In December, the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Human Rights and the Law held a groundbreaking hearing on U.S. implementation of human rights treaties. The Council for Global Equality and the Human Rights Campaign presented a joint statement to emphasize the ongoing need to protect the basic human rights of LGBT Americans. The statement is now available on the website of Chairman Durbin. Since the United States must present several international reports in 2010 on our country’s compliance with human rights obligations under UN treaties that the Senate has ratified, the hearing frames an important opportunity that exists this year to entrench human rights discussions and set LGBT-focused human rights priorities for the United States.
As noted in our testimony, under the Constitution of the United States, treaty obligations are the “supreme law of the land,” but they have rarely animated our domestic civil rights struggles. Legal complexities limit the direct domestic application of international human rights treaties in United States courts. Unfortunately those complexities have also occasionally isolated the United States from the larger international human rights movement. In simple terms, the lack of domestic treaty enforcement means that the struggle for full legal equality for LGBT Americans has rarely been understood within the context of a larger global effort to secure fundamental human rights for all individuals, regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity or geographic location.
Nonetheless, the international movement in support of LGBT rights has been shaped by our own domestic civil rights struggle for LGBT equality here in the United States, just as surely as the international campaign has also shaped our domestic movement. The two movements are inextricably linked. That means that as we fight to secure full rights and responsibilities for LGBT Americans, we have an equally important opportunity to contribute to the larger global movement for LGBT equality. And if we begin to cloak our domestic advances in human rights terms, with reference to our international human rights obligations, we can simultaneously contribute to the international effort to define a fully inclusive understanding of global justice. We firmly believe that LGBT Americans should pick up the mantle of Eleanor Roosevelt, whose vision gave birth to the modern human rights movement, and proclaim a new era of U.S. leadership to advance human rights for all.
The testimony notes that we look forward to working with this Committee and with the Obama Administration to give full implementation to our human rights obligations, and to ensure that they extend to all LGBT Americans. Those obligations include swift passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) and the Domestic Partnership Benefits and Obligations Act. As we make progress, we will also continue to speak out on behalf of LGBT individuals in other countries who are simultaneously struggling to defend their lives and their livelihoods and to protect their families from the abuse and violence that have tormented all of us for far too long.