country's record on human rights for gay people is far from perfect. Until 2003, it was still a crime in parts of our country. Many LGBT Americans have endured violence and harassment in their own lives, and for some, including many young people, bullying and exclusion are daily experiences. So we, like all nations, have more work to do to protect human rights at home.”

It was an historic speech.

Secretary Clinton acknowledged that sixty years ago when the original Declaration was adopted, no one thought of the rights of LGBT people. And she acknowledged deeply held beliefs and traditions that opposed those rights.

Hillary Clinton is a United Methodist Christian, and she has on many occasions spoken of how her Methodist upbringing and the teachings of John Wesley have influenced her life. In calling for change she used a classically Wesleyan argument. She observed that our understanding evolves. Once we believed that slavery was ordained by God. Once we believed that women ought to be second class citizens. Experience changes us. We learn and grow.

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. popularized the insight of the Rev. Theodore Parker, used first in the debates about slavery, that the moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice. John Wesley never used that language, but he understood that insight. Secretary Clinton did not speak of a moral arc, but she did talk about being on the right side of history.

And Secretary Clinton also announced that the rights of LGBT people will be a factor in decisions about United States foreign aid.

One speech, even an historic speech, will not change the world. But it is an important first step. And eventually, the world will change.

To read the full address, use this link:

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