WASHINGTON — The steady growth of support for the gay rights movement and same sex marriage equality within the United States has been accompanied by increased U.S. government support for gay rights around the world. The U.S. foreign policy to promote equal rights, no matter sexual orientation, has sparked criticism both abroad and at home.
Living now in relative freedom and security in New York City, artist and filmmaker Alexander Kargaltsev remembers the harassment and violence he suffered as a gay man in his native Russia.
“I went to the demonstration like gay pride, an attempt of gay pride because it did not happen. And a few people were arrested and I was beaten by police and I was left laying down bleeding," he said.
U.S. officials view anti-gay violence as human rights violations and granted Kargaltsev and a number of refugees asylum based on the persecution they faced for their sexual identity.
The United States is also using diplomacy and aid to support gay rights. Journalist Michael Lavers, with the gay newspaper the Washington Blade, recently participated in a U.S. government-sponsored workshop in Colombia, where he talked to gay and lesbian activists about how to use the media to hold officials accountable.
“This is not to say the situation in the United States is perfect. We certainly have our own issues with discrimination and so forth, but folks outside the United States, at least the folks I have spoken to in Colombia and in other places around the world, really look to the United States almost as an example of how to do things right," he said.
President Obama was in Senegal when the U.S. Supreme Court expanded gay marriage rights. In Senegal and 38 countries in Africa homosexuality is a crime, and in some countries it is punishable by death. The president spoke out in favor of same sex marriage.
“We believe in basic fairness, and what I think yesterday’s ruling signifies is one more step towards ensuring that those basic principles apply to everybody," he said.
Senegalese President Macky Sall said his Muslim majority country would not change its laws.
Opponents of same sex marriage in America are also critical of U.S. foreign policy supporting same sex marriage, which is not legal in many U.S. states. Thomas Peters is with the National Organization for Marriage.
“We do not believe that redefining is the path toward equality. When you redefine marriage you actually create inequality in society. And so, on the one hand we can absolutely support gay rights to not be persecuted for their orientation or for their lifestyle, but we also can stand up for marriage, which is what we do," he said.
Human-rights groups agree that protecting free speech and combating hate violence should be a priority for U.S. foreign policy, but they say supporting equal rights also means supporting the right for same-sex couples to marry.