While same-sex marriage was already illegal in Nigeria, the country has now passed legislation making same-sex marriage an imprisonable offense and also outlawing public displays of gay relationships and meetings of gay rights groups. With this in mind, I wanted to address three ways that the United States can combat oppressive anti-gay policies in other countries.
While going to war with other countries to topple oppressive governments is problematic and downright unsustainable, sanctions are a good alternative. By refusing to trade with countries that criminalize gay people, the United States can take decisive action against the reprehensible policies of these countries without having to use violence. The successful divestment campaign against South Africa’s apartheid government undertaken in the United States and many other countries was a glorious example of using economic pressure to protest persecution abroad. Even conservative historian Ron Radosh acknowledged that, “supporters of disinvestment in South Africa would rightfully argue, what is more important, investments or the freedom of a people suffering under the brutal apartheid regime?” When the U.S. maintains economic relations with countries that have horrific human rights records, the U.S. is condoning and sponsoring oppression, however unintentionally. Similarly, participation in the Olympics and recognition by the U.N. ought to be contingent on meeting certain human rights standards.
2. Be a Model of Freedom and Equality
As the United States promotes gay rights internationally, we must also consistently respect the dignity of all people regardless of sex, race, gender identity, or sexual orientation. The United States will have a hard time taking other countries to task for their treatment of gays if gay Americans continue to be denied equal rights under the law. Over half of all states refuse to include gays in anti-discrimination laws, and a heavy majority of states still have government-imposed discrimination against gays. These policies are not only unjust but make it difficult for the United States to castigate homophobic nations without looking hypocritical.
3. Establish Consistent Standards
One of the biggest problems with America’s foreign policy is that our government has no consistent standards for which human rights violations are serious enough to warrant sanctions. The United States established an embargo on Cuba shortly after Fidel Castro took power. While imposing the embargo was the correct decision, it seemed rather odd that the human rights violations of Fulgencio Batista, Fidel Castro’s predecessor, had not been sufficient cause for an embargo. The reason, of course, was that Batista was considered a “friendly dictator,” one who supported “American interests.” Similarly, it seemed baffling that an embargo was being imposed on Cuba but not South Africa, where the government was just as brutal as Castro’s, if not more so. The United States must clearly define which human rights violations warrant sanctions and consistently enforce this policy, regardless of the economic or diplomatic fallout. Otherwise, our country will appear to be inconsistently singling out countries and will be at risk of having our motives questioned.