US: Administration's new human rights commission alarms LGBTQ advocates

The Trump administration on Monday announced the formation of the Commission on Unalienable Rights, an advisory committee that will review "the role of human rights in American foreign policy.” Both the nature of the commission and those appointed to serve on it raised red flags for several human rights and LGBTQ advocacy groups.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the re-examination of human rights is warranted because “some claims have come into tension with one another, provoking questions and clashes about which rights are entitled to gain respect."

Critics of the new commission, however, claim it is a "farce" designed to undermine LGBTQ and abortion rights.


Harvard Law School Professor Mary Ann Glendon has been tapped to lead the newly created group. Glendon, the former U.S. ambassador to the Vatican, is an outspoken opponent of abortion and has spoken out against same-sex marriage on several occasions over the past two decades.

Glendon is known as the first person to accept, then reject, the University of Notre Dame's Laetare Medal, which recognizes service to the Catholic Church and society. In 2009, she refused the award because President Barack Obama, a supporter of abortion rights, was scheduled to deliver the university’s commencement address that year.

Glendon began to sound the alarm on gay unions in 2003, soon after Massachusetts' highest court moved to legalize same-sex marriage. That year, she signed a public letter in support of the Alliance for Marriage's Federal Marriage Amendment, a proposed same-sex marriage ban.

In 2004, Glendon wrote that same-sex unions represent “a bid for special preferences,” because, she said, marriage is designed for child rearing. (In fact, just 20 percent of U.S. households were comprised of a married couple with children in 2013, down from 40 percent in 1970, according to the Census Bureau, Reuters reported.) When New York moved to legalize gay marriage in 2011, Glendon urged the Legislature to shelve the legislation until sufficient religious liberty protections could be added. More recently, in 2018, Glendon wrote a glowing review for the cover of "When Harry Became Sally," a book that said transgender people are "a politically correct fad built on a shaky platform."

Writing in First Things in February, Glendon hinted at what her vision for a re-examination of human rights would entail. In the publication, Glendon stated that the United States should focus on rights that are “uncontroversial” and “must include protections against genocide; slavery; torture; cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment; retroactive penal measures; deportation or forcible transfer of population; discrimination based on race, color, sex, language, religion, nationality, or social origin; and protection for freedom of conscience and religion.” Glendon omits any explicit mention of LGBTQ people, who routinely face persecution in many countries around the world.


Among those who have praised the Commission on Unalienable Rights is Tony Perkins, president of the notoriously anti-LGBTQ Family Research Council, which among other things conflates homosexuality and pedophilia. Perkins, who was appointed by the Trump administration to chair the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, said this new committee would “help further the protection of religious freedom, which is the foundation for all other human rights.”

Of course, one of the main constitutional conflicts today is whether freedom of worship guarantees the religious the right to refuse service — or a job — to a lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender person. The Supreme Court is set to rule on this issue next year.

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