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Success of Gay Politicians Leads to Question: Should the Spouse Come Along?

by Scott Stiffler
Contributor
Monday Sep 13, 2010
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Gay politico Guido Westerwelle - the German foreign minister and vice-chancellor - recently attempted to diffuse concern about his partner (Michael Mronz) when he pledged that Mronz would not be accompanying him to countries where homosexual activity is illegal.

"We want to promote tolerance in the world," Westerwelle said in defense of his position. "But we also do not want to achieve the opposite by acting thoughtlessly."

Westerwelle, who heads the Free Democratic Party, has already been to Yemen and Saudi Arabia without his partner. He apparently believes that potential cultural conflicts arising from his sexuality did not hinder his effectiveness. "That turned out to be an unfounded concern," he said.

Johanna Sigurdardottir, Iceland’s prime minister, is an out lesbian who married journalist/playwright Jonina Leosdottir in a 2002 civil ceremony. Their union has caused barely of ripple of press or concern, in their country or elsewhere. Leosdottir keeps a very low profile and is not generally a vocal presence when appearing with Sigurdardottir.

Even so, on an official visit to the Faroe Island, which sits between Iceland and Scotland, when the tiny island-state’s prime minister tried to get politicians together for a dinner, one demurred. Jenis av Rana, leader of a religious-oriented party, gave as the reason the Icelandic prime minister’s bringing her wife, which he called a "provocation."

"My party is formally against homosexual marriage," av Rana said. "If I were to participate in the official dinner, it would be the same as saying that I support a union that is contrary to nature and condemned by the Bible. And that is something I will not risk under any circumstances."

Would have Westerwelle run into the same problem if he traveled with his partner been by his side?

We’re not likely to see anyone’s LGBT partner become a potential flashpoint of international scandal any time soon, said Ken Sherrill, a professor of political science at Hunter College in New York. Why? "These are issues that might come up in the negations prior to a visit."

Sherrill proposes one such hypothetical scenario in which an economically disadvantaged country wishes to negotiate favored nation trading status. The diplomat or politician might say, "Fine. But I have a problem before I can make a trip over there. Is my family going to be welcomed?"

So the issue isn’t raised when you are there, but prior to making a trip. The German foreign minister said, "I’ll go, but I can’t bring my spouse with me, it’s not safe," Sherrill noted "That makes the point -- in the other country and at home."

Well, that may be so. But would an oil-dependent country want to make a point at the expense of, say, Saudi Arabia or on the Arab Emirates?

In that manner, Sherrill predicts, we’re likely to see LGBT spouses used as teaching points by virtue of their very existence. Having them travel to a country hostile to homosexuals, then, isn’t necessary in order to make a political point.

The issue of partners notwithstanding, out or semi-closeted diplomats have existed for years, Sherrill added. But spouses have gone to many developing Middle Eastern and other nations without incident for years. He might have added that the queen of England or Hilary Clinton sits down and talks business with the king of Saudi Arabia -- something no female subject would be able to do.

Diplomats Have Served With Spouses
On the subject of countries which have openly gay international representatives, Sherrill says, "You could think about the entire diplomatic service, really. There are certainly senior Foreign Service people, undersecretaries and deputy secretaries. The U.S. has openly-LGBT ambassadors."

James Hormel was the first out-gay U.S. ambassador when Bill Clinton appointed him in 1999. Tellingly for the purposes of this article, Clinton originally proposed him to represent our interests in Fiji, but withdrew because of local opposition.

Right-wing members of Congress argued that Hormel and his partner would be welcomed in heavily Catholic Luxembourg. The argument fell flat in the face of reality; officials of the country (which had laws against discrimination based on sexual identity) statued bluntly that he was welcome.

Not only Democrats have done it. George W. Bush appointed carer diplomat Michael Guest ambassador to Romania. Secretary of State Colin Powell went out of his way at his swearing-in to recognize his partner.

The openly gay Hormel served as U.S. Ambassador to Luxembourg during the Clinton administration - and his partner, Timothy Wu, stood by his side at the 1999 swearing-in ceremony. Hormel was welcomed in Luxembourg - which at the time had laws on the books forbidding discrimination based on sexual orientation. Years earlier, however (in 1994), Clinton was stymied in his wish to appoint Hormel as ambassador to Fiji - because that country had outlawed sex between men.

Nearly two decades later, Sherrill points out that generally speaking, "The countries where you find the greatest hostility towards homosexuality are counters with the lowest levels of education, the greatest poverty." One exception, he points out, is The Vatican, where we have an ambassador."

Very often, though, "The country that needs to get something is the country that’s less welcoming to gays. It’s the country that’s not welcoming that needs to get something from the country that’s more tolerant."

Sherrill asserts that the very existence of an out LGBT diplomat or politician with a partner serves as a teaching moment: "A lot of the fact that this is being discussed serves a public education function in the countries that already have LGBT diplomats because that’s a way of communicating to people that we have families and normal emotions towards spouses, children."

President Barack Obama’s ambassador to New Zealand and Samoa is openly gay lawyer and power broker David Huebner. During his confirmation hearing before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, Huebner introduced his partner of 20 years, Duane McWaine.

And Now?
Nearly two decades after Hormel couldn’t serve in anti-gay Fiji, Sherrill points out that generally speaking, "The countries where you find the greatest hostility towards homosexuality are counters with the lowest levels of education, the greatest poverty." One exception, he points out, is The Vatican, where we have an ambassador.

Very often, though, "The country that needs to get something is the country that’s less welcoming to gays. It’s the country that’s not welcoming that needs to get something from the country that’s more tolerant."

Sherrill asserts that the very existence of an out LGBT diplomat or politician with a partner serves as a teaching moment: "A lot of the fact that this is being discussed serves a public education function in the countries that already have LGBT diplomats because that’s a way of communicating to people that we have families and normal emotions towards spouses, children."

Scott Stiffler is a New York City based writer and comedian who has performed stand-up, improv, and sketch comedy. His show, "Sammy’s at The Palace. . .at Don’t Tell Mama"---a spoof of Liza Minnelli’s 2008 NYC performance at The Palace Theatre, recently had a NYC run. He must eat twice his weight in fish every day, or he becomes radioactive.

Comments

  • karari kue, 2010-09-15 02:53:58

    Since when is Colin Powell gay?! This is the first time I’ve read anything of the sort.


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