22 May 2008
Foreign Office instructs embassies to push LGBT rights
By Tony Grew
The British government has adopted an official programme to support the human rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans people in other countries.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has issued an ‘LGBT Toolkit’ to its 261 embassies, high commissions and other diplomatic posts.
The document lists PinkNews.co.uk as an online information resource about gay rights, the only news organisation on the list.
“The FCO fully supports equality in the enjoyment of human rights and the inadmissibility of discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation,” the document states.
“This provides the focus of FCO work on this issue.”
The kit contains information on the official British policy on gay rights and instructions in how to “provide added value to equality and non-discrimination work.”
“Governments have an obligation to promote equality in the enjoyment of human rights, as well as not to discriminate in their application,” the document states.
“Frequently there is discrimination in the enjoyment of key rights, even in countries where the criminal laws are neutral.
“Tackling this would require the building up of local coalitions of non-state actors to elaborate action plans for each country, as well as working locally with like-minded states.
“This would not just apply to issues like the state of the criminal law, but also to freedom of association and assembly, freedom of expression and privacy.
“The FCO should identify, with the support of the Trades Union Congress (TUC) and international LGBT groups like the International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA), countries where support from Posts and The British Council would provide added value to equality and non-discrimination work.”
The British Council is a government department, independent of the FCO, that promotes British culture and educational relationships worldwide.
The ‘toolkit’ covers a wide range of issues, from decriminalisation, sexual health, reproductive rights and health education to bilateral work with other countries.
The document states that LGBT activists are often targets for persecution and that the FCO should ensure these people are “included among human rights defenders concerning whom the UK will lobby and will engage the support of other governments, especially EU members.”
It says that initial discussions with the TUC suggest that countries of particular concern include Colombia, Egypt, Ghana, Iran, Iraq, Jamaica, Nigeria, Uzbekistan and some of the new democracies of Eastern Europe.
Of particular interest to gay rights activists is this statement from the FCO:
“The nine countries that have a maximum penalty of death for consensual same sex relations are Iran, Iraq, Mauritania, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, UAE and Yemen.
“The ten countries that have a maximum sentence of life imprisonment for consensual same sex relations are Bangladesh, Barbados, Bhutan, Burma, Guyana, India, Maldives, Nepal, Singapore, and Uganda.
“Other countries criminalise consensual same-sex relations, but with lesser penalties.
“The laws and penalties of many of these countries derive from unreformed penal codes introduced in colonial times. In others, they reflect a harsh interpretation of Shari’ah law.
“In some countries (e.g. Rwanda & Nigeria) the increased visibility of LGBT activists and their supporters has lead to moves by governments to introduce criminal sanctions on consenting same sex relations, or on those who advocate LGBT rights.”
See full text of the LGBT Toolkit below:
* * *
An FCO programme for promoting the human rights of LGBT people
Human rights treaties do not specifically mention sexual orientation. However, the adjudicator bodies for the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights have both determined that discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation is contrary to their respective treaties.
EU laws and policies include equality and non-discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation. This involves working for this objective as part of the common foreign and security policy.
The FCO fully supports equality in the enjoyment of human rights and the inadmissibility of discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation. This provides the focus of FCO work on this issue.
Resources are finite, so the FCO will focus on those aspects of equality and non-discrimination that have a major impact on the enjoyment of other rights, and/or where FCO intervention might have a positive impact. These include:
We understand the illegality of consenting same-sex relations to be incompatible with international human rights law. Such illegality also has a severely adverse impact on other human rights, such as privacy, association, assembly and expression.
It acts as a barrier to work on the right to health, especially prevention of HIV/AIDS. It frequently involves the violation of rights against torture, cruel or inhuman treatment, and occasionally the right to life itself.
The nine countries that have a maximum penalty of death for consensual same sex relations are Iran, Iraq, Mauritania, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, UAE and Yemen.
The ten countries that have a maximum sentence of life imprisonment for consensual same sex relations are Bangladesh, Barbados, Bhutan, Burma, Guyana, India, Maldives, Nepal, Singapore, and Uganda.
Other countries criminalise consensual same-sex relations, but with lesser penalties.
The laws and penalties of many of these countries derive from unreformed penal codes introduced in colonial times. In others, they reflect a harsh interpretation of Shari’ah law.
