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 2:45 PM EDT, Thu April 17, 2014
Michael Bloomberg and Shannon Watts say Americans are ready for sensible gun laws, but politicians are cowed by the NRA. Everytown for Gun Safety will prove the NRA is not that powerful.
updated 9:28 AM EDT, Thu April 17, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says Steve Israel is right: Some Republicans encourage anti-Latino prejudice. But that kind of bias is not limited to the GOP.
updated 7:23 PM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Peggy Drexler counts the ways Phyllis Schlafly's argument that lower pay for women helps them nab a husband is ridiculous.
updated 12:42 PM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Rick McGahey says Rep. Paul Ryan is signaling his presidential ambitions by appealing to hard core Republican values
updated 11:39 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Paul Saffo says current Google Glasses are doomed to become eBay collectibles, but they are only the leading edge of a surge in wearable tech that will change our lives
updated 2:49 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Kathleen Blee says the KKK and white power or neo-Nazi groups give haters the purpose and urgency to use violence.
updated 7:56 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse and Rep. Henry Waxman say read deep, and you'll see the federal Keystone pipeline report spells out the pipeline is bad news
updated 7:53 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Frida Ghitis says President Obama needs to stop making empty threats against Russia and consider other options
updated 5:29 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Peter Bergen and David Sterman say the Kansas Jewish Center killings are part of a string of lethal violence in the U.S. that outstrips al Qaeda-influenced attacks. Why don't we pay more attention?
updated 12:41 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Danny Cevallos says families of the passengers on Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 need legal counsel
updated 11:23 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
David Frum says Russia is on a rampage of mischief while Western leaders and Western alliances charged with keeping the peace hem and haw
updated 7:56 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Most adults make the mistakes of hitting the snooze button and of checking emails first thing in the morning, writes Mel Robbins
updated 1:54 PM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
David Wheeler says as middle-class careers continue to disappear, we need a monthly cash payment to everyone
updated 7:55 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Democrats need to show more political spine when it comes to the issue of taxes.
updated 11:55 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Donna Brazile recalls the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act as four presidents honored the heroes of the movement and Lyndon Johnson, who signed the law
updated 9:17 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Elmer Smith remembers Chuck Stone, the legendary journalist from Philadelphia who was known as a thorn in the side of police and an advocate for the little guy
updated 2:56 PM EDT, Sun April 13, 2014
Al Franken says Comcast, the nation's largest cable provider, wants to acquire Time Warner Cable, the nation's second-largest cable provider. Should we be concerned?
updated 11:22 AM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Philip Cook and Kristin Goss says the Pennsylvania stabbing attack, which caused grave injury -- but not death, carries a lesson on guns for policymakers
updated 3:06 PM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Wikipedia lists 105 football movies, but all too many of them are forgettable, writes Mike Downey
updated 10:32 AM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
John Sutter and hundreds of iReporters set out to run marathons after the bombings -- and learned a lot about the culture of running
updated 12:49 PM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Timothy Stanley says it was cowardly to withdraw the offer of an honorary degree to Ayaan Hirsi Ali. The university should have done its homework on her narrow views and not made the offer
updated 10:16 AM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Al Awlaki
Almost three years after his death in a 2011 CIA drone strike in Yemen, Anwar al-Awlaki continues to inspire violent jihadist extremists in the U.S, writes Peter Bergen
updated 9:21 PM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
David Bianculli says Colbert is a smart, funny interviewer, but ditching his blowhard persona to take over the mainstream late-night role may cost him fans
updated 1:31 PM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Rep. Paul Ryan says the Republican budget places its trust in the people, not in Washington
updated 5:28 PM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Aaron David Miller says Obama isn't to blame for Kerry's lack of progress in resolving Mideast talks
updated 11:22 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
David Weinberger says beyond focusing on the horrors of the attack a year ago, it's worth remembering the lessons it taught about strength, the dangers of idle speculation and Boston's solidarity
updated 12:32 PM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Katherine Newman says the motive for the school stabbing attack in Pennsylvania is not yet known, but research on such rampages turns up similarities in suspects and circumstances
updated 2:39 PM EDT, Wed April 9, 2014
Wendy Townsend says the Rattlesnake Roundup -- where thousands of pounds of snakes are killed and tormented -- is barbaric
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT