In his July 9th article, “Is the gay rights battle over for libertarians?,” Casey Given (who I work with at Students For Liberty), makes the case that the answer is “yes.” With the recognition of same-sex marriage across the United States, legal equality has been achieved and further efforts to win legal victories for the gay community encroach upon basic liberties. As a result, he suggests that libertarians no longer need to be concerned about gay rights from a political perspective.
I believe Casey is wrong. The gay rights battle is far from over for libertarians. In fact, for those who strongly believe in gay rights, now may be one of the most important times to pick up the banner and march forward. While legal equality has been achieved for individuals in the United States regardless of sexual orientation, there is a long way to go for the recognition of gay rights in many other parts of the world.
Homosexuality is illegal in 77 countries; it is punishable by death in 7 of them. Only 21 countries recognize same-sex marriages as legal nationwide. A myriad of legal restrictions exist between these two poles for LGBT individuals in various countries around the world. The UN recently reported that there are “continuing, serious and widespread human rights violations perpetrated, too often with impunity, against individuals based on their sexual orientation and gender identity.” A gay couple just had to seek political asylum in Finland after fleeing Russian persecution. Two men in Morocco received 4 months in jail for kissing in public. The list goes on and on.
Success in establishing equal rights in the United States is a significant victory. We should not downplay it. But we should not restrict our perspective simply to what is happening here at home. Libertarianism as a political philosophy is not limited to the United States; its call for the respect of individual rights applies to all individuals regardless of nationality.
This is not an ivory tower debate. The implications of how we answer this question have significant, real world impacts on the future of the US LGBT Rights movement. Libertarians have been working in conjunction with the US LGBT Rights movement for a long time. It would be a travesty to see these two groups end up on different sides because we have accomplished our mutual goal. It also does not have to be this way.
Just as libertarians ought to be concerned with the rights of individuals abroad, those who have fought for LGBT rights in the US ought to be concerned with the rights of LGBT individuals abroad. The greatness of the LGBT Rights movement came not from arguments for economic interests or personal agendas of anyone involved. Its nobility came from the demand for protection of basic rights and recognition of human dignity. There was a need to achieve reforms in the United States for these things at first because there were serious violations of individual rights taking place and then because there was opportunity to achieve reform. Now, though, there are serious violations of those same rights abroad and unparalleled opportunities in the modern world to have an impact there.
Instead of investing people, time, and resources into state regulations intended to benefit LGBT individuals, the LGBT movement ought to turn its eye to the rights of individuals who don’t live in the US and need their support. Libertarians ought to continue to work with the LGBT Rights movement to push for reforms in these other countries. And both sides ought to agree that the work is not over until individuals do not fear being thrown in jail or experience state-sponsored discrimination because of their sexual orientation.
There will certainly be critics of the idea that either the US libertarian or LGBT Rights movement should get involved in the affairs of other nations. There will be accusations of cultural hegemony and arrogance. But this should not deter us from taking action to defend the basic rights of individuals regardless of their sexuality, regardless of where they live. There are many individuals in each country that has criminalized homosexuality or includes state-sponsored discrimination who are homosexual. There are individuals in these countries who are already making the case that their culture respects the rights of LGBT individuals. Momentum is building as countries like Mozambique make reforms. There is both a need and an opportunity to help end state-sponsored discrimination against homosexuals across the globe. The US libertarians and LGBT rights movements should be involved in accomplishing such a worthy goal.
The gay rights battle is not over for libertarians. It is not over for the LGBT movement, either. It is time for these two groups to work together in achieving reform and protecting the most fundamental rights of LGBT individuals around the world.
Alexander McCobin is the president and co-founder of Students For Liberty. Follow him on Twitter @amccobin