In some countries (e.g. Rwanda & Nigeria) the increased visibility of LGBT activists and their supporters has lead to moves by governments to introduce criminal sanctions on consenting same sex relations, or on those who advocate LGBT rights.
The FCO should prioritise work in those countries where there is complete illegality, or there are moves to introduce decriminalisation, and seek ways to raise the issue and lobby for decriminalisation.
2. Equality and non-discrimination in the application of human rights
Governments have an obligation to promote equality in the enjoyment of human rights, as well as not to discriminate in their application. Frequently there is discrimination in the enjoyment of key rights, even in countries where the criminal laws are neutral.
Tackling this would require the building up of local coalitions of non-state actors to elaborate action plans for each country, as well as working locally with like-minded states. This would not just apply to issues like the state of the criminal law, but also to freedom of association and assembly, freedom of expression and privacy.
The FCO should identify, with the support of the TUC and international LGBT groups like ILGA (International Lesbian and Gay Association) countries where support from Posts and The British Council would provide added value to equality and non-discrimination work.
3. Human Rights Defenders
LGBT activists are often targets for persecution. But others (activists, politicians, lawyers, trades unionists etc) are sometimes targeted if they help promote or defend LGBT rights or are themselves “accused” of being gay in order to discredit them.
This is particularly true where the issues involve freedom of expression, association and assembly, with governments banning public and media discussion of homosexuality, as well as LGBT Pride marches and events.
The FCO should ensure that such persons are included among human rights defenders concerning whom the UK will lobby and will engage the support of other governments, especially EU members.
Initial discussion with the TUC suggest that countries of particular concern include Colombia, Egypt, Ghana, Iran, Iraq, Jamaica, Nigeria, Uzbekistan and some of the new democracies of Eastern Europe.
4. Sexual health, reproductive rights and health education
A number of discrete issues are covered in this theme. One is HIV/AIDS and the need to ensure that all sectors of society are included in education and treatment programmes. It is one of the more effective ways to address the issue of illegality and discrimination. It is easier for some countries to address LGBT issues as a matter of public health rather than of human rights.
This is more a DfID than FCO lead, and DfID has a good track record. However, the EU Development Policy does not give this issue anything like the same prominence, and there is room for considerable improvement. Decriminalisation is also an issue here, as adverse criminal laws make prevention and treatment much more difficult among people who have same-sex relations.
Another issue concerns reproductive health and the possibility for lesbians to become mothers through IVF or other means. This not only concerns health, but also family life, as lesbian mothers frequently suffer discrimination if they try to bring up a child outside of traditional family structures.
A further issue concerns transsexuals and their right to a private life. Within the countries where the European Convention on Human Rights operates, this has been held to include not just the right to appropriate medical and psychological treatment, but also the right to obtain legal recognition, post surgery, of the gender change.
The FCO & TUC will approach DfID to discuss how the UK might influence the EU into giving greater support for HIV/AIDS programmes that include non-discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation.
The UK should participate in international discussions on gender equality to advocate for the specific situation of lesbians being addressed in terms of their human rights.
On transsexuals, the UK should use its influence to urge countries to adopt the ECHR interpretation of “private life” in so far as it concerns transsexuals.
Where we should work:
5. International Institutions
There are a number of bodies where the FCO can help to set the agenda and influence the content of work. These include the UN, EU, OSCE, Council of Europe and Commonwealth. In some of these, civil society can be very influential. For each of these it would be necessary to undertake an audit of what they currently do and what they could do more.
The FCO will invite the TUC/LGBT groups to help undertake this audit, with input from Posts, with a view to identifying opportunities to influence their agendas.
Immediate priorities would be the Commonwealth (the TUC is a very active member of the Commonwealth Trades Union Federation), the OSCE (trying to persuade Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan to decriminalise; looking to include LGBT issues in the tolerance/hate crimes policy debate – we will need to work hard to bring a number of partners on board with this proposal, not least the US).
As regards the EU, the UK should work to ensure that LGBT rights are fully covered in the HOMs Human Rights Fact Sheets, and should encourage the relevant Council Working Groups to address LGBT rights, either in their themes (e.g. in COHOM) or in their regional responsibilities (e.g. COEST, COLAT and so on).
6. Bilateral engagement with key countries
The UK has strong links and considerable influence in a number of countries. In some of these the issue of human rights and LGBT people is currently under discussion. For example, in India (decriminalisation), Nigeria (bill to outlaw advocacy of gay marriage and gay rights), Uganda and Ghana (through the approach to HIV/AIDS prevention).
