Skip to main content

Whole world watching U.S. on gay rights

By Frida Ghitis, Special to CNN
updated 10:09 AM EDT, Thu June 27, 2013
Julia Tate, left, kisses her wife, Lisa McMillin, in Nashville, Tennessee, after the reading the results of the <a href='http://www.cnn.com/2013/06/26/politics/scotus-same-sex-main/index.html'>Supreme Court rulings on same-sex marriage</a> on Wednesday, June 26. The high court struck down key parts of the <a href='http://www.cnn.com/interactive/2013/06/politics/scotus-ruling-windsor/index.html'>Defense of Marriage Act</a> and cleared the way for same-sex marriages to resume in California by rejecting an appeal on the state's <a href='http://www.cnn.com/interactive/2013/06/politics/scotus-ruling-perry/index.html'>Proposition 8</a>. Julia Tate, left, kisses her wife, Lisa McMillin, in Nashville, Tennessee, after the reading the results of the Supreme Court rulings on same-sex marriage on Wednesday, June 26. The high court struck down key parts of the Defense of Marriage Act and cleared the way for same-sex marriages to resume in California by rejecting an appeal on the state's Proposition 8.
HIDE CAPTION
Reaction to same-sex marriage rulings
Reaction to same-sex marriage rulings
Reaction to same-sex marriage rulings
Reaction to same-sex marriage rulings
Reaction to same-sex marriage rulings
Reaction to same-sex marriage rulings
Reaction to same-sex marriage rulings
Reaction to same-sex marriage rulings
Reaction to same-sex marriage rulings
Reaction to same-sex marriage rulings
Reaction to same-sex marriage rulings
Reaction to same-sex marriage rulings
Reaction to same-sex marriage rulings
Reaction to same-sex marriage rulings
Reaction to same-sex marriage rulings
Reaction to same-sex marriage rulings
Reaction to same-sex marriage rulings
Reaction to same-sex marriage rulings
Reaction to same-sex marriage rulings
Reaction to same-sex marriage rulings
Reaction to same-sex marriage rulings
Reaction to same-sex marriage rulings
Reaction to same-sex marriage rulings
Reaction to same-sex marriage rulings
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Frida Ghitis: Supreme Court rulings on gay rights resonate around the world
  • She says they help restore America's role at the vanguard of personal freedom
  • Ghitis: Many countries still harshly publish homosexuality
  • She says U.S. has strayed from its role at times but it's appropriate to return to it

Editor's note: Frida Ghitis is a world affairs columnist for The Miami Herald and World Politics Review. A former CNN producer and correspondent, she is the author of "The End of Revolution: A Changing World in the Age of Live Television." Follow her on Twitter: @FridaGColumns.

(CNN) -- America's right place is at the vanguard of the quest for freedom and equality. The country was founded on that principle, as a nation whose very identity is built on equal rights and true freedom for its citizens. Wednesday's twin decisions by the Supreme Court in favor of gay equality allowed the country to move closer to its founding ideals.

That is not just good news for gay Americans, for their families and for the United States. It is excellent news for the cause of freedom and equality around the globe, and not just for gay people.

What happens in the U.S. matters. It influences views everywhere. That's why when the high court ruled that the federal law perversely named the "Defense of Marriage Act" or DOMA is unconstitutional and allowed the anti-gay marriage Proposition 8 in California to be struck down, the news rippled to all corners of the world.

Frida Ghitis
Frida Ghitis

You can be sure the news brought smiles to faces in the Middle East, in Africa and elsewhere.

The U.S. is hardly the first country to have laws and court rulings in favor of equality for gays. In fact, America has fallen far behind in what is now a worldwide movement -- and there is a very long way to go before gays in America can claim they are treated equally, if only by the law.

The Netherlands was the first country to fully legalize gay marriage. It did it without much fanfare in 2000. Since then, more than a dozen countries have followed suit. Gay couples have marriage equality in all corners of the world, not just in liberal Scandinavian nations such as Denmark and Norway, but also in Latin America -- in Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay -- and as far away as South Africa and New Zealand.

