UN restores reference to sexual orientation in violence policy – UPDATED

UPDATE: Paul Canning has this story from all angles. He has the vote changes listed and notes that 47 countries switched votes from the last time this issue came up.

His summary demonstrates the striking changes in votes from the first time around when sexual orientation was removed as a basis for condemning executions.

This means that 23 nations changed their vote to yes, 15 didn’t vote no and nine more abstained – 47 in total went in a positive direction. This is a quarter of the UN membership.

  • One third of African countries changed their vote positively, including Rwanda and Angola voting yes. 
  • Almost the whole of the Caribbean changed their vote positively, including Jamaica.

In the debate at the UN the most moving contribution was from the Rwandan delegate who said that a group does not need to be “legally defined” to be targeted for massacres and referenced his countries experience. “We can’t continue to hide our heads in the sand” he said.”These people have a right to life.”

“These people have a right to life,” said the Rwandan delegate. Will this sentiment spread to neighboring nations, including Uganda? We shall see…

This just in from Reuters…

The United States succeeded on Tuesday in getting the United Nations to restore a reference to killings due to sexual orientation that had been deleted from a resolution condemning unjustified executions.

Western delegations were disappointed last month when the U.N. General Assembly’s human rights committee approved an Arab and African proposal to cut the reference to slayings due to sexual orientation from a resolution on extrajudicial, summary and arbitrary executions.

The committee’s move also had outraged human rights activists and groups that lobby for gay rights. Philippe Bolopion of Human Rights Watch (HRW) said at the time that it was a “step backwards” and “extremely disappointing.”

The 192-nation General Assembly approved a U.S. amendment to the resolution that restored the reference to sexual orientation with 93 votes in favor, 55 against and 27 abstentions. The amended resolution was then adopted with 122 yes votes, none against and 59 abstentions.

The main opposition to the U.S. amendment came from Muslim and African nations, which had led the push to delete the reference to sexual preference from the resolution last month.

Young conservatives and DADT – So What?

If RenewAmerica has a Christmas party, I want to attend just to watch Jamie Freeze take on the good ol’ boys. Jamie is a young conservative woman and a student at Regent University law school who thinks the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is a good thing. Elsewhere, on the 17th, the ACLJ’s Jordan Sekulow essentially yawned at the repeal. I will discuss his WaPo column after I briefly excerpt Freeze’s article titled, “General George S. Patent Leather: Conservatives and DADT,” Freeze counters fellow Renew America  columnist Bryan Fischer’s effort to link the lunar eclipse with the repeal of DADT.

Freeze is a traditional evangelical regarding sexuality but she does not believe government should require citizens to adopt her views. She says:

…as one Christian associate said, “For us to feel appointed to execute some sort of cosmic justice on the Lord’s behalf is the height of hubris.”

Our government governs Christians and non-Christians. America was founded on Christian principles by Christians and non-Christians. It was not an exclusively Christian nation or else the 1st Amendment would have been nullified from the start. Our founders quickly realized that mandating church attendance and tithing were futile attempts in changing the hearts of men. That is why the Baptists were the forerunners of separation of church and state in colonial America — they did not want a state church because God did not need the state to accomplish His plan. The state interfered with God’s work. As a Baptist, I am proud of the tradition that Isaac Backus and John Leland gave America, and I seek to preserve it.

I would add Roger Williams to the list as well. Williams and then later the early Baptists Backus and Leland stood for a state that protected the rights and conscience of all. I really like this quote attributed to Leland by Wikipedia:

“The notion of a Christian commonwealth should be exploded forever…Government should protect every man in thinking and speaking freely, and see that one does not abuse another. The liberty I contend for is more than toleration. The very idea of toleration is despicable; it supposes that some have a pre-eminence above the rest to grant indulgence, whereas all should be equally free, Jews, Turks, Pagans and Christians.” – A Chronicle of His Time in Virginia.

Freeze then addresses several arguments social conservatives have raised against DADT, in one case citing a soldier friend who believes sexual orientation is irrelevant to service. She adds that we need all hands on deck while fighting two wars and channels Barry Goldwater’s observation that people who shoot straight need not be straight.

