The 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi was not just about the athletes, or the medals, or even our obsession with whether curling was a sport or not. Russia’s massively controversial anti-gay laws were much of the focal point as well, with protests and detainments left, right, and center. The high profile event has brought the issue of equality and LGBTQ rights back to the forefront, especially now that Arizona legislature has passed a bill that could allow business owners to refuse service to gay customers on the basis of respecting religious beliefs.
But we were seemingly going in the right direction. Much of the country cheered the overturning of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and Proposition 8 in June 2013. As more and more professional athletes, celebrities, and public figures came out of the closet, slowly but surely, Americans were becoming more accepting of the LGBTQ community. However, there is a key word in that statement: Americans. Americans as a whole have become less condemning, but in other parts of the world, the same cannot be said. Many countries in Africa, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia still enforce laws that criminalize homosexuality and restrict freedom of expression. Most of this information could be new to you, because coverage on gay rights in foreign countries is minimal and overlooked.
Unfortunately, that is the nature of current events and news coverage. The most recent events are put on the headlines, and old news becomes irrelevant and forgotten. Only because of the Olympics has Russia’s restriction of freedom of expression, enacted in June 2013, reached newsworthy status once again. But few of us still remember that India recriminalized homosexuality in December 2013. And even less heard in February 2014, Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni promised his party he would sign into law a bill that harshly reprimands homosexual acts, with punishments including life imprisonment. All of these human rights violations have been easily pushed aside to make room for the newest spicy gossip.
There are many arguments against LGBTQ rights, most of which I will never understand because of their vague and unsubstantiated nature. The most prevalent and noteworthy argument is the question of tradition, culture, and religion. This reasoning is thrown around as the go-to excuse; obviously, you cannot openly disrespect another’s beliefs. However, the fundamental problem with this argument is that a country cannot enforce a specific set of rules based on beliefs that others do not believe in. And this is where the assertion of separation of church and state comes to play. The 21st century is no longer an era of witch-hunts and persecution. We have evolved to learn better, and our governmental institutions are supposed to protect our freedom, not restrict or diminish it. Specifically, the belief that marriage is only between a man and a woman may be one person’s ideology, but it may not be mine or yours or anybody else’s. Therefore, it cannot be enacted as a law meant to be obeyed by all citizens.
A very controversial comparison has been made between the Civil Rights Movement and the LGBTQ movement on social media. Evidently, there are major differences between the two social movements, but no one can deny there are striking similarities. Perhaps to be more diplomatic, I will say that the times are different and because of that, we may never be able to compare the two directly. Mid-19th century, the means to send a message were sit-ins and riots. In this generation, we have social media and the Internet to propagate and gather ideas.
In any case, human rights should be universal, whether it pertains to the past, present, or future. It never matters whether we think we are “ready” or not. All humans should, idealistically, have access to the same rights, resources, and opportunities. In the words of the Founding Fathers, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”