Association for Political and Legal Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
The growing recognition of LGBT rights as human rights has been vigorously contested on the international stage. In initial battles at the United Nations, opposition to these rights was predominantly framed in terms of immorality, predation, sickness, and foreignness. In recent years, however, opponents of LGBT rights have increasingly turned to the human rights framework itself as a rhetorical and political tool. Rather than rejecting concepts of sexual orientation or gender identity outright, opponents have instead framed sexual rights as inherently in tension with the freedom of religion, freedom of speech, children’s rights, parental rights, and women’s rights. This “preservation through transformation” (Siegel 1996) of opposition to LGBT rights creates new alliances, shifts focus from interests to rights, and harnesses the machinery of human rights to slow the recognition of sexual freedom and equality on the global stage.
In this paper, I consider what contemporary rights-based opposition to sexual rights might illuminate about the limits of the human rights framework as a vehicle for justice. I first canvass examples where the shift toward rights-based opposition are evident, identifying the antecedents of the strategy in other social movements. I then consider how human rights bodies have mediated these conflicts, examining where these approaches differ from those of domestic judiciaries. I finally argue that the trend toward a clash of rights requires activists and scholars to reengage with notions of duty, citizenship, and state authority if they are to meaningfully and convincingly resolve the seeming tensions that arise.