In what has passed for conservatism in recent years, Freeze rightly notes that the divide over social issues is growing.

As a conservative, I have already received much criticism for the views expressed in this article, and I anticipate more. One man, a prominent local Republican clearly offended by my views, told me I held no claim to the ideology of conservatism. However, I will share with you what I told him: “If by conservative, you mean valuing life, liberty, and property above all other rights, then yes, I am conservative. I am a Lockean to the core. However, if, by conservative, you mean I want the government to mandate our lives to the smallest details all for the sake of public morality, then no, I am not a conservative.”

I agree with Freeze here but I do not dismiss the concerns of social conservatives lightly, especially those who are not working for advocacy groups. Many people I know are afraid that the government is going to make them believe things they can’t believe. They are afraid that the kind of philosophy espoused by Williams and Leland will require them to adhere to views they cannot accept. Not so. When laws are judged fairly, protecting the freedom of others does not remove mine. In a society where equal protection is for everyone, it is to my advantage to stick up for the rights of all. By doing this, I am sticking up for my rights to pursue my conscience as well. Where rights seem to be in conflict, we can try to work it out as citizens or involve the judiciary.

Another young conservative who has probably raised some eyebrows is Jordan Sekulow with the conservative ACLJ. Started by Pat Robertson, ACLJ does not have any pro-gay cred, and yet Mr. Sekulow writes, No DADT, No Problem:

The outdated, unworkable “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law will likely be repealed in the next few days. As a Christian conservative broadcaster, attorney, and activist who recently discussed DADT and my opinion about it on-air, I can say that for the most part, social conservatives are not enraged about the end of DADT. In fact, the grassroots has not been engaged on this issue for a long time.

I feel pretty sure that the Family Research Council or the American Family Association will not agree with this assessment since they have been on a full court press to stop the repeal. Sekulow locates his attitude at least partially in his youth, saying

We live in a new time. As a young member of the “religious right,” if a gay friend or family member came to me and said they wanted to join the military, I would gladly be the first to congratulate and thank them. I do not believe they should be barred from serving because of their sexual orientation.

For all those who believe social conservatism is a monolithic mass, one needs to contrast Sekulow’s statement with Bryan Fischer’s “homosexuals in the military gave us six million dead Jews” rant.

I do not want to make too much out of two young conservatives and their views on DADT, but I am inclined to think they are part of what other observers see as a moderating trend among youth toward homosexuality. These young people do not view homosexual behavior as an option within their religious views, but they also seem to be rejecting the strident, stereotyping rhetoric and policies of their elders.

Radio Australia summarizes Asia Bibi blasphemy case

This radio broadcast is the best summary of the Asia Bibi case I have found. Click the link to listen to this segment on Windows Media Player.

Radio Australia – Asia Bibi

You hear from Ms. Bibi who describes the false charges of blasphemy, the Governor who wants to pardon her, the legislator who has tabled a bill to amend the blasphemy laws, and the Imam who wants to kill her.

Please listen and go sign the petition directed at Pakistani government leaders.

What Asia Bibi is up against in Pakistan

Asia Bibi, the Christian woman in Pakistan convicted of blasphemy against Muhammad and sentenced to death, has an appeal hearing this week. However, don’t expect the legal profession as an institution to help her or push for human rights. This article in Pakistan’s The Nation, quotes the President of Pakistan’s Supreme Court Bar Association, Asma Jahangir, who urges no change in the blasphemy laws and no help for Asia Bibi.

The Bar committee, also attended by the vice president of the provinces, the secretary and the other office-holders, unanimously carried a resolution to refrain the government from amending the Blasphemy Law and also granting pardon to Asia Bibi, a condemned prisoner on the same charges. The Bar expressed serious concern over Punjab Governor Salman Taseer’s move to get presidential pardon for Asia when her appeal was pending hearing before the court of law.

