Tag Archives: lgbt

In Vardakar, Ireland may be about to have its first openly gay leader

Leo Varadkar now leads among TDs to win the Fine Gael leadership and, with it, Ireland’s premiership. (Facebook)

Among the European countries on the 2017 political agenda, Ireland figures relatively low. 

Ostensibly, Ireland may not hold its next general election until 2021. Irish politics have so far avoided the kind of xenophobic, hard-right politics that are roiling larger countries. Nor (other than the republican Sinn Féin) has the country succumbed to the kind of hard-left politics that have emerged in much of southern Europe in the aftermath of the eurozone debt crisis.

But as Enda Kenny, Ireland’s prime minister (known in Ireland as the Taoiseach) prepares to step down after more than six years in power, the country may have its first openly gay leader within weeks.

Leo Varadkar, a 38-year-old rising star and the son of an Indian immigrant (and, like his father, a doctor by trade) who represents the pro-market wing of the liberal, center-right Fine Gael, is now the favorite in the party’s first leadership election in 15 years. First elected to the Dáil (the lower house of the Irish parliament) in 2007, Varadkar immediately joined Kenny’s government in 2011 as transport, tourism and sport minister. From 2014 until last May, he served as health minister, and he currently serves as minister for social protection.

Simon Coveney, Ireland’s housing minister, hopes he can come from behind to win the Fine Gael leadership on the strength of the party faithful.

His opponent is the 44-year-old (and openly straight) Simon Coveney, a scion of Irish politics, who got his start in politics at age 26 when, in a 1998, he won a by-election to replace his late father, Hugh Coveney. He has remained a fixture of the Irish parliament (or the European parliament — as an MEP from 2004 to 2007) ever since. Like Vardakar, Coveney has held three ministerial posts in the Kenny era — first as agriculture, food and marine minister, then defence minister, and currently minister for housing, planning, community and local government. Though Coveney is relatively pro-market, he has emphasized the need to combat rising inequality.

Vardakar is the flashier choice, a more radical figure with more panache, while Coveney is viewed as somewhat more wooden, though a policy whiz and a more seasoned official. While they will shy away from actively endorsing Coveney, both Kenny and the current finance minister Michael Noonan are likely to support Coveney.

If his lead holds, Vardakar would represent a far greater rupture from Kenny for Fine Gael. He has said he would re-christen Fine Gael as the ‘United Ireland’ Party, and he has promised a series of tax cuts, pledging that Fine Gael would be the party for people who ‘get out of bed early in the morning.’ Among his policy positions is a relatively radical step to reduce the ability of public workers to engage in strikes.
Continue reading In Vardakar, Ireland may be about to have its first openly gay leader

Seven consequences of Moon Jae-in’s landslide South Korean victory

Moon Jae-in easily won the South Korean presidency in a snap election on Tuesday. (Facebook)

Moon Jae-in (문재인) was easily elected president in South Korea yesterday, following one of the most tumultuous periods in Korean democracy.

Following the December impeachment and the March removal from (by a unanimous 8-0 verdict of the constitutional court) of conservative president Park Guen-hye (박근혜), who now faces criminal charges for accepting bribes, South Korea’s previously scheduled presidential election moved up from December to May 9.

As polls predicted, Moon, the candidate of South Korea’s center-left Democratic Party (더불어민주당) easily won the presidency in a landslide against his nearest rival, Hong Jun-pyo (홍준표), governor of South Gyeongsang province, the candidate of the conservative Liberty Korea Party (자유한국당).

The election marks the end of nearly a decade of conservative rule in the Blue House, South Korea’s presidential office, and Moon has promised to bring a sweep of transparency and reform to domestic policy and a more conciliatory approach to North Korea in foreign policy.

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RELATED: Snap South Korean presidential election
points to tough Moon-Ahn race

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Moon, a longtime human rights activist and attorney, served from 2003 to 2008 as the chief of staff, one of the leading presidential aides, to former president Roh Moo-hyun. Moon was making his second presidential run after losing the 2012 race to Park.

So what’s next? Here are the seven leading policy and political consequences from Moon’s landslide victory. Continue reading Seven consequences of Moon Jae-in’s landslide South Korean victory

Why the future of the LGBT rights fight is international — in 20 tweets

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Though I wasn’t able to join The Atlantic‘s conference this week on the future of the LGBT civil rights fight, I took to Twitter earlier today to make that case that the future of the LGBT rights fights is largely international in character.

Without prejudice to the ongoing fights, legal and political, across the United States, I would argue the LGBT outlook should be much more global in 2015 — and as we look to the future and the kind of world we want to see in 2025 for both LGBT rights and human rights more generally. Continue reading Why the future of the LGBT rights fight is international — in 20 tweets

Why the Supreme Court’s ruling is so important to marriage equality worldwide

joe2Photo credit to Joe Henchman.

