A Global Look at Gay Rights 'The Fight Against Discrimination Must Go On'

A boat carrying a rainbow flag sails along the Neva River in St. Petersburg, Russia. The country has adopted strict rules against gay rights in recent months.

A boat carrying a rainbow flag sails along the Neva River in St. Petersburg, Russia. The country has adopted strict rules against gay rights in recent months.

Part 2: 'Not A Single Country Has Fallen into a Moral Abyss' over Gay Marriage

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Religion is an ever-present theme when it comes to LGBT rights. There's a new pope in the Vatican. Are you hopeful that Pope Francis can bring progress in relations between the Catholic Church and LGBT communities?

Dittrich: If you look at Pope Francis' background in Argentina, he has not been supportive of LGBT rights, and he masterminded calls to members of parliament to vote against the country's successful same-sex marriage law. Still, even though the Vatican has institutionally never been supportive of homosexual relationships, I would like to restart a dialogue after I get to Berlin to make the Catholic Church's stance against violence and unjust discrimination against homosexual persons better known because that is in fact the official view of the Vatican. Philip Bene, the Vatican's legal attaché at the time, came to an International Human Rights Day event at the United Nations in December 2009 and issued that statement. The Vatican is also officially opposed to things like the Uganda law, and it has called upon the 76 countries in the world that still criminalize homosexual conduct to decriminalize it. The Vatican doesn't spread that message to all its cardinals or to the priests or people who are Roman Catholic Church leaders in their communities, so a lot of people don't know about this. For Human Rights Watch, it is important to try to seek dialogue and to push them on the issue.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Vatican City is smack in the center of Rome and Italy remains one of the few Western European countries where there isn't even an active political debate over the possibility of civil unions or marriage between same-sex couples. Do you see this changing soon?

Dittrich: There is a such a strong influence of the Catholic Church in Italy that it will be a very difficult battle. Former Prime Minister Romano Prodi raised the prospect, but then failed to take action before his government fell. He was succeeded by Silvio Berlusconi, who wasn't interested in anti-discrimination legislation or civil unions.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: France has had the civil solidarity pact, or PACS, on the books since 1999. Similar legislation has passed in staunchly Catholic Spain and Portugal. Now French Socialist President François Hollande wants to place same-sex unions on the same status of marriage in the country, but large protests have resisted his move. Why is opposition still so strong despite more than a decade of experience with PACS?

Dittrich: The demonstrations for and against marriage equality in France show how lively French democracy is. Because the government proposes it, it is logical that opponents take to the streets. They use arguments that are used everywhere else when such legislation is proposed. It is a mixed bag of religious, traditional and cultural arguments. No revolution has ever broken out in countries where this legislation has been adopted, and not a single one has fallen into a moral abyss as predicted by the opponents. A majority of French society is in favor of same-sex marriage, so I am confident the legislation will pass.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Germany first recognized same-sex civil unions in 2001. Opposition to upgrading these domestic partnerships to make them equivalent to the institution of marriage in terms of tax benefits has also been significant.

Dittrich: Same-sex marriage will soon be adopted in New Zealand, Uruguay and the United Kingdom. You have it in Scandinavia, in Iceland, the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Portugal, Canada, Argentina and South Africa. The question will arise: What will Germany do? The (conservative) Christian Democrats and their leader, Chancellor Merkel, recently decided against providing taxation equality to same-sex marriages. I would love to meet with members of the Bundestag and share my experience. In the Netherlands, marriage equality was introduced in 2001 and we have now amassed 12 years of experience. We see a whole generation of young people growing up who can't even conceive of the idea that there was a time when gay men or lesbian women couldn't get married. Even Christian Democratic politicians who voted against my proposals at the time are now in favor of marriage equality.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Let's go back to issues in Eastern Europe. Compared to many of the traditional EU countries, not much progress has been made in terms of achieving civil unions or same-sex marriage in the region.

Dittrich: There are a lot of groups pressing for more and more. I've been, for example, to gay pride celebrations in Prague in the Czech Republic. A lot of LGBT groups there would like to open the discussion on same-sex marriage. Usually the first step in countries is to introduce civil unions or registered partnerships.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: You've so far been working on the issue of gay rights for Human Rights Watch from your current base in the United States, where nine states have legalized same-sex marriage. The Supreme Court in Washington, DC, is now considering a challenge to the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibits the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages at the state level. How do you think the Supreme Court will rule on DOMA and California's Prop 8, and what impact will this potentially have on the future of gay rights in America?

Dittrich: It is too difficult to predict an outcome. But if the ruling explicitly states that gay couples have the same right to civil marriage as opposite couples, then it will be a boost for LGBT groups in states where this right has not been achieved yet. However, it could also pose one danger for the LGBT movement: After marriage equality has been achieved the groups should continue fighting discrimination and not lean back and think after marriage the country will be a paradise for LGBT people. Discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity is mulifaceted and is inherent to the position of being a minority. The fight against discrimination must go on, even after marriage has been achieved.

Interview conducted by Daryl Lindsey


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chuchu3151 08/20/2013
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Well, if the gay population really want us to believe that being homosexual is the new normal, then I suppose it is the ideal way to introduce population control? It is a foolproof proven method and no coercion involved, just some good old fashion media propaganda.
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