Did Supreme Court make history or not?
Scenes of joy after Supreme Court ruling

Most of the world, however, is not as open to equality.  As recently as last year, Iran executed young men by public hanging. It is one of several countries where homosexuality is punishable by death. In many other places, the punishment is prison. In many more, there are intense legal and social restrictions.

In Uganda, the names and addresses of gay activists have been published in the local media, triggering violent attacks, and a pending law would impose life imprisonment for gays and up to three years for anyone who knows and fails to report homosexuals. American evangelists have promoted the crackdown.

In Russia, just this month the Russian parliament passed a law banning "propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations." Gay rights demonstrators have been brutally beaten in what has almost become a ritual in Russia and elsewhere.

Despite intense and often well-founded criticism of the United States and complaints that its rhetoric doesn't match its behavior, America wields enormous social, cultural and political sway around the planet.

The court ruling on same sex marriage will be read carefully by some jurists in some countries. Its words may find their way to other rulings.  

Other people will read just a few key words.

The DOMA decision by Justice Anthony Kennedy centered on one of the most fundamental concepts of democracy: the notion of equal protection. The ruling articulates an idea that will resonate in the many nations struggling with internal divisions and just learning the meaning of democracy and freedom. Kennedy spelled it out. A government cannot simply deny equality; it cannot treat one group of people differently without a legitimate purpose.

Most people will only see a headline. They will see pictures of celebrations in the United States. They will hear that in the United States gay couples can now marry. That is not quite correct. In most U.S. states same-sex couples cannot marry, although some experts believe the language of the Kennedy decision provides the arguments that will soon make that possible.

Kennedy, the court, the activists and lawyers who brought these decisions may not have thought much about the rest of the world when working on this case. But the whole world was indeed watching.

The whole world started watching a long time ago. More than 300 years ago, Thomas Jefferson appealed to an international audience when he wrote the Declaration of Independence. In the very first paragraph he said "respect to the opinions of mankind" was the reason why Americans had to spell out their decision to break free from the British.

"We hold these truths to be self-evident," he explained "that all men are created equal." And he added that government is created for the purpose of securing unalienable rights, including "Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness."

That is the essence of America, and it is the reason why the country has exerted such a powerful appeal to those seeking freedom over the centuries.

The U.S. has very plainly strayed on many occasions from that path it so highly charted for itself. But the country has also shown a remarkable ability to correct course because its people have never become so jaded as to forget those founding ideals.

One reason America has succeeded for centuries in staying at the forefront of history is that history, as Georg Hegel said, is the unfolding of an awareness of freedom. A country that stands on the side of freedom and equality is inevitably a country on the right side of history.