With today’s breathtaking victory for marriage equality in the case of Obergefell v. Hodges, the U.S. supreme court, the United States of America joins the ranks of less than two dozen countries across five continents that recognize full equality as between opposite-sex and same-sex marriages.USflag

Generally speaking, there are three ways that countries have gone about enacting same-sex marriage. The first and, by far, the most popular route is through direct legislation, as the United Kingdom, France and many other countries have done. The second is through popular referendum — Maryland and Washington took this path within the United States in 2012 and Ireland, most recently, did so in a near-landslide victory on May 22. The third route is when constitutional courts find that the refusal to provide state-sponsored marriage benefits to a same-sex couple violates a country’s fundamental governing charter.

In that regard, the US path to universal marriage equality is unique. South Africa’s constitutional court in 2005 essentially forced the country’s parliament to enact legislation in 2006, and Brazil’s constitutional court ruled in favor of marriage equality in 2013.

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RELATED: After Irish vote, what next for same-sex marriage in Europe?

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The problem with the legislative path — and especially with the referendum path — is that they both set the precedent in world politics that it’s perfectly fine to leave the rights of a minority group up to the whims of everyday politics. Marriage equality supporters may love that Irish voters delivered such a strong verdict for same-sex marriage, but it subtly validates votes in places like Croatia in 2013, where voters rejected marriage equality by vote. If, in 2019, Poland decides to hold a referendum and Polish voters reject same-sex marriage, the 2015 Irish referendum will nevertheless validate the direct democracy approach — namely, that a popular vote should be able to establish or deny fundamental rights.

Instead, here’s a sampling of what Anthony Kennedy wrote in his ruling today:

Laws excluding same-sex couples from the marriage right impose stigma and injury of the kind prohibited by our basic charter….

These considerations lead to the conclusion that the right to marry is a fundamental right inherent in the liberty of the person, and under the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment couples of the same-sex may not be deprived of that right and that liberty.

Not only does the ruling mean that the United States is now more progressive on LGBT rights than much of Europe and the rest of the Western world, it also sets a precedent with which constitutional courts worldwide will now have to grapple.

The decision stands for the idea, long applied to protection on the basis of race, ethnicity and gender, that there are certain principles in a liberal democracy that are ‘above’ petty political fights. Legal scholars will recognize this idea as a principle that flows back to famous footnote in a 1938 ruling, United States v. Carolene Products Company:

There may be narrower scope for operation of the presumption of constitutionality when legislation appears on its face to be within a specific prohibition of the Constitution, such as those of the first ten amendments, which are deemed equally specific when held to be embraced within the Fourteenth. . . . whether prejudice against discrete and insular minorities may be a special condition, which tends seriously to curtail the operation of those political processes ordinarily to be relied upon to protect minorities, and which may call for a correspondingly more searching judicial inquiry…

The bottom line is that constitutional courts — for example, those in Australia and Israel, Germany and Italy, or even the European Court of Human Rights, will feel significantly greater pressure as a result of today’s holding in Washington, D.C. Germany’s constitutional court, the Bundesverfassungsgericht, for example, has been nudging the country ever so closely to marriage equality in a series of rulings that have almost eliminated the difference between ‘life partnerships’ and marriage.

After Irish vote, what next for same-sex marriage in Europe?

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There’s no doubt that the landmark vote in Ireland on May 22, the first such referendum where a popular majority enacted same-sex marriage, has been received as a huge step forward for marriage equality and LGBT rights in Europe.Ireland IconEuropean_Union

While the United States supreme court is set to rule later in June on marriage equality as a legal and constitutional matter within all 50 states, it may feel like a watershed moment in Europe as well, where French president François Hollande and the center-left Parti socialiste (PS, Socialist Party) and British prime minister David Cameron and the Conservative Party both swung behind legislative efforts to enact same-sex marriage, in 2013 and 2014, respectively.

Luxembourg’s prime minister Xavier Bettel officially married his own partner in May, but it was only six years ago that Iceland’s Jóhanna Sigurdardóttir became the world’s first openly LGBT head of government, followed shortly by Belgian prime minister Elio Di Rupo.

Yet the lopsided Irish referendum victory — it passed with 62.07% of the vote and the ‘Yes’ camp won all but one constituency (Roscommon-South Leitrim) — obscures the fact that additional marriage equality gains across the European Union will be slow to materialize. Leave aside the notion, now reinforced by Ireland, that the human rights of a minority can be legitimately subjected to referendum — a precedent that Europeans may come to regret. Amid the recent burst of marriage equality in Europe, the immediate future seems grim.