They said the government functionaries were seeking amendment or a complete repeal of the said law, which it said, was a shameful effort being made under a foreign agenda, which is strongly condemnable.

“In no circumstance, any amendment encouraging or creating any effort to defile the sacred name and personality of Hazrat Muhammad (SAW) can be brought upon the statute book.”

The Committee has unanimously warned the government and the members of the Parliament to refrain from implementing any such proposal. “The SCBA and the legal fraternity would never accept any such pardon and amendment and it would be resisted by every possible efforts”, it added.

Gov. Salman Taseer has taken a great risk to call for pardon for Asia. And apparently any lawyer that will defend her will be acting in contradiction to this resolution of Pakistan’s association of lawyers. The slogan on the front page of the website is “The help you need when you need it most.” However, this is a hollow sentiment when it only applies to the Muslim in-group.

UPDATE: A report from the Pakistan Daily Times clarifies the stance of the Bar Association.

SCBA clarifies news report

LAHORE: This is to deny that the Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA), in its second executive committee meeting held on December 18, unanimously passed any resolution regarding either Section 295C of the Pakistan Penal Code itself or any case related to it.

The facts are that a resolution to that effect was presented by a member of the executive committee, but only a portion of it was passed unanimously, which paid reverence and commitment to honour and respect the name of the holy Prophet (PBUH), while the rest of the resolution regarding 295C, the case of Aasia Bibi and its consequences was deferred with consensus.

The Supreme Court Bar Association regrets the attempt made by one of its executive members to mislead the press and the public. The SCBA is a responsible body and its resolutions will be fully debated before being passed, especially unanimously.

NPR on Uganda

This morning Barbara Bradley Hagerty has a Morning Edition spot on Uganda reminding us that the Rolling Stone case may be decided this week.

In October, a tabloid called Rolling Stone — no relation to the American magazine — published an article headlined “100 Pictures of Uganda’s Top Homos Leak.” The article listed names, addresses and hangouts of gay men and lesbians.

Frank Mugisha saw his photo. Then he noticed the subhead: “Hang them.”

“I was shaken up. I was freaked out. I was scared,” says Mugisha, who heads up the group Sexual Minorities Uganda. “I’m like, hang them? What is the general Ugandan community going to do to us if the media is calling for us to be hanged?”

On Tuesday, a judge in Uganda is expected to decide whether Rolling Stone may continue to publish the names of gay men and lesbians. Gay activists say that outing them puts them in danger. For example, a couple of days after his name and photo were printed, Mugisha received a text message from a university student.

“It said, ‘We don’t like homosexuals in Uganda and you guys should be executed. We know where you live, we know who you hang out with, we know who your friends are and we shall come and deal with you as the youth of Uganda.'”

This text sounds very much like the promise of the Martin Ssempa colleague and Islamic cleric Multah Bukenya who promised youth squads to round up homosexuals.

The article also provides some of the interview Bahati gave to NPR when he was DC for the government management conference two weeks ago. As I noted on Friday, the Parliament is recessed until February. The Anti-Homosexuality Bill will likely be acted on at that time.

Uganda: Committee Chair describes Anti-Homosexuality Bill timetable

This morning I spoke with Stephen Tashobya, the chair of the Ugandan Parliament’s Legal and Affairs committee. This committee has jurisdiction over the Anti-Homosexuality Bill. I asked Hon. Tashobya if he had any current plan for action on the AHB. He told me that the Parliament was currently preoccupied with the upcoming Christmas break and then the elections. About the AHB, he said, “So I suppose I can say it will come up after elections which is the 18th of February.”

He said he did not promise that the bill would be next in line, but said

Ideally, what we are trying to do is to ensure that we clear all the bills that are before the committee before the end of this Parliament in May. I am not in a position to say we are going to handle it in this time framework, but we are trying to get out all of the bills by the end of May, including that one [the AHB].

Mr. Tashobya confirmed that if the bill is not considered during this Parliament, then a new bill would need to be tabled in the next one. He then outlined the procedure he envisioned for the bill.

