This week U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced that the U.S. would fight for gay rights throughout the world, stating “it should never be a crime to be gay” regardless of a country’s culture or religious practices. In many nations, homosexuality is illegal and, in some, punishable by death. This includes many countries with which the U.S. has close ties.
The U.S. plans to effect change by using both diplomacy and foreign aid to influence governments as well as taking risks associated with sexual orientation into account when reviewing asylum applications. America’s announcement comes on the heels of October’s threat by U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron to withhold aid to country’s that do not protect gay rights.
As someone who opposes the criminalization of sexual acts between consenting adults, I’m excited by this development. I also believe it’s a far cry from colonialism (as suggested by a Ugandan presidential aid) for a donor country to make the protection of human rights a precondition for aid; I would assume criticism would be muted if the vulnerable group in question were an ethnic minority rather than homosexuals.
I doubt very much the U.S. or U.K. is planning to cut off ties with countries that have legislation hostile to gays. Rather, they are leveraging their existing relationships to encourage more progressive legislation and to foster a more accepting environment. This isn’t a case of using a carrot or a stick. It’s more a matter of being willing to withhold the carrot in the name of gay rights human rights.