Nowhere is that more true than just next door in Northern Ireland, which is the only part of the United Kingdom that doesn’t permit same-sex marriage. With the Protestant, federalist electorate dominated by the socially conservative Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), one of western Europe’s most harshly anti-LGBT political parties, there’s little hope that Northern Ireland will follow in the footsteps of England, Scotland and Wales. At the end of April, Northern Irish health minister Jim Wells was forced to resign after suggesting same-sex couples were inferior parents. It’s home to the late Ian Paisley’s ‘Save Ulster from Sodomy’ campaign in the late 1970s, and it’s where sexual relations between two consenting same-sex partners were illegal until 1981, when the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Northern Irish law violated the European Convention on Human Rights.

But Northern Ireland is not alone in its reticence — marriage equality faces long hurdles in some of the European Union’s most important countries, including Germany, Italy and Poland.

The irony is that despite Europe’s leading role two decades ago on LGBT marriage rights, the United States could eclipse Europe with the supreme court’s ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, as the European Union struggles for years to enact consistent marriage equality legislation. Continue reading After Irish vote, what next for same-sex marriage in Europe?

Video of the day: Brazil needs a ‘Straight Pride’?

It was something of an odd remark by the new president of Brazil’s Câmara dos Deputados (Chamber of Deputies), Eduardo Cunha, whose elevation to the top post in the lower house of the Brazilian congress came just three weeks ago.brazil

Typically described as either a tough insider in the vein of Frank Underwood, the protagonist of House of Cards, or an independent-minded speaker sure to challenge beleaguered Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff, Cunha’s off-hand comments that December 3 should be celebrated as ‘straight pride’ day have backfired, causing one response (embedded above) to go viral, first in Brazil and now globally.

Though same-sex marriage has been legal since 2013, when the country’s top court issued a ruling to that effect, Brazil remains a country where homophobia remains a problem, especially in its more rural and conservative enclaves. Former presidential candidate Marina Silva, who surged in the polls late last summer, started to tumble after backtracking on her support for gay marriage. In 2010, Rousseff stumbled when her opponent, José Serra, suggested she was too pro-abortion. With a growing number of evangelicals (including both Cunha and Silva) and a strong base of Catholics, Brazil is still a deeply religion country. Rousseff, for the record, still opposes full marriage equality as well, though she supports civil unions, and she pledged her support for an anti-homophobia bill — an initiative that seems unlikely now that Cunha controls Brazil’s lower house.

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Cunha (pictured above) is a member of the Partido do Movimento Democrático Brasileiro (PMDB, the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party), a big-party tent that played a role in promoting democracy during military rule in the 1960s, 1970s and early 1980s. Today, though, it’s something of an ally of convenience — the PMDB boosts Rousseff’s government in power just as it did for Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva before her and for the more conservative Fernando Henrique Cardoso. It’s generally viewed on the more corrupt side of the political spectrum, and it includes all sorts of ideologies (like most of Brazil’s political parties, large and small).

So officials like Cunha, ostensibly allies, are far more conservative than Rousseff or the political mainstream on social issues, even though he’s likely to block her administration’s moves to cut spending to reduce the country’s budget deficit in her second term. Realistically, though the PMDB is Rousseff’s ally, Cunha personally opposes much of Rousseff’s agenda, and his elevation as Chamber president essentially means that Rousseff will face an unfriendly legislative branch in her second term — at least as long as her political popularity continues to sink.

That Cunha was elected in the first place came as a shock within Rousseff’s Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT, Workers’ Party). Though Rousseff recently won reelection last October, a corruption scandal at the state oil company, Petrobras, and a deepening recession (exacerbating by falling global oil prices) have hurt Rousseff politically, even while Lula da Silva contemplates a comeback to the Brazilian presidency in 2018.

Cunha’s remarks should come as no surprise, though. It’s not even the first time he has pontificated aloud over a ‘Straight Pride’ day. He’s also staunchly anti-abortion, and he said shortly after his election as Chamber president that a law to liberalize Brazil’s tight abortion restrictions would pass only ‘over his dead body.’

Who is Yahya Jammeh? A look at Gambia’s erratic dictator.

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When you start to add up all the abuses of Gambian president Yahya Jammeh’s 20-year dictatorship, you might think it’s a real shame that Tuesday’s coup attempt has apparently failed.Gambia

Though Gambian officials are reporting that the coup has failed, and other officials are denying that a coup attempt even took place, it’s hard to know just exactly what is happening in the capital city of Banjul. Jammeh is said to be out of the country, though conflicting reports have placed him on official business in France as well as on a personal trip to Dubai. In short, no one know what’s happened (or may still be going on in Gambia) and no one knows where Jammeh is currently located.

Gambia served for centuries as a Portuguese trading colony before it became a British protectorate in 1894. An overwhelmingly Muslim country, it won its independence from the United Kingdom in 1965, and it’s known just two leaders in that time — Dawfa Jawara, who ruled as prime minister or president from 1965 to 1994, and his successor, Jammeh, who ousted Jawara in a chiefly bloodless coup at the tender age of 29. What followed could hardly be called bloodless, however.

