I bend over and kiss my son goodnight, my heart swelling with love. It is impossible for me to fathom having him taken from me, and yet this is happening to parents for no other reason than their sexual orientation or gender identity. It has been announced that Russian lawmakers will debate a bill to take children from their gay parents. In fact, we are only one generation from this happening on a regular basis in our own country; I know two people personally for whom this was a terrifying reality. One experienced the ultimate horror of the courts depriving her of her mother because her mother was a lesbian, causing deep emotional harm I can only begin to imagine. Many do not realize that it is still possible for a court to withhold parental rights simply because a parent is gay, although fortunately such attempts are more frequently failing.
The right to have a family is a fundamental human right by any measure, and has been officially recognized as such. In the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 16:3 states: “The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.” Today, October 16th, is Blog Action Day, and it has been decided that the theme this year is Human Rights. Given that equal rights for all citizens is a particular cause of mine, I volunteered to write one for Denver Parent and eagerly followed the link in the announcement to the UN’s Declaration.
In particular, I am concerned about the integrity of the family, and the ability of parents to marry each other as an important component. I knew that the right to marry would be a component of any declaration of human rights, given its fundamental nature. I was not wrong. However, I was surprised and disappointed by the careful language of the article devoted to this right. Every other one of the 29 articles that describe rights begins with the words “Everyone”, “No one”, and/or “All human beings”. However, the article about marriage (Article 16:1) reads, “Men and women …have the right to marry and to found a family.
They are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution.” Why does this article say, “Men and Women” rather than “Everyone”? Although we cannot be sure, I think many would agree that the implied meaning is that “Men and Women have the right to marry each other” thus excluding gays and lesbians. Furthermore, such explicit gender language alienates and excludes those members of our “human family” (as the Declaration puts it) who do not feel comfortable with (or appropriately described by) either of these labels. They also should be explicitly entitled to forming a legal, recognized commitment to the one they love as well.
The Declaration was a noble document for its time. It was written in 1948 in direct response to World War II, during which several classes of people, including both Jews and “homosexuals”, were first discriminated against and then intentionally murdered for who they were by the Nazis. Political dissidents were similarly imprisoned and killed. Although identity based in religion, race (the Nazis considered Jews a separate race), and political group are explicitly protected in the Declaration, sexual orientation is not (nor, I might add as a side note, is physical disability, another group targeted by Nazis). [pullquote_left]Indeed, evidence of being gay was ground for arrest and even death.[/pullquote_left]
This omission of LGBT people should be no surprise- although by the 1940’s most “civilized” nations had moved beyond slavery and religious persecution (at least on paper, if not in practice), most still had state-sanctioned discrimination against people for their sexual orientation. Indeed, evidence of being gay was ground for arrest and even death in some. In several Arabic and African countries, this is still the case; at least 6 countries currently consider male-male relationships a capital offense. Increasingly though, laws that single out LGBT people such as the new anti-gay legislation in Russia are seen as backward and cruel by the global community. Protecting LGBT individuals from persecution has become an important component of the mission of major human rights organizations, such as Amnesty International. More and more countries are passing marriage equality laws and other protections from persecution. Most of Europe and South America now legally recognize same-sex relationships, and gays and lesbians can get married in both Canada and Mexico.
Meanwhile, the United States prides itself for upholding “human rights” while LGBT people are not considered equal under the law in most states. Currently 35 states have anti-marriage laws or constitutional amendments, including Colorado. Eight states have legal obstacles that make it difficult for gay spouses to adopt their partners’ children, even though in many cases these are children who were conceived within that relationship, but because the parents cannot marry, the child must be adopted by the non-biological parent. So called “second parent” adoption wasn’t legal in Colorado when we had our son, nor was any relationship recognition, thus we had to pay a lawyer to petition a judge to get both our names on our son’s birth certificate. Discriminatory policies that prevent legal recognition of relationships and parentage hurt real families; times are changing, but not fast enough for those of us who are affected.
Passing new laws to restrict rights of citizens is an odd phenomenon that goes against the general pattern in the US and elsewhere of expanding rights and promoting equality. Understanding people who seem different is usually is followed by empathy; the more we know about another group, the more we realize that our differences are superficial. A recent survey showed that knowing a gay or lesbian person doubles your likelihood to support marriage equality. It is difficult to discriminate against a person you know, and likely the better you know them the more difficult it becomes. Toward this end, communication, education and globalization have gone a long way toward the progression of human rights.[pullquote_right]It is difficult to discriminate against a person you know, and likely the better you know them the more difficult it becomes.[/pullquote_right]
On this Blog Action Day, I urge you to educate yourself about the full spectrum of human rights and how they can be improved, even right here in Colorado. We are living in an exciting time of positive change. My wife and I do not have to worry that our son could be taken from us, however others still do live with this fear. And although we now have a legally recognized civil union, sadly we cannot marry in this state that we love. We must continue to work together toward the goal of a day when we can all embrace our full human rights.