The UK’s perspective on the Model United Nations debate ‘the UN would condemn human rights violations based on sexual orientation’
On Thursday 10th October, the members of the Model United Nations club debated the motion ‘the UN would condemn human rights violations based on sexual orientation’, with the delegates of the following countries being represented: UK, Croatia, France, USA, Nigeria, Russia, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Due to the wide range of stances of the different countries on the topic of sexual orientation, the debate was certainly a heated one. As the delegate of the UK, I argued that the UN would condemn human rights violations based on sexual orientation, something that I myself stand by. For this reason, I would like to share what I mentioned in the debate, as well as expanding on some points that I didn’t manage to cover. I would also like to briefly thank James Farrow for organising and chairing the MUN debate, and Pavel Zrnic for suggesting that we discuss this topic.
“I, the delegate of the UK, am going to speak to you today about why our country would condemn human rights violations on the basis of sexual orientation.
The Suicide Prevention Resource Centre recently did a study which showed that up to 10% of LGBTQ+ youth have attempted suicide, a percentage 3 times higher than their heterosexual counterparts; approximately 25% of gay, lesbian and bisexual students have been harassed due to their sexual orientation; 1 in 5 Taiwanese gay people have attempted suicide. I’m sure that I speak for many countries when I say that these statistics are not only immensely saddening and shocking, but also completely unacceptable. The UK is proud to say that we have legally allowed gay marriages to take place by law since the 13th March 2014, and since then have upheld LGBTQ+ rights nationally. Our 2010 Equality Act states that it is unlawful to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation. However, it is worth noting that under some circumstances – particularly those involving religious organisations – this is not a legally protected characteristic. We believe that, in order to maintain our tolerant society, we must not enforce beliefs upon those who may hold beliefs contrary to some people’s lifestyles and preferences. Circumstances in which religion would overrule discrimination protections are very few and far between, and often do not arise due to the relative tolerance of religious groups in our country. However, being a religious state of the Church of England, we believe that everyone has the right to autonomy, hence why, for example, we cannot force churches to perform same-sex marriages against their will.
To summarise, the UK would condemn human rights violations based on sexual orientation because we wish to provide a society in which everyone is treated equally and with equal respect, meanwhile upholding the basic human right of autonomy and freedom of belief.”
In my speech I intended to explore how religion and sexuality can coexist in a fully functioning society – of course with that sexuality including anything that isn’t ‘heterosexual’ – something that some of the other countries seemed to disagree with. Throughout the history of the Church, society’s opinions on sexuality have gradually developed and, in the most part, have come to disagree with the traditional Christian teachings – for example, in 2018 a survey showed that 73% of the UK’s population supported gay marriage, whereas currently no churches in the UK perform them. However, as I mentioned in my speech, I believe that it’s very important to respect everyone’s freedom of belief in order to have a tolerant society; hence why, for the most part, I support the 2010 Equality Act.
However, as I mentioned during the debate (in response to the UAE’s point about the teachings from their religion to condemn all acts of homosexuality), I believe that it is of the utmost importance that we read religious texts, for example the Old Testament of the Bible, in the context of our current society. I think it’s quite evident that we have progressed greatly as a species since the time of the Bible’s writing, and so therefore we should interpret religious texts as deemed necessary in consideration with today’s society. For example, in Leviticus 25:44-46, it permits the possession of slaves ‘from among the nations that are around you’ – slavery is now against the law in every single country in the world, so it is clear that this Bible passage cannot be justifiably applied any longer. With this reasoning, we should also apply the same cultural sensitivity to other Bible passages which may not be culturally appropriate anymore; in the context of this debate: Leviticus 18:22 , ‘you shall not lie with a male as with a female; it is an abomination.’. I recently read an essay titled ‘Sexuality in the Church: toward a sociology of the Bible’ by John D. Brewer, the professor of sociology at Queen’s University Belfast, which expressed this viewpoint in the following way:
“The Bible does not tell us how God sees things but how these two communities [the Jews of ancient Israel and Christians in the first century] saw things. As a social product its text displays all these sociological dynamics within communities by which they create and socially disseminate folk culture and traditions (which results in the view that biblical passages on homosexuality are contingent and locally specific).”
As is not the case with some of the other countries involved in the debate we had, I also consider it very importance for the State to have some level of independence or freedom from religion in its ruling of the country. For example, in the UK we have Parliament, which represents the voice of the people of the country, but we also have Bishops in the House of Lords in order for religion, an important factor in the heritage and cultural identity of our country, to still be integrated and represented in some way in its ruling.
One of the main areas of disagreement between the countries UK/France/USA/Croatia/Russia and Nigeria/Saudi Arabia/United Arab Emirates was on the death penalty for homosexuality, something which is currently legal in the latter of those countries. Their common justification for this was ‘the basic human right of religious freedom of belief’; in all three of these countries, religion and the state are completely intertwined, meaning that the countries are ruled from a religious perspective. Particularly in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, where Islam is the state religion, the justification for the death penalty was the necessity of following Sharia law – in fact, in Saudi Arabia, Sharia law replaces State law. It seems that this is the main reason that laws are different on this topic in different countries in the UN: the degree of separation of religion from the State.
To conclude, the UK would support the motion of ‘the UN would condemn human rights violations on the basis of sexual orientation’, as we believe that equal treatment, equal opportunities and equal rights are the fundamentals of a tolerant, thriving society that accommodates for all – equality is a basic human right, not a privilege.
Lottie Pike, Year 12.