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Since 1994, Jammeh’s record has been dotted with human rights violations that rank among some of the worst in sub-Saharan Africa, in marked contrast to the conciliatory approach Jawara deployed for the first three decades of post-independence Gambia. Though Jammeh (pictured above earlier this year with US president Barack Obama) might not rise to the level of abuse reserved for butchers like former Ugandan dictator Idi Amin, former Liberian president Charles Taylor or former CAR president Jean-Bédel Bokassa, he must certainly rank high on the list of Africa’s most brutal leaders today, earning international scorn for his approach to the death penalty, press freedom and LGBT rights, in particular: Continue reading Who is Yahya Jammeh? A look at Gambia’s erratic dictator.

2022 World Cup scrutiny poses major test for Sheikh Tamim

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Even as a global audience cheers on the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, things are looking increasingly dicey for Qatar, which is struggling to hold onto its successful bid four years ago to host the 2022 World Cup.qatar

Amid complaints about everything from soaring Gulf temperatures to its LGBT laws to the abuses of Qatar’s kafala system, the resource-wealthy emirate now faces losing the 2022 World Cup altogether following allegations that Qatari businessmen bribed members of the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA).

Needless to say, it’s not been an incredibly smooth first year for Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, who assumed power as the eighth emir of Qatar when his father, Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, abdicated in June 2013 at the age of 61. Though the British-educated Tamim had been the Qatari heir apparent for a decade, at age 34, he is the world’s youngest monarch. Though Shiekh Hamad and other members of the Al Thani family (most notably Tamim’s mother, Mozah bint Nasser Al Missned) continue to wield significant influence, Sheikh Tamim’s rise to power reflects a more seamless transition for Qatar. Sheikh Hamad kicked his own father, Khalifa, out of power in a bloodless coup in 1995.

Though he wasn’t Qatar’s emir at the time, the controversy surrounding the decision to award the World Cup to Qatar has become a major leadership test for Sheikh Tamim (pictured above), who led the Qatari committee that made the bid for the 2022 World Cup. Arguably, Tamim’s most important role before assuming the emirship last year was his influence in building Qatar’s growing sponsorship of regional and global sports events. 

Facing a humiliating retreat with respect to Qatar’s regional political agenda, and facing enhanced global scrutiny on all fronts due to the World Cup bid, losing the 2022 tournament would be a massive setback for Qatar’s two-decade push to become an influential regional and global actor.    Continue reading 2022 World Cup scrutiny poses major test for Sheikh Tamim

Uganda and LGBT rights: an interview with Bishop Christopher Senyonjo

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Bishop Christopher Senyonjo is an Anglican priest in Kampala.  Ordained in 1964, Senyonjo served in the Church of Uganda, but was dissociated from the church in 2006, largely over his growing role as a voice of tolerance for LGBT Ugandans.  Christened the ‘Ugandan Desmond Tutu’ by the Kampala-based tabloid Red Pepper last week when it included him on a list of Uganda’s ‘top 200 homosexuals’ (notwithstanding his wife and six children), Senyonjo runs a center for reconciliation and equality north of the city center.  In the aftermath of Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni’s decision to sign into law a harsh anti-gay bill last Monday, which provides for a sentence of life imprisonment in the case of ‘aggravated homosexuality,’ Senyonjo discussed the plight of LGBT Ugandans with me last week.uganda

On education about sexuality in Uganda: 

CS: I’ve discovered the reality is you shouldn’t hurt people, you shouldn’t punish people for being what they are sexually.  Sexuality is a very important component in a human being’s existence.  So if you smother expressions of sexual being, it means you are killing that person.  Regulating sexuality, I think, is important, because if people lure young people into something they’re not, it’s wrong…. 

But where people are consenting adults, and you punish them, it seems to me to be very dehumanizing. You may quote the Bible, you may quote Scripture. But these things are quoted out of context. God created, and is still creating, so I think understanding people, how they live, why they live as they are, is important. That’s why I feel the most important thing we need to do is education.  By education, we learn.  We learn where we may be going wrong.  That’s different rather than saying, ‘The whole category is condemned.’

On reconciling the church with human sexuality:

CS: My church, unfortunately, generally, doesn’t understand human sexuality….  But the point is for people to listen to each other, not just quote the Bible [at one another].  I’m a Christian also, I’ve taken theology courses, I’ve been in the ministry now for 50 years, but I can see that God is not such a God who is so harsh because of a person’s sexuality.  God is loving, and if you love, you have to be compassionate.  Try to understand the other person’s view, not say, ‘Don’t talk to me, I know everything about you.’ You should also listen to the other person.  Unfortunately, the homosexuals, the general term we use, are usually not listened to. [Opponents] just condemn it. It’s difficult….

[Critics say,] ‘God doesn’t like for me to talk about my sexuality. Adam and Eve were just heterosexuals. Why can’t you talk about something else?’