With the two Supreme Court rulings, the U.S. edges closer to the vanguard. That's good for America, and it's a very good thing for the world.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Frida Ghitis.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 9:49 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Patrick Cronin and Kelley Sayler say the world is seeing nonstate groups such as Ukraine's rebels wielding more power to do harm than ever before
updated 6:05 PM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Ukraine ambassador Olexander Motsyk places blame for the MH17 tragedy squarely at the door of Russia
updated 7:42 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
updated 2:53 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Les Abend says, with rockets flying over Tel Aviv and missiles shooting down MH17 over Ukraine, a commercial pilot's pre-flight checklist just got much more complicated
updated 9:17 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
updated 12:37 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Gerard Jacobs says grieving families and nations need the comfort of traditional rituals to honor the remains of loved ones, particularly in a mass disaster
updated 10:13 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
The idea is difficult to stomach, but John Sutter writes that eating dog is morally equivalent to eating pig, another intelligent animal. If Americans oppose it, they should question their own eating habits as well.
updated 12:30 PM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Bill van Esveld says under the laws of war, civilians who do not join in the fight are always to be protected. An International Criminal Court could rule on whether Israeli airstrikes and Hamas rocketing are war crimes.
updated 8:05 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
LZ Granderson says Ronald Reagan went horseback riding and took a vacation after the Korean Air Crash of 1983. So why does the GOP keep airbrushing history to bash Obama?
updated 9:38 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Aaron Miller says Kerry needs the cooperation of Hamas, Israel, Egypt and others if he is to succeed in his peacemaking efforts
updated 8:51 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Errol Louis says the tragic death of Eric Garner at the hands of the NYPD has its roots in the "broken windows" police strategy from the crime-ridden '80s.
updated 10:08 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Gordon Brown says the kidnapped Nigerian girls have been in captivity for 100 days, but the world has not forgotten them.
updated 7:27 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says Texas Gov. Rick Perry is right to immediately send 1,000 National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border in response to the border children crisis.
updated 9:56 AM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Ukraine's president says the downing of MH17 was a terrorist act, but Richard Barrett says it would be considered terrorism only if it was intentional
updated 4:15 PM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Robert McIntyre says the loophole that lets firms avoid taxes should be closed
updated 11:35 AM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Jeronimo Saldana and Malik Burnett say Gov. Perry's plan to send National Guard to the border won't solve the escalating immigration problem.
updated 1:42 PM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Sally Kohn: The world's fish and waters are polluted and under threat. Be very careful what fish you eat
updated 8:42 AM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Les Abend says threat information that pilots respond to is only as good as the intelligence from air traffic controllers. And none of it is a match for a radar-guided missile
updated 8:35 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Frida Ghitis: Anger over MH17 is growing against pro-Russia separatists. It's time for the Dutch government to lead, she writes
updated 8:27 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Julian Zelizer says President Obama called inequality the "defining challenge" of our time but hasn't followed through.
updated 7:57 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Gene Seymour says the 'Rockford Files' actor worked the persona of the principled coward, charming audiences on big and small screen for generations
updated 10:17 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Daniel Treisman says that when the Russian leader tied his fate to the Ukraine separatists, he set the stage for his current risky predicament
updated 12:42 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Andrew Kuchins says urgent diplomacy -- not sanctions -- is needed to de-escalate the conflict in Ukraine that helped lead to the downing of an airliner there.
updated 9:50 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Jim Hall and Peter Goelz say there should be an immediate and thorough investigation into what happened to MH17.
updated 11:07 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Pilot Bill Palmer says main defense commercial jets have against missiles is to avoid flying over conflict areas.
updated 1:55 PM EDT, Sun July 20, 2014
Valerie Jarrett says that working women should not be discriminated against because they are pregnant.
updated 3:53 PM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
David Wheeler says the next time you get a difficult customer representative, think about recording the call.
updated 3:33 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Newt Gingrich says the more dangerous the world becomes the more Obama hides in a fantasy world.
updated 6:11 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Michael Desch: It's hard to see why anyone, including Russia and its local allies, would have intentionally targeted the Malaysian Airlines flight
updated 3:14 PM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
LZ Granderson says we must remember our visceral horror at the news of children killed in an airstrike on a Gaza beach next time our politicians talk of war
updated 8:06 AM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Sally Kohn says now the House GOP wants to sue Obama for not implementing a law fast enough, a law they voted down 50 times, all reason has left the room.
updated 8:14 AM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
A street sign for Wall Street
Sens. Elizabeth Warren, John McCain and others want to scale back the "too big to fail" banks that put us at risk of another financial collapse.
updated 4:16 PM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Newt Gingrich writes an open letter to Robert McDonald, the nominee to head the Veterans Administration.
updated 12:01 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Paul Begala says Dick Cheney has caused an inordinate amount of damage yet continues in a relentless effort to revise the history of his failures.
updated 10:04 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Kids who takes cell phones to bed are not sleeping, says Mel Robbins. Make them park their phones with the parents at night.
updated 12:25 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Buzz Aldrin looked at planet Earth as he stood on talcum-like lunar dust 45 years ago. He thinks the next frontier should be Mars.
updated 2:04 PM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Mark Zeller never thought my Afghan translator would save his life by killing two Taliban fighters who were about to kill him. The Taliban retaliated by placing him on the top of its kill list.
updated 11:18 AM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Jeff Yang says an all-white cast of Asian characters in cartoonish costumes is racially offensive.
updated 9:24 PM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Gary Ginsberg says the late John F. Kennedy Jr.'s reaction to an event in 1995 summed up his character
updated 12:41 PM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Meg Urry says most falling space debris lands on the planet harmlessly and with no witnesses.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT