Secretary of State John Kerry declared Wednesday that the United States has a “moral obligation” to promote LGBT rights abroad.
During Kerry’s first speech on LGBT issues as secretary of state, at an event marking the department’s Pride month celebration, Kerry said “American leadership requires promoting universal values” in areas of the world that have been slower to embrace LGBT equality.
“I believe we are on an irreversible course and I believe, happily, that the United States of America is helping to set a global example for how people ought to be treated in life,” Kerry said.
“When we see the abuse of those values, that are directed at the LGBT community, we have a moral obligation to stand in pride with LGBT individuals and advocates. We have a moral obligation to decry the marginalization and persecution of LGBT persons. And we have a moral obligation to promote societies that are more just, more fair and tolerant,” Kerry stated, adding that doing so is not only right, but in the strategic interests of the U.S.
Despite the advancement of tolerance and equality abroad, Kerry noted the struggles that remain in many parts of the world for LGBT people.
“We still see anti-propaganda laws in Eastern Europe that are targeting LGBT demonstrators. We still hear reports of violence against transgender persons in Latin America and Asia. We still see the enforcement or archaic sodomy laws in the Caribbean and we see abuse and incarceration of LGBT activists in Africa,” Kerry said. “But the winds of freedom are blowing in the right direction.”
Kerry, who was one of only 14 senators to vote against the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996, also said the State Department is preparing for a post-DOMA landscape as the Supreme Court considers the constitutionality of the federal government’s definition of marriage as between a man and a woman.
“We are planning for the expectation that DOMA will be struck down in some form and we’re laying the groundwork for all the things we need to adjust,” Kerry said in response to a question regarding immigration laws for binational same-sex couples from a State Department employee stationed in Mexico. The Supreme Court is expected to issue a decision in the DOMA and Proposition 8 cases before the end of June.
The speech marked the first time Kerry has directly addressed LGBT policy issues since replacing Hillary Clinton as secretary of state in February. He was joined at the event, organized by Gays and Lesbians in Foreign Affairs Agencies (GLIFAA), by veteran civil rights activist Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) and Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality.
Kerry’s declaration that the U.S. must set a global example comes as President Barack Obama this month nominated three gay men to ambassador posts – in Denmark, Spain and to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).
Earlier Wednesday during a speech delivered to a crowd of thousands at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, Obama called for tolerance of all people.
“I’d suggest that peace with justice begins with the example we set here at home, for we know from our own histories that intolerance breeds injustice,” Obama said. “When we stand up for our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters and treat their love and their rights equally under the law, we defend our own liberty as well. We are more free when all people can pursue their own happiness.”
[Photo: John Kerry (Courtesy of the State Department)]
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