'Queen fights for gay rights' announces the headline in today's Daily Mail, and they are not alone in singing praises for a supposed civil rights gesture by Her Royal Highness: The Telegraph declares 'Queen to sign new charter backing gay rights,' while The Independent claims 'Queen set to sign new charter backing equal rights for women and gay people.' The Sunday Times was briefer, but no less definitive with, 'Queen signs up to gay rights.'
Even Pink News, which bills itself as 'Europe's largest gay news service' has gotten in on the act by optimistically reporting, 'The Queen to publicly address anti-gay discrimination for the first time.'
Of course, the U.S. media is helping to spread the word, although at least occasionally in slightly more skeptical language, as seen in the New York Daily News' title choice, 'Queen Elizabeth expected to sign Commonwealth Charter, which could support gay rights and gender equality on the throne.'
So, could Queen Elizabeth be fighting for gay rights? Well, I suppose she could if she wanted to, but in fact she is not.
What she is doing is signing a new charter for the Commonwealth of Nations (formerly known as the British Commonwealth), 'a voluntary association of 54 countries that support each other and work together towards shared goals in democracy and development.' And this new charter contains the following generic, one-size-fits-all human rights pledge, which makes no mention whatsoever of gay people:
We are committed to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other relevant human rights covenants and international instruments. We are committed to equality and respect for the protection and promotion of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, including the right to development, for all without discrimination on any grounds as the foundations of peaceful, just and stable societies. We note that these rights are universal, indivisible, interdependent and interrelated and cannot be implemented selectively.
We are implacably opposed to all forms of discrimination, whether rooted in gender, race, colour, creed, political belief or other grounds.
A nice sounding statement, indeed, but tagging on the phrase 'or other grounds' is hardly a commitment on the part of either the Commonwealth or Her Majesty to fight discrimination against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered persons. In fact, this new charter with all its noble claims, does not do one thing to change the following ugly homophobic facts about The Commonwealth:
Homosexual acts are illegal in 41 of the 54 Commonwealth nations, and penalties include the death sentence in parts of Nigeria and Pakistan, 25 years in jail in Trinidad and Tobego, 20 years plus flogging in Malaysia and life imprisonment in Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Uganda, Bangladesh and Guyana.
Only five Commonwealth countries recognize same-sex relationships: the UK, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa.
Anyone who still thinks the Queen is doing something special by signing this charter should take note of the statements offered by a Buckingham Palace spokesman, which set the record straight, so to speak:
At a Commonwealth event on Monday, the Queen will sign a charter agreed upon by the 54 members of the Commonwealth. The Queen, as in all matters, is apolitical but is signing the document in her capacity as head of the Commonwealth.
In this charter, the Queen is endorsing a decision taken by the Commonwealth. The Queen does not take a personal view on these issues. The Queen’s position is apolitical, as it is on all matters of this sort.
Clearly, by signing this charter, Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Windsor is not 'fighting' for anything or anyone, but simply doing her job as 'Queen Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God, Queen of Great Britain, Ireland and of Her other Realms and Territories, Head of the Commonwealth, and Defender of the Faith.'