Public diplomacy work by Posts has had a positive impact on public debate about changing laws and attitudes (e.g. in Peru on the inclusion of sexual orientation in the anti-discrimination law; in Rwanda in dissuading the Government from criminalising consenting same sex relations in the revised penal code).
The use of public diplomacy tools lends credibility to local civil society advocating non-discrimination. However, many Posts are ignorant of FCO policy on this issue and/or regard it as a difficult issue that is better left alone.
Posts should be pro-active in supporting non-discrimination, including the use of GOF and departmental budgets where these might have a significant impact. HRDGG should distribute a telegram explaining the UK’s policy on non-discrimination and why Posts should be pro-active in this matter. HRDGG should produce guidance for Posts in the form of a toolkit on LGBT rights, similar to those on democratic values and on the rule of law.
7. Work with Other Government Departments
The FCO should liaise closely with DCLG and the new Equality and Human Rights Commission to ensure that UK best practice is made known abroad, and that the same message is being used across Whitehall.
The FCO will meet with relevant Departments to establish an informal e-network so that opportunities for advancing this Programme can be identified and taken.
How to Promote and Protect the Human Rights of LGBT People – a toolkit for the FCO
“Nothing justifies the abuse of basic human rights and fundamental freedoms – neither culture, nor religion, nor tradition. The Government is committed to promoting human rights and fundamental freedoms in all its foreign policies as much as its domestic ones. We include the rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people in these efforts.”
* * *
Joint statement issued by Meg Munn MP (then DCLG Minister) and Ian McCartney MP (then FCO Minister) marking the international day against homophobia on 17 May 2007.
In December 2007, the FCO agreed a programme for promoting the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people. That includes providing this guidance note to Posts on how they can implement the Programme in their work with host governments.
Who are LGBT people?
Lesbians and gay men are homosexuals, people whose sexual orientation is towards the same gender. Bisexuals are people whose sexual orientation is towards both genders. Transgender is the state of one’s “gender identity” (self-identification as male, female, both or neither) not matching one’s “assigned gender” (identification by others as male or female based on physical gender). “Transgender” does not imply any specific form of sexual orientation. 1
Sexual orientation is distinct from sexual activity. Sexual orientation is a sexual attraction towards others that may or may not involve sexual activity. Some people engage in sexual activity with others of the same gender without identifying themselves as being homosexual or bisexual.
LGBT people are found among all peoples. But among many peoples there are social, cultural, religious, legal or traditional restrictions on people being able to realise their sexual orientation or gender identity where this differs from the majority. This prevents LGBT people from living their lives openly and without discrimination, and from enjoying their human rights.
What are the human rights that concern LGBT people?
All human rights treaties (and many national constitutions) contain lists of protected rights. States are prohibited from violating these rights, as well as required to ensure that rights are given real effect, e.g. through national laws and administrative practices. All human rights treaties include a general prohibition on discrimination in their enjoyment, similar to that mentioned in Article 2 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This states that:
“Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.”
The UK position is that, just like all other human beings, LGBT people are entitled to enjoy the full range of human rights, without discrimination. But this attitude is not universally shared.
What specific human rights involving LGBT people are at stake?
While all human rights apply to LGBT people, some are of particular importance. The right to life is violated when LGBT people are murdered with impunity either by or with the connivance of the police or other security officials, as happens in a number of countries. LGBT people who are detained are sometimes subjected to torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. Freedom of expression is essential for LGBT people to argue in favour of ending discrimination in the content and application of the law.
Freedom of information is necessary both to obtain information from others about how to organise and campaign for equality, as well as medical and sociological information to enable people to protect themselves. Freedom of Association and Assembly are necessary for LGBT people to form organisations that work for self-help and equality, including through public manifestations, such as gay pride marches. The right to privacy is necessary to enable transsexuals to have their new gender recognised by law.
Religious belief is often used by some to justify discrimination, but freedom of religion guarantees to individuals the right to manifest their beliefs only to the extent that this does not violate the rights of others. Nothing in human rights treaties can be relied upon to deny others the equal enjoyment of their human rights.
Article 2 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child requires States to ensure that children do not suffer discrimination because of the status of their parents.