They don’t think about in Adam, everything was there. Intrinsically in Adam, every possibility was there.  When someone talks about Adam and Eve, I say, ‘What color was Adam and Eve?  What height? What kind of eyes? So you think we are just copies of Adam and Eve?  We weren’t.’  Every single possibility was there, and being manifested in Adam and Eve.

On Museveni’s request for Ugandan scientists to determine whether homosexuality has a genetic basis: 

CS:  I was impressed when our president said he’d consult scientists about this subject.  And they gave him his views, which were generally really balanced.  Unfortunately, [the president] just picked a point here and there, not looking at the whole report.  I may not agree with everything the scientists said, but I appreciate what they did. When I read it, they were balanced.

But I don’t know how you can really measure love genetically.  A human being is complicated.  Let a human being tell you his or her story. Listen to the real story. What causes it?  Is it real?

….But if you look at the whole report, even the science has a lot of things to discover.  There was a time they talked about light traveling in a straight line [long before science discovered] quantum theory.  Science is very flexible to discover things.  When you’re a scientist, you’re open to new learning.

On counseling young gay Ugandans: 

CS: [There’s] a young man — I won’t use his name, but he’s a typical one, I’ve watched him grow, I know him even today.  He has lived, and now he’s happy, because he came to understand and accept himself.  But he was a miserable young man because his parents, as he was growing up, thought he should get married.  The young man did not.  His younger brothers were getting married, and they looked around and said, ‘Look, there! Wonderful, beautiful girls, why don’t you get married?’

The young man didn’t care, he said, ‘I don’t feel like those girls!” They couldn’t understand. The mother was very worried, because she was getting old, the father had died, so they wanted to have [grand]children, which is understandable.  The young man was worried, and they told him, ‘Go to church, talk to the pastor, he will help you repent, do this…’  So he did for a long time, tried to pray, fast and all that. But he was not changing.  One pastor talked to him and [sent] him to me, you can go and talk to him about your ‘condition.’  He came.  And we shared a number of conversations talking about how he felt and all that.  I realized he was not pretending, he was a gay person. And I told him, ‘Accept yourself as you are.’  This was relieving, because he told me he was contemplating committing suicide.  Because people were telling him, ‘Even God doesn’t love you unless you change’….

When I told him, ‘Accept yourself, God loves you as you are,’ that young man is still alive and very happy.  It’s one example, but it’s a typical one.  The mother continued to say, ‘My son, why don’t you get married?’  The mother was getting sick, and the young man was worried too.  So this young man said, ‘Let me gather courage and talk to my mother. ‘Because the mother really cared and loved him. So he said, ‘Mother, I want to tell you something. I don’t love those girls you are talking about, you’ve been bringing around and all that. I’m gay.’

Oh! The mother broke down into tears, cried and cried, and the young man also cried.  After crying, the mother said to the young man, ‘You are my son. You are different, but you are my son. I love you as you are.’ This was wonderful for this young man.  After a few months, the mother became really sick and died.  She is dead now, but the young man said, ‘My mother died happy, and I am happy she died knowing who I was, who I am.’

So when you hear and know people like that, and [Ugandans want] to send them to prison, maybe for life, because [they] have said, ‘genetics or whatever,’… for me, I don’t think you can determine the love of a person by what you call scientific methods.  Love is a mystery.  There are many mysteries, but they are real.  So I feel sorry, because people are going to suffer — innocent people are going to suffer — if you implement this bill. Continue reading Uganda and LGBT rights: an interview with Bishop Christopher Senyonjo

Pre-Sochi required reading list: McFaul’s foibles and Putin’s Olympics

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If you read nothing else before the opening ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, you could do much worse than these two brilliant pieces in Foreign Policy and Politico Magazine that explain in majestic scale the state of Russia today and the nature of US-Russian relations in the 2010s, even as journalists started arriving in Sochi earlier this week and reporting the (sometimes humorous) problems with infrastructure. USflagRussia Flag Icon

The first is a profile of Michael McFaul (pictured below), the US ambassador to Russia, who announced earlier this week that he will step down following the Winter Games in Sochi, after just two years as the US envoy to Moscow.  Just the second non-career diplomat in US history to hold the post, Michael Weiss writes in Foreign Policy about both McFaul’s successes and failures, but especially McFaul’s failures, evident from the first sentence:

The Kremlin, for instance, will be sad to see the nicest, most eager-to-please man to ever inhabit Spaso House quit the joint after only two years of floundering and squirming under the Kremlin’s systematic, Vienna Convention-violating sadism.

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McFaul (pictured above with Obama), a  professor of political science at Stanford University, previously served as US president Barack Obama’s special assistant and senior director of Russian and Eurasian affairs.  The ‘reset’ concept with Russia at the beginning of the Obama administration was McFaul’s brainchild — though the US secretary of state at the time Hillary Clinton, memorably presented her Russian counterpart with a reset button inscribed with the word peregruzka (‘overload’) instead of perezagruzka (‘reset’).  But it’s important to remember that McFaul was also instrumental in the successful negotiations to enact deeper nuclear non-proliferation through the New START treaty with Russia enacted in May 2010.

