Mick Mulvaney, Director of the Office of Management and Budget of the current administration, claimed at the first ever State Department’s Ministerial on International Religious Freedom that the policy of punishing homophobia in other countries is “religious persecution.”
Under the previous administration, the United States had begun to threaten the withholding of aid from African countries that criminalize homosexuality. These laws include the imprisonment of LGBTQ+ people, anyone suspected of being homosexual, and allies of the LGBTQ+ community. A proposed bill in Uganda, commonly referred to as the “Kill the Gays Bill,” would have altered the punishment of homosexuality from life imprisonment to the death penalty had it not been eventually nullified.
These laws are not just homophobic. They are violations of human rights.
At the conference, Mulvaney said, “Our US taxpayer dollars are used to discourage Christian values in other democratic countries. It was stunning to me that my government under a previous administration would go to folks in sub-Saharan Africa and say, ‘We know that you have a law against abortion, but if you enforce that law, you’re not going to get any of our money. We know you have a law against gay marriage, but if you enforce that law, we’re not going to give you any money.’” He called it, “a different type of religious persecution that [he] never expected to see.”
Not only were Mulvaney’s comments factually incorrect – same-sex marriage and abortion were never considered prerequisites for American aid – but he also chose to completely disregard what prompted the response to withhold aid: state-sanctioned violations of human rights. Nowhere in his statements does Mulvaney even mention the aforementioned laws that criminalize homosexuality itself, and his choice to misrepresent the problem by defending it with religious freedom implies that punishing someone for being gay is equivalent to practicing religion freely.
These comments come after a string of anti-LGBTQ+ actions by the current administration, including their refusal to acknowledge pride month, an attempt to ban transgender people from the military, the appointment of officials who have long track records of opposing LGBTQ+ rights, and silence in response to state-sponsored imprisonment and torture of gay and bisexual men in Chechnya.
Ultimately, Mulvaney’s comments – made at an event attended by known anti-LGBTQ+ groups – are just a continuation of this administration’s clear stance against LGBTQ+ rights under the guise of combating religious persecution.
Let’s not conflate religious freedom with human rights violations. That undermines both our religious freedoms and our human rights.
Note: this article reflects the writer’s own personal opinions on this matter