The right to work is essential to enable people to meet their basic needs and to lead a fulfilling life.
In 2006, a meeting of 29 human rights experts from 25 countries developed a set of international legal principles on the application of international law to human rights violations based on sexual orientation and gender identity to bring greater clarity and coherence to States’ human rights obligations. These are known as The Yogyakarta Principles2. The UK welcomed these as an important contribution to increasing understanding of these issues, but some of the Principles exceed current UK positions on human rights.
Why does the FCO work for the human rights of LGBT people?
The UK record on promoting equality and non-discrimination for LGBT people domestically over the previous decade has brought an end to most discrimination in the content and the application of the law inside the UK. The Government has done this as part of its commitment to human rights, and particularly their enjoyment on the basis of equality and non-discrimination. The UK has also supported the efforts at EU level to ensure that all citizens of the EU enjoy equal rights.
The UK’s commitment to promoting human rights as part of its foreign policy is an inclusive one. As we do not accept that there should be distinctions in the enjoyment of human rights at home, so we do not accept this elsewhere. We do not think that democratic governance and sustainable development can take place where groups of people are excluded from enjoying their human rights. In many countries, the laws regulating same sex relations remain unchanged from the British colonial period. The UK may be in a better position to influence change there than some other countries.
Do other countries also work for LGBT rights as part of their foreign policy?
Within Europe, Sweden and the Netherlands have specific foreign policies to promote the human rights of LGBT people. Other member states of the EU may not have specific foreign policies but they provide support through the EU common foreign and security policy, and in other international organisations.
The EU obtained competence to tackle discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation when Article 13 of the Amsterdam Treaty came into force on 1 May 1999. Since then, the EU has addressed the issue in international fora such as the UN, and in regard to individual country situations through démarches co-ordinated by the Council Working Group on Human Rights, COHOM.
Outside Europe, Australia, Brazil and Canada have played a leading role in raising equality and sexual orientation at the UN. Brazil has also played a leading role in persuading Mercosur states (Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay, Venezuela) to consider sexual orientation discrimination as a human rights issue. Argentina and Uruguay (along with Brazil) sponsored the launch of the Yogyakarta Principles.
Altogether, some 60 countries have publicly supported positive statements concerning sexual orientation at the UN Commission on Human Rights/Human Rights Council between 2003 and 20083. Of these, all except Turkey have also supported positive statements about gender identity.
What practical steps can a Post take?
Support efforts of civil society to change laws and social attitudes by –
- Providing messages of support when requested;
- Providing public information on the situation of laws and practices regarding LGBT people in the UK;
- Encouraging The British Council to include LGBT information in its public information centres;
- Hosting occasional debates and seminars on relevant issues and including LGBT aspects and speakers;
- Ensuring that the LGBT aspects are included in local activities promoting British cultural life;
- Using Post funds to support civil society work for LGBT rights
Use international mechanisms
Suggest that visiting UN special rapporteurs, EU Special Representatives and equivalent figures from the Council of Europe, the OSCE and other regional human rights bodies, meet local NGOs that support LGBT equality and non-discrimination. Encourage local groups to include information on the situation of LGBT people in their alternative reports to regional human rights mechanisms as well as the UN bodies. Include such information in material for use in the Universal Periodic Review mechanism of the UN Human Rights Council.
Briefing to visiting UK dignitaries
Include information on the situation of LGBT people in briefing materials for visiting dignitaries and encourage them to raise the issue with local counterparts.
Charting LGBT rights
Use the analysis in Annex 3 to track the situation of LGBT people so as to identify progress and setbacks.
Champion for LGBT rights within EU CFSP
Posts should work alone and/or with other sympathetic EU member states (especially Sweden and the Netherlands) to ensure that the issues relevant to LGBT rights are adequately addressed through CFSP. Such action could include suggesting démarches on egregious human rights abuses. Some member states may actively resist this for their own ideological reasons.
Correct information in EU HOMs Report
Ensure that the EU heads of mission report on human rights in your country is an accurate reflection of the legal and social situation, and that, when updated, it identifies any trends towards equality.
Use political dialogue to raise LGBT rights
Raise more general issues of equality and non-discrimination in the domestic implementation of human rights standards during regular political dialogue, including under the EU’s Partnership and Co-operation Agreements, and the Cotonou Agreement.
