Speech by Minister of State for Europe Michael Roth on the rights of LGBTI* people in Germany and Canada on 25. October 2016 in Ottawa

25.10.2016 - Speech

Ladies and gentlemen,

Thank you very much for having me here. I am delighted to have this opportunity to talk to you all and it is a great pleasure to be here with you.

Today’s panel is not only testimony to Canada’s outstanding leadership as regards promoting diversity, tolerance and respect for minorities. I believe that it is also testimony to new public and political energy following last year’s election.

Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states in very clear words: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” Perhaps this is one of the most important and powerful phrases ever written. This phrase leaves no doubt that human rights belong to everyone, without exception – regardless of their ethnic or religious background, gender or sexual identity.

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people are protected under existing international human rights law in the same way as every other individual. States must respect, protect and promote the human rights of all individuals. Let me be clear: when we talk about LGBTI rights, we aren’t thinking about exclusive rights or privileges for minorities. Quite the opposite, in fact – what we are fighting for is an open, tolerant and liberal society, in which everybody is treated as an equal citizen. Love is love – and it doesn’t matter if men love men, women love women or men love women.

It is sad that in 2016 we can see a worrying backlash in a number of countries around the world. Seventy-six countries still use criminal law to prohibit homosexual acts. In seven countries, homosexuality is still punishable by the death penalty.

This underlines how important it is that we continue to fight for equal rights for LGBTI people, both at home and abroad. LGBTI rights should be respected worldwide as an intrinsic part of human rights. We must stand up together resolutely against any violation of human rights, including violations of LGBTI rights, wherever they occur. It is equally important that we do not merely react to negative developments, but that we also work to bring about positive long-term social change. It is thus our duty to provide political and financial support to the work of courageous people who can promote such change.

The joint efforts of the Canadian and the German Governments in this area are a great example of our close cooperation in foreign policy and highlight our shared commitment to our values.

We are witnessing encouraging developments in several countries, for example in South Eastern Europe. I recently attended gay pride parades in Belgrade and Bucharest – cities where such parades were impossible just a few years ago. In a wide range of countries, from Montenegro to Vietnam, governments now acknowledge LGBTI rights. But on the other hand, there are some countries – notably Russia and Turkey – where new legislation or government repression are threatening the LGBTI communities.

At the Federal Foreign Office, we follow these developments worldwide with great attention and try to play our part in bringing about positive change through resolutions, public awareness campaigns, diplomacy behind closed doors and a variety of projects.

However, we must not forget that our most powerful tool is providing a good example back home. We should therefore also look at the state of play of LGBTI rights in our own countries.

Pierre Trudeau, father of current Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, famously said: “There’s no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation.” This set the tone for a development starting with decriminalisation of same-sex sexual activity between consenting adults in 1969, and culminating in 2005, when Canada – as the first country outside Europe and the fourth country in the world – legalised same-sex marriage nationwide. Today, same-sex adoption is also legal in all Canadian provinces and territories, and federal law protects people against discrimination based on sexual identity.

Since 2001, same-sex couples in Germany have the option to enter into a civil partnership, which provides most of the rights granted to married couples.

But same-sex marriage is still not legal in Germany – despite some polls showing widespread support for it. My Social Democratic Party advocates changing the relevant legislation, but unfortunately we don’t have a consensus with our current conservative coalition partner.

That illustrates the situation in Europe pretty well: on the one hand, we have countries such as Germany where public acceptance is high and politics lag behind. And then there are other countries like Slovenia or Malta where politics are moving ahead, but the public still needs to catch up. In both cases, we have to close the gap between political will and public acceptance.

We have seen great progress in our two countries and worldwide. Although discrimination is still widespread, we do see great public support for LGBTI rights reflected in advanced rights in legislation and court decisions. None of this would have been possible without civil society. Together – politics and civil society, Canada and Germany – we will continue our work to fulfil the promise of Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Thank you very much.

*LGBTI: Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex

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