What I can say is that there is special interest in that bill, both for and against and we are mindful of the interest in that bill. We are looking first of all in the context of the Parliament and the public interest, we are trying to see how we can handle it. We shall have public hearings, where all come and give their views and finally the committee report will take into account those views we are receiving from the public.

Mr. Tashobya said that the committee report would be presented then to the Parliament as a whole and discussed prior to a second and third reading. Often the required second and third reading occurs on the same day, followed by the vote, also on that same day. If passed, the bill is sent on to President Museveni. At that point, Museveni could do nothing and allow the bill to become law or he could send it back to Parliament if there were elements he did not like. However, according to Mr. Tashobya, that would be “unusual” saying, “In the life of this Parliament, he has not sent a bill back.”

For opponents of the AHB, it appears that the public opportunity to speak out will be in a relatively short window in the public hearings convened by the Legal and Parliamentary Committee sometime between late February and early May.

SPLC myth #4: Homosexuals don’t live nearly as long as heterosexuals

As anticipated, the groups identified by the Southern Poverty Law Center as “hate groups” have reacted with defensive distraction. Instead of responding directly to the charges made by the SPLC, they have organized a significant effort to change the subject. Called Start Debating/Stop Hating, the website   consists of endorsements from some prominent conservative activists, politicians and ministers. The website also asks visitors to sign a petition which reads:

“We, the undersigned, stand in solidarity with Family Research Council, American Family Association, Concerned Women of America, National Organization for Marriage, Liberty Counsel and other pro-family organizations that are working to protect and promote natural marriage and family. We support the vigorous but responsible exercise of the First Amendment rights of free speech and religious liberty that are the birthright of all Americans.”

That sounds fine until you realize that the SPLC did not place groups on the list because they favored “natural marriage and family.” There are other unlisted organizations (e.g., Focus on the Family, Alliance Defense Fund) which clearly and publicly oppose gay marriage.  The SPLC clearly stated reasons why the new groups, including the FRC and the AFA were listed. The issue is a systematic effort to vilify gays, such as this gem from American Family Association’s Bryan Fischer:

Homosexuality gave us Adolph Hitler, and homosexuals in the military gave us the Brown Shirts, the Nazi war machine and six million dead Jews. Gays in the military is an experiment that has been tried and found disastrously and tragically wanting. Maybe it’s time for Congress to learn a lesson from history.

That is SPLC myth #5. For this post, I am going to look at myth #4 which focuses on the claim that gays don’t live as long as straights. I have addressed this before extensively and so I am only going to point out again that the groups and their defenders are changing the subject instead of addressing actual problems in the information they present to their constituents.

A recent case in point is a column by Bryan Fischer of the AFA where he did exactly what the SPLC complained about in myth #4. Watch:

While drugs have been found to mitigate the damage done by HIV, there is no cure. Once someone contracts it, he has it for life, a life often tragically shortened by between eight and 20 years, according to the International Journal of Epidemiology.

Smoking will cut six to seven years from the lifespan of the smoker, meaning a cigarette habit is less dangerous to human health and longevity than gay sex.

Given the reference, I assume he is referring to the 1997 study by Hogg et al in the International Journal of Epidemiology which found the following:

In a major Canadian centre, life expectancy at age 20 years for gay and bisexual men is 8 to 20 years less than for all men.

Does Mr. Fischer have a get-off-the-hate-list-free card because he cited a peer reviewed journal? Those who really want to support these groups might be inclined to stop right there and cease their investigation of the question. Indeed, that is what the American College of Pediatricians do on their Facts About Youth website. They say:

The only epidemiological study to date on the life span of gay men concluded that gay and bisexual men lose up to 20 years of life expectancy.

I have pointed out to the people who put that website together that Hogg et al is not the “only epidemiological study to date on the life span of gay men” but they have not changed their website. In any case, the point is that people who count on these organizations for accurate information would not get it by trusting them and reading their claims.