Co-operation with DFID
In some countries DFID has programmes that include LGBT people, whether as part of HIV/AIDS prevention or the socially excluded. Posts could work with DFID to help address the underlying causes and support their efforts.
Co-operation in multilateral fora
Posts working with multilateral fora should join with like-minded States to identify opportunities to advance LGBT equality in the enjoyment of human rights.
How are the rights of LGBT people interpreted under international human rights law?
In recent years, several of the international bodies responsible for monitoring and adjudicating international human rights treaties have interpreted the non-discrimination clause in these treaties to include sexual orientation.
In 1994, the UN Human Rights Committee (established under the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights) examined the law of Tasmania forbidding male homosexual acts for its compatibility with Article 17 of the ICCPR. This forbids “arbitrary or unlawful interference” with privacy. The Committee decided that this law was “arbitrary”, as it did not meet the test of reasonableness. More importantly, it held that the term “sex” in Article 26 ICCPR, which requires equality and non-discrimination in the law, “is to be taken as including sexual orientation.”4
The Committee now regularly scrutinises States Parties compliance reports in the light of this interpretation, which has also been increasingly followed by other UN bodies such as the UN Committee on Torture and the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.
In taking this decision, the Committee followed the jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights. In 1981, the Court ruled that the law in Northern Ireland criminalising male homosexual acts was an unreasonable interference in private life. It stated that hostility on moral grounds towards male homosexuality was not a sufficient ground to justify prohibition, as tolerance and broadmindedness are characteristics of a democratic society to which it had to have regard. 5 In subsequent years, it has ruled against discrimination in the age of consent to sexual activity, discharging people from the armed forces because of their sexual orientation, refusing child custody to a father because of his sexual orientation, and refusing to allow a same sex partner to inherent a tenancy in circumstances where an opposite sex partner could do so.
In 2002, the Court ruled that a transgender person who had undergone gender reassignment was entitled to have this change recorded in her birth certificate, and was entitled to marry in her new gender.6
There are no decided cases under the American Convention on Human Rights or African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights relating to discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation at present.
The International Labour Organisation (ILO) in 1998 agreed a Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work. Principle four requires ILO members to promote and realise the elimination of discrimination in respect of employment and occupation. The ILO includes discrimination on the ground of sexual orientation in this principle.
Can discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation ever be justified under international human rights law?
For discrimination (i.e. a difference in treatment) to be permitted by law, it has to be based on “reasonable and objective criteria”. What such criteria might cover is still evolving under international human rights law, which is a living instrument that is constantly being developed by judicial bodies. Courts have repeatedly stated that where sexual orientation is in issue, there is a need for particularly convincing and weighty reasons to justify a difference in treatment.
In 2003, the UN Human Rights Committee decided7 that the law restricting an army pension to a heterosexual spouse or a heterosexual couple living as partners, and which excluded homosexual couples, violated Article 26 ICCPR as it had no objective and reasonable justification. The State did not attempt to justify the difference in treatment. In 2007, the Committee followed this decision in another case8 by deciding that a provision in Colombian law that did not permit the transfer of pension benefits between homosexual partners (unlike heterosexual partners) also violated Article 26. The Committee rejected the State’s argument that it was trying to protect heterosexual unions rather than to discriminate against other types of union.
The UN Special Rapporteurs have increasingly included specific reference to the human rights of LGBT people in their reports. In 1999, the Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary and Arbitrary Executions, Asma Jahangir, was the first to include individual cases of severe persecution of sexual minorities in her reports to the UN Commission on Human Rights. In consequence, some members of the Commission accused her of going beyond her mandate. She has continued to investigate violations of the right to life of sexual minorities in her reports and missions to various countries. Ms Jahangir has studied issues such as the climate of impunity surrounding crimes against LGBT people, laws prescribing capital punishment for homosexual relationships, and the link between violence and the criminalisation of matters involving sexual orientation.
In 2001, the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression, Abid Hussain, held a groundbreaking meeting with transgender activists while on an official mission to Argentina. In November, 2001, the Special Representative on Human Rights Defenders, Hina Jilani, met with Colombian LGBT organisations working with members of sexual minorities, people living with HIV/AIDS and sex workers during her stay in the country. Also in November 2001, the then Special Rapporteur on Torture, Sir Nigel Rodley, raised the issue of torture and discrimination against sexual minorities for the first time before the UN General Assembly in New York.
The Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health, Paul Hunt has also explored the issue of sexual orientation discrimination in some of his annual reports (notably the 2004 Report to the UN Commission on Human Rights 9). Although the reports of UN Special Rapporteurs do not carry the same weight as decisions of the UN Human Rights Committee or Courts, they are nonetheless useful as tools to interpret human rights standards.
Approaches to “discrimination” within regional human rights bodies
In Europe, in applying the reasonable and objective test, the European Court of Human Rights has condemned discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation usually when considering the right to respect for private life10, but not when considering the right to respect for family life11.
Within the European Union, there is a general prohibition on discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation in employment12. Article 21 of the 2000 Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union calls for the prohibition of any discrimination, including on the ground of sexual orientation. But this Charter is not yet binding on member states. As regards the legal recognition of same sex partnerships, the situation within the EU is still evolving. Three member states have the right to marry (Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain). Nine member states have legal partnerships that mirror marriage (Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Hungary, Portugal, Slovenia, Sweden, UK). Two member states have civil contracts (France, Luxembourg). The remaining thirteen member states have no legal provisions.
Under the American Convention of Human Rights, the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights declared admissible a complaint against Colombia about prison rules that allowed conjugal visits for unmarried heterosexual couples but not homosexual ones.13 But the case did not go on to a full hearing as the Supreme Court of Colombia overturned the prohibition on homosexual conjugal visits in October 2001 on the ground that it was unlawful discrimination.
This brief survey demonstrates that laws that impose a blanket prohibition on consensual homosexual activity are not compatible with international human rights law. Where legal discrimination exists, the onus is on the State to prove that it is reasonable and objective. This is an evolving area of law but the trend is to limit the scope of discrimination.
* * *
Some common questions you may meet and suggested lines for answers
Q. Why should we allow homosexuality here, as it is a Western practice?
A. Homosexuality exists among all people and has done so since the start of recorded history. It was not something invented, or is only practised, in Western countries.
Q. Our culture and traditions do not accept homosexuality.
A. Customs and traditions are constantly changing with time, in the light of new knowledge and understanding. This happens everywhere. Once women were treated as inferior to men in every culture and tradition, but very few have that attitude nowadays. Culture and tradition cannot justify denying people their human rights.
Q. Our laws are based on traditional beliefs and should continue to reflect these.
A. Governments should lead their people and not simply follow public opinion. For example, many countries once tolerated female circumcision, but nowadays all governments are leading their people to reject this – by making it illegal, by educating them and by publicity. International human rights treaties provide for the equal treatment under the law of people who have different characteristics – such as race, gender, ethnic origin, and so on. This includes sexual orientation. So human rights provisions require that States work to end legal discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation.
Q. If we accept these changes, we will open the door to immorality.
A. Human rights do not depend on – and are not subject to – different interpretations of morality. In any event, immorality is a changing concept. For example, slavery was once considered to be morally acceptable and was lawful in most countries, including the UK. But nowadays all countries regard slavery as totally immoral and have outlawed it.
Q. If we allow homosexuality, we will be encouraging the spread of HIV/AIDS.
A. HIV is transmitted in several different ways. In many parts of the world, for example, transmission of the virus is overwhelmingly through heterosexual sex. The evidence from medical experts, accepted by the UN WHO, is that it is more difficult to prevent the spread of HIV if people who are at risk – including gay and bisexual men who do not practise “safe sex” – are deterred from getting tested if their relationships are outlawed. Legally banning gay sex won’t stop it happening, but it will increase the risk of people not hearing the message about safe sex.
Q. Our religion forbids homosexuality/bisexuality/ transgenderism, and our laws reflect our religion.
A. Religions require their own adherents to do or refrain from specific things, but these requirements do not apply to people of other faiths or of no faith. The law should guarantee the same rights to everyone in the territory. Your State has committed itself to guarantee human rights to everyone. If people of any religion choose not to exercise their rights, that is their business. But if LGBT people– including those of your religion – wish to exercise their rights they should be able to do so.
Q. Accepting this will undermine marriage, which is the cornerstone of our society.
A. Recognising the human rights of one group of people does nothing to undermine the human rights of others. The right of people to marry will not be affected in any way, so it is difficult to see how marriage can be undermined in such circumstances. No one should be pressurised into unwanted marriage; that is not likely to lead to a successful marriage.