A FEDERAL JUDGE on Wednesday struck down Texas’s ban on same-sex marriages, the latest in a string of conservative states where judges have condemned discriminatory laws. U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia ruled that even under the laxest standard of judicial review, the state’s restrictions have no rational relationship to any legitimate governmental purpose. Judges in Kentucky, Oklahoma, Ohio, Utah and Virginia recently filed rulings favoring same-sex marriage on similar grounds. The cause of gay and lesbian equality continues to advance faster and farther than anyone would have anticipated not long ago.
The advance is neither guaranteed nor universal, however. In this country, higher courts could still pull back, and the interplay between red-state politics and judicial rulings remains uncertain. More alarming is the advance of bigotry in countries such as Russia, Nigeria and, most recently, Uganda. Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni on Monday signed a repressive law to punish homosexual behavior. The law makes “aggravated homosexuality” a crime, punishable by a 14-year prison sentence for the first offense and a life term thereafter. Declining to report homosexual activity is another offense, as is counseling gays and lesbians. The most immediate consequence may be the anti-gay vigilantism the law encourages. The day after Mr. Museveni signed the law, a Ugandan newspaper published the names of the country’s “top 200 homos.”
In response to Western outrage, Mr. Museveni declared, “There’s now an attempt at social imperialism, to impose social values.” It’s worth examining that sentiment. By what right do President Obama and other agents of the U.S. government demand that other countries adopt mores that are only just gaining a strong foothold here? The strides the United States has made in gay and lesbian rights are new and nowhere near universally accepted. Many states and the federal government still do not bar discrimination based on sexual orientation. Most states still don’t allow same-sex marriage. Following Arizona, other states are considering proposals meant to ensure that business owners can turn away gay or lesbian customers.
But every country, no matter its level of development, has a basic moral duty to respect the inherent dignity of its people — all of its people. On that measure, Uganda obviously failed. We can debate whether a baker should have a choice about catering a same-sex wedding. There should be no debate — there can be no defense — of government policies that devalue and endanger human beings.
Judge Garcia found that Texas’s laws against gays and lesbians marrying “demean their dignity for no legitimate reason.” That’s a valuable standard to keep in mind in evaluating new laws, whether they encourage discrimination in Arizona or persecution in Uganda.