Weiss’s piece makes clear just how difficult it was for McFaul to adjust between ‘advocate’ mode and ‘diplomat’ mode, and most of the major ‘gaffes’ of McFaul’s tenure relate to the gap between advocate and diplomat — over-reliance on social media; meeting with a wide group of the Kremlin’s political opponents for his first official meeting; dissembling over the Magnitsky Act (which ties US-Russian trade to human rights abuses) and encouraging Russia’s accession to the World Trade Organization; or even the time he tweeted about ‘Yoburg’ (which translates to ‘Fuckville’ in Russian) instead of ‘Yeakaterinburg.’

McFaul had a style that was hard to account for or justify, as when he admitted, by way of an apology, that he was “not a professional diplomat.” This, too, had the merit of being true; but what, it prompted many to wonder, was he doing in the most difficult diplomatic posting on the planet advertising as much?

Though John Beyrle, the career diplomat who served as ambassador between 2008 and 2011, would not have made those same mistakes, he also wouldn’t have tweeted a message of support (‘I’m watching.’) to opposition figure Alexei Navalny last summer during a politically-motivated trial on trumped-up charges.  Part of the charge against McFaul is that he didn’t follow the rulebook of international diplomacy, but that runs both ways — one man’s diplomatic faux pas is another man’s bravery.  If, a decade from now, we look back at the August 2013 confrontation with Syria as the start of a successful model for US-Russian cooperation, the Obama-McFaul reputation on Russian relations will look drastically better  (of course, that depends mostly on the cooperation of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad in dismounting his chemical weapons program and the ability of the OPCW and UN personnel to evacuate them from a country in the midst of a civil war).

Ultimately, though, the McFaul tenure coincides with what seems today like a stark deterioration in bilateral relations, even from the headier days of 2009 and 2010.  Here’s the devastating kicker:

Unfortunately, he’s leaving with the Russian media portraying America as a country that tortures orphans to death, brainwashes children into becoming homosexuals, supports al Qaeda terrorists in the Middle East, eggs on neo-Nazis to overthrow the government of Ukraine, and otherwise behaves as both a bumbling colossus and a serially defrauded and discombobulated mug in world affairs.

The second piece you should read is Leon Aron’s piece in Politico Magazine explaining how the Winter Games initially came to Sochi (partly a rare English-language speech from Putin to the International Olympic Committee in 2007):

But it mostly explains why, at a price tag of between $50 billion and $55 billion, they’re the most staggeringly expensive Olympics ever (more than even Beijing’s 2008 Summer Games and more than all previous Winter Games in Olympic history):  Continue reading Pre-Sochi required reading list: McFaul’s foibles and Putin’s Olympics

Scotland passes same-sex marriage, joining England and Wales

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Though the UK parliament in Westminster enacted same-sex marriage in July 2013 to great fanfare, the nature of devolution in the United Kingdom meant that Scotland’s parliament in Holyrood would have to pass its own version.United Kingdom Flag Iconscotland

The devolution process that began in 1997 under Labour prime minister Tony Blair created parliaments for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.  But regional devolution ran deepest in Scotland — Wales opted for fewer regional powers than Scotland, and Northern Ireland’s parliament, created as part of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, spent much of the 2000s suspended.  Ironically, that meant that for a brief period, same-sex marriage would be the law of the land in England in Wales, but not in the more socially liberal Scotland.

That changed today, when the Scottish parliament voted 105 to 18 in favor of enacting same-sex marriage.  First minister Alex Salmond, who leads a pro-independence government of the Scottish National Party (SNP) fast-tracked the bill to keep pace with Westminster.  Though the bill wasn’t without controversy, especially from within the Church of Scotland and other religious groups, support within the Scottish Labour Party and the Scottish Liberal Democrats meant that the bill was always likely to sail through Holyrood.

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Though the major opposition to same-sex marriage in England and Wales came from within the Conservative Party of prime minister David Cameron (who himself supported marriage equality), the leader of the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party, Ruth Davidson (pictured above), is herself gay and strongly supported the marriage equality effort in Scotland. Though the Tories hold just 15 seats in the 129-member Scottish parliament (compared to 65 seats for the SNP and 37 for Labour), Davidson and Cameron have shown that conservatism and marriage equality aren’t necessarily incompatible.

The lengthier Scottish consultation process on the same-sex marriage bill included outreach to hear the views of religious groups, and churches will have the right (though not the obligation) to ‘opt in’ to same-sex marriage in Scotland when the law takes effect later this year.  That makes the Scottish same-sex marriage act somewhat stronger than the English version, which provides a blanket ban on same-sex ceremonies within the Church of England.