The Hogg et al study was conducted using data from 1987 – 1992 when AIDS claimed many lives. In 2001, Hogg et al countered the incorrect use of their study – the same study that Bryan Fischer and ACPED cites as current information – by noting that life expectancy had improved significantly, saying:

In contrast, if we were to repeat this analysis today the life expectancy of gay and bisexual men would be greatly improved. Deaths from HIV infection have declined dramatically in this population since 1996. As we have previously reported there has been a threefold decrease in mortality in Vancouver as well as in other parts of British Columbia.

This is not reported on the ACPED site nor is it referred to by Bryan Fischer. Why not? If these groups were interested in presenting accurate information in debating and not hating, then why not present the whole picture?

However, there is more. A more recent 2008 studyby Danish epidemiologist Morten Frisch and statistician Henrik Brønnum-Hansen found that the trajectory of gay mortality is improving there to the point where, according to these researchers,

Despite recent marked reduction in mortality among gay men, Danish men and women in same-sex marriages still have mortality rates that exceed those of the general population. The excess mortality is restricted to the first few years after a marriage, presumably reflecting preexisting illness at the time of marriage. Although further study is needed, the claims of drastically increased overall mortality in gay men and lesbians appear unjustified.

The authors found that mortality improved dramatically with the introduction of antiretroviral treatments and while the mortality rates were still not as favorable for gays and lesbians, they were not compatible with the claims of a 20 year difference. Indeed, the Danish researchers found that the mortality picture of married GLB people is improving over time.

More research needs to be done and these studies need replication but the accurate picture is that life span differences are not dramatic and are not comparable to those produced by smoking. If anything, the mortality picture is improving substantially, not declining. If this new effort from the FRC is supposed to be about debate and dialogue then, please discuss this.

Here is a question:

Why haven’t the groups (or their supporters) singled out by the SPLC disclosed the update provided by Hogg et al in 2001 or the study by Frisch and Brønnum-Hansen in 2008?

Regarding mortality, the truth is more in line with what Hogg et al noted in their 2001 update:

It is essential to note that the life expectancy of any population is a descriptive and not a prescriptive mesaure. Death is a product of the way a person lives and what physical and environmental hazards he or she faces everyday. It cannot be attributed solely to their sexual orientation or any other ethnic or social factor. If estimates of an individual gay and bisexual man’s risk of death is truly needed for legal or other purposes, then people making these estimates should use the same actuarial tables that are used for all other males in that population. Gay and bisexual men are included in the construction of official population-based tables and therefore these tables for all males are the appropriate ones to be used.

In addition to avoiding information inconsistent with their premise, the groups identified by the SPLC often use the information they do disclose in an incorrect manner.  If these groups want to debate, then I suggest they use all of the information available and they use it in accord with accepted scientific standards. For instance, generalizing from Hogg et al in 1997 to all gay people everywhere in 2010 is improper and can easily lead to charges of purposeful negative stereotyping. Instead of changing the subject, I would like to see these groups change the way they defend their views.

British politician will spend Christmas in Pakistan with Asia Bibi

I admire Raza Anjum for putting himself on the line on behalf of Pakistan Christian, Asia Bibi. Bibi, convicted in Pakistan of violating the nation’s blasphemy law, has become the subject of an international effort to see her pardoned and freed from prison. According to Politics.co.uk, Anjum

…arrived in Pakistan at the end of last week and has since been organising meetings with senior officials including the prime minister Yousaf Raza Gillani.

Mr Anjum, who represents the small market town of Saffron Waldon in Essex, expressed optimism that his efforts would “make a real difference” in the case of Asia Bibi – who is seeking a pardon from her death sentence.

Ms Bibi claims the charges of blasphemy brought against her were the result of a personal dispute with her neighbours.

Mr Anjum told politics.co.uk: “I feel that my efforts are progressing positively. There seems to be a widespread recognition amongst Pakistani politicians that this controversial case is a result of a personal dispute and that the blasphemy laws have been wrongly applied.

“In my discussion with various politicians I have emphasised the unjust nature of this case and I have called for the immediate release and pardon of Asia Bibi.”

Sign a petition here to speak up for Asia Bibi.