Pawlenty and Malawi
Over at 365gay.com, you can find my just-published column tearing into Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty for vetoing a bill that would simply have recognized the humanity of the LGBT citizens of his state, by allowing aggrieved partners to decide what’s to be done with their deceased spouses’ remains, and to have same basic right to call the defendant who caused the death to account (through a wrongful death suit, allowed to legally married, opposite-sex couples).
Then, this morning I read about the sentencing of the gay Malawi couple who had engaged in a formal commitment ceremony to fourteen years of hard labor. Here’s what a Presidential spokeswoman had to say:
Betsy Chirambo, an adviser to President Bingu wa Mutharika, expressed concern over calls by some activists for the West to withdraw aid to Malawi because of the case. Up to 40 percent of Malawi’s development budget comes from foreign donors.
“It is not our culture for a man to marry a man,” Chirambo said this week. “That is not even in our constitution. Some of these rights are not good for our culture.”
The men engaged in a commitment ceremony — they didn’t “marry,” because legally, they can’t.
I’d start by threatening to cut aid in half, immediately, unless the men are released. That would get their attention.
That’s not going to happen, though. Instead, the State Department issued this toothless condemnation:
The United States is deeply disappointed in [the] conviction of same-sex couple Tiwonge Chimbalanga and Steven Monjeza in Malawi. We view the criminalization of sexual orientation and gender identity as a step backward in the protection of human rights in Malawi. The government of Malawi must respect the human rights of all of its citizens. The United States views the decriminalization of sexual orientation and gender identity as integral to the protection of human rights in Malawi and elsewhere in the world. (emphasis added)
“The government of Malawi must respect the human rights of all of its citizens.” That statement sounds a bit hollow coming from a government that still hasn’t managed to protect its LGBT citizens from workplace discrimination. And it brought to mind Pawlenty’s unsaying of gay relationships — even in death, your relationship means nothing and won’t be recognized in any way.
I’m not equating fourteen years of hard labor to what the LGBT community experiences in the U.S., although being fired from one’s job just for being, say, a lesbian, is devastating enough. I am saying that our actions and our high-minded rhetoric are often, and sadly, at odds.