The first same-sex marriages in England and Wales will take place in March, and the first marriages in Scotland will take place later in autumn 2014.

It also leaves Northern Ireland as the only part of the United Kingdom without same-sex marriage — and as I wrote last summer, don’t expect the Northern Irish assembly at Stormont to take up the cause of LGBT equality anytime soon:  Continue reading Scotland passes same-sex marriage, joining England and Wales

Honduran LGBT activists fear ongoing threat upon Hernández inauguration

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NOTE: This post originally appeared at Huffington Post’s Latino Voices blog.
For more of
 Suffragio‘s coverage and reporting on Honduras, click here

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras — Erick Martínez remembers exactly where he was when Erick Martínez was killed.honduras flag icon

Erick Vidal Martínez, today one of Honduras’s most high-profile LGBT activists, was supposed to meet Erick Martínez Avila at one in the afternoon on an otherwise temperate spring day in May 2012. Martínez Avila had been selected to be the representative of the LGBT community in the congressional primaries for Honduras’s new leftist political party, the Party of Liberty and Refoundation (known by its acronym, LIBRE, which is Spanish for “free”). But the LGBT community had planned to meet on May 6, 2012 to hold a full assembly in order to ensure that all voices, including transsexual and transgender members of the community, could provide input on the campaign ahead.

“The meeting was scheduled at 2:00 p.m., but we had talked about getting together beforehand.,” Martínez said. “Then 3 o’clock came around, then 3:30, and he didn’t show up. People started to believe that he didn’t want to become the candidate. So people said, ‘well, we’ll just have to find somebody else.'”

The next day, May 7, was Erick Vidal Martínez’s birthday. When the other Erick didn’t send so much as a text message to mark the occasion, the community’s brief annoyance deflated quickly into concern. Later that day, they learned the news — Erick Martínez Avila had been kidnapped off the streets of Tegucigalpa, the capital city of Honduras. His kidnappers ultimately strangled him to death and discarded his body in a ditch on the outskirts of town.

“My world completely changed that day, it was a 360-degree turn,” he said. “I didn’t have time to mourn him, I didn’t have time to cry.”

It was among the more high-profile of dozens of assassinations within Honduras’s struggling LGBT community — another top LGBT activist, Walter Tróchez, was shot while walking down the street in December 2009. Erick Vidal Martínez knew both of them well — as friends, as political allies, as part of his support network in a country where dissent of any stripe has become increasingly perilous. No one would have blamed him for packing his bags, filing an asylum application and catching the next flight to Ottawa. Or Brussels. Or London.

Instead, just days before Hondurans voted in a landmark general election, Erick met with me for coffee in downtown Tegucigalpa to explain why he’s picked up the fight where the other Erick, Walter and other murdered LGBT activists left off, and why he’s willing to risk his life to fight for greater rights for the diversity community in Honduras, a task that could become ever more treacherous in the years ahead, when Honduras’s new conservative president, Juan Orlando Hernández, will be inaugurated Monday, January 27.

“Everyone in Honduras has fear, but you can’t make decisions through fear and the past,” Martínez said. “I have to be smart. It would be foolish of me to expose myself. My advantage is my profile as a human rights activist. This is not a bulletproof vest, but it helps… After Erick’s murder, I gave up my social life; I gave up my private life.” Continue reading Honduran LGBT activists fear ongoing threat upon Hernández inauguration

A treasury of comments about Uganda’s anti-homosexuality bill

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How much do Ugandans hate gays and lesbians?uganda

A lot, as it turns out.  My post from last week, which recounted the final enactment of Nigeria’s anti-gay law and the decision by Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni to veto the anti-gay bill passed in December 2013 by the Ugandan parliament, attracted more attention than nearly any post I’ve written since I started Suffragio in early 2012.

So I thought it was worth sharing some of the reactions — and they’ve been jarring.

In the past month alone, I’ve argued that the United States is engendering sympathy for al-Qaeda forces in Yemen, that the US Senate would commit policy malpractice by enacting a new Iran sanctions bill and that the late Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon’s most enduring legacy is empowering Hezbollah.  Just yesterday, I entertained the notion that the United States and Canada should merge into a superstate.  These aren’t easy issues, and others won’t always share my  interpretations and conclusions.

But nothing has caused quite as much blowback as a relatively straightforward piece examining Museveni’s veto in the context of a rapidly worsening climate for LGBT rights throughout sub-Saharan Africa.

The (unintentionally hilarious) Anel Tunes, who’s from Kampala, shared my post on Facebook — with the following preamble:

All homosexuals need to be shot dead on site. We don’t need to spend tax payers money by taking such beasts to court. We just need to slay their throats without a question.

