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Trump administration sued for possible attempt to write LGBTQ people out of human rights law

Donald Trump
Donald Trump addresses supporters in St. Louis in 2016.Photo: Shutterstock

Human rights groups are suing Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the Department of State over concerns that the Trump administration is taking steps to remove LGBTQ people from human rights law.

Last July, Pompeo announced the creation of the “Commission on Unalienable Rights,” which he said would answer questions like “How do we know or how do we determine whether that claim that this or that is a human right, is it true, and therefore, ought it to be honored?”

Related: Senate Democrats introduce a bill to fight LGBTQ human rights abuses

“Words like ‘rights’ can be used for good or evil,” he said when he announced the Commission.

Now four human rights organizations have filed a lawsuit over the Commission, saying that it violates federal law because it doesn’t have a real purpose, its members all come from the same narrow ideology, and it’s an attempt to inject religion into human rights law.

The Commission will be used to promote “an alternative definition of human rights,” said Akila Radhakrishnan, president of the Global Justice Center, one of the groups in the lawsuit.

The lawsuit accuses the Trump administration of stacking the Commission with Christian conservatives so that it would “yield a predetermined result,” and then constraining the Commission with the term “natural law” so that it “would exclude recognition of the rights of LGBTQI individuals seeking an end to unequal, discriminatory treatment,and of women and girls seeking equal treatment and access to sexual and reproductive health care services — likely in violation of the United States’ treaty obligations.”

The suit says that the Commission violates the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA), a 1972 law that governs how executive commissions are created. The FACA requires commissions to be “in the public interest, fairly balanced among competing points of view, and structured to avoid inappropriate influence by special interests,” which is important because commissions’ findings shape policy and make it into court decisions to justify the need or legality of policies.

All of the people picked for Pompeo’s Commission are anti-LGBTQ activists. Some of them have organized against marriage equality, and one member said that ending state bans on homosexuality is “dangerous.”

Radharkrishnan said that the Commission shares the same perspective and “that perspective is one that prioritizes religious liberty over other rights.”

It doesn’t help that the Commission’s charter said that it will investigate human rights from a “natural law” perspective. Natural law is the idea that certain rights are inherent to being human and that they are, usually, given by God.

In a September speech on the Commission, Pompeo said, “I know where those rights came from. They came from our Lord.”

Pompeo’s “failure to adhere to FACA is injuring Plaintiffs each time the Commission takes another step toward the formation of a theory of human rights that is antithetical to established international law,” the lawsuit alleges.

The lawsuit also says that the Commission’s charter doesn’t explain why it’s needed, “perhaps because its mandate is well-covered by numerous other offices and advisory bodies within State.”

Commission chair Mary Ann Glendon, who argued in the past that marriage equality is “a bid for special preferences” and that children are best raised by “a husband and wife,” was speaking on a Christian program The World Over when she responded to some of the claims raised in the lawsuit this past September.

“It is not to be an echo of this administration,” she said. “What is sought for is the honest opinion of a group of activists, advocates and scholars.”

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