He’s not alone — the comments on both my blog and on Facebook run very heavily anti-gay.  I’d expect that because Uganda’s culture is relatively conservative.  There are plenty of good people in the United States who oppose same-sex marriage and believe, for religious or other reasons, that same-sex relationships are wrong, and the battle for wider acceptance of sexual minorities (including, for the record, transsexual and transgender individuals) can’t be legislated or enacted by judicial fiat.  I can understand that.

What I can’t understand is the desire to kill fellow citizens.  The virulence of hatred is staggering.  I’m used to a hostile or critical comment (or dozen) from time to time, but these comments are extraordinarily hateful.

Rogers Mover M adds simply:

We HATE HOMOSEXUALITY

From Ssebbaale Henry Wise:

rubbish !!!! it doent matter whether he voted other wise, remember this is africa, we act as we please, we will contiue to kill the Gays until when they are totally finished

From Tonny Bulletslinger Tomeeo Lazyeye:

Homo??? you even have time to debate on that??? we have machetes

Jjemba Mathew disapproves of the Ugandan parliament’s decision to reduce the penalty from ‘death’ to merely life imprisonment:

Life imprisonment can not end gay habits.They need Gun fire in the stadium.

Black Panther argues that Ugandan gays should be fed to the crocodiles:

 This is abusing our President.Its such a shameful act that it shldnt hv even been discussed in our Parliament.They shld hv just rounded up all homosexuals at night and thrown them into River Nile for our more honourable and profitable crocodiles to feast on as they are more useful at least they attract tourists and earn the country the much needed foreign currency.

Continue reading A treasury of comments about Uganda’s anti-homosexuality bill

Museveni vetoes Ugandan anti-gay bill after Nigeria law takes effect

London, 11th July 2012. London Summit on Family Planning

You know it’s been a bad week for LGBT rights in sub-Saharan Africa when the best news came from a leader who referred to gays and lesbians as ‘abnormal persons,’ with an illness to be treated.nigeria_flag_iconuganda

But considering that Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan signed into law on Monday the Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Act, which criminalizes not only ‘amorous’ same-sex relationships, but also registration, operation or participation in gay clubs, societies or organizations (including, potentially, US and other Western human rights organizations active in Nigeria), Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni’s decision to veto an anti-gay bill on Friday was somewhat of a triumph, even if the veto was shrouded in a bizarre — and still virulently anti-gay — message:

The President said a homosexual is somebody who is abnormal because the normal person was created to be attracted to the opposite sex in order to procreate and perpetuate the human race. He said, nature goes wrong in a minority of cases.  While in the Bill passed by Parliament there is no provision for killing homosexuals; the President said, “The question at the core of the debate of homosexuality is; what do we do with an abnormal person? Do we kill him/her? Do we imprison him/her? Or we do contain him/her?”

While the President said homosexuality is an abnormal condition that can be cured, he disagreed with the position of Western countries that homosexuality is an “alternative sexual orientation”. “You cannot call an abnormality an alternative orientation. It could be that the Western societies, on account of random breeding, have generated many abnormal people,” he said, adding that his acid test for rejecting Western position is that nature is purposeful.

Uganda and Nigeria are at the heart of an increasingly widening debate within sub-Saharan Africa over homosexuality, and Uganda’s proposed anti-gay laws have been widely covered in the international media.

The current bill, passed in December 2013 by Uganda’s parliament, which is dominated by the National Resistance Movement that’s controlled Uganda since Museveni (pictured above) came to power in 1986, would criminalize same-sex sexual intercourse, with penalties of life imprisonment for Ugandans convicted of ‘homosexuality.’  The bill also creates obligations for Ugandan citizens to report suspected gay and lesbian individuals to the police, and it criminalizes providing advisory services to gay and lesbian individuals.  The latter provision could endanger all sorts of public health initiatives in Uganda, especially with respect to HIV/AIDS.

Earlier versions of the bill mandated the death penalty for gays and lesbians, which number an estimated 500,000 people among Uganda’s population of over 36 million. Continue reading Museveni vetoes Ugandan anti-gay bill after Nigeria law takes effect

14 potential game-changers for world politics in 2014

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Though I rang in the new year with a list of 14 world elections to watch in the coming year (and 14 more honorable mentions to keep an eye on), I wanted to showcase a few more thoughts about what to watch for in world politics and foreign affairs in 2014.

Accordingly, here are 14 possible game-changers — they’re not predictions per se, but neither are they as far-fetched as they might seem.  No one can say with certainty that they will come to pass in 2014.  Instead, consider these something between rote predictions (e.g., that violence in Iraq is getting worse) and outrageous fat-tail risks (e.g., the impending breakup of the United States).

There’s an old album of small pieces conducted by the late English conductor Sir Thomas Beecham, a delightfully playful album entitled Lollipops that contains some of the old master’s favorite, most lively short pieces.

Think of these as Suffragio‘s 14 world politics lollipops to watch in 2014.

We start in France… Continue reading 14 potential game-changers for world politics in 2014