Rights, Gay and Otherwise, Introduction

Tom Flynn

Secular humanism has a long, proud history as a champion of the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons. As Ronald A. Lindsay notes in his introductory article, in the West the focus of that activism has shifted over decades from protecting the mere legality of homosexual behavior to fighting for—and often celebrating—the recognition of full rights for LGBTs as persons, sexual beings, employees, marital partners, and parents. Dr. Lindsay recounts some of these victories and ponders the links between LGBT rights and human rights in a global sense.

Even in success, there can be differences regarding strategy. About ten years ago, an American LGBT-rights movement that had hitherto focused on civil unions as a more inclusive alternative to matrimony realized (rather suddenly) that same-sex marriage might be attainable after all. Seemingly overnight, same-sex marriage became the movement’s almost universal objective. Was this decision taken too quickly? Famed civil-liberties attorney Alan Dershowitz thinks so, and here he offers a concise argument for civil unions, which he views as in many ways as superior to same-sex marriage. I agree, and said so a few issues ago; along with the Dershowitz article, we reprint passages from my recent op-ed article, in which I argue that civil unions offer benefits for LGBTs (and others too) that same-sex marriage does not.

Meanwhile, if American activism has shifted from defending LGBT rights to celebrating triumphs over institutional barriers, that is far from the case in Africa. There— even in the continent’s more progressive nations—LGBTs still confront broad-based popular homophobia and often official proscription of homosexuality. The battle for LGBT rights in Africa is less political than it is starkly existential. Leo Igwe, George Thindwa, and Tauriq Moosa—humanist activists from, respectively, Nigeria, Malawi, and South Africa—report from the field.

Tom Flynn

Tom Flynn is editor of Free Inquiry, executive director of the Council for Secular Humanism, director of the Robert Green Ingersoll Birthplace Museum, and editor of The New Encyclopedia of Unbelief (2007).


Secular humanism has a long, proud history as a champion of the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons. As Ronald A. Lindsay notes in his introductory article, in the West the focus of that activism has shifted over decades from protecting the mere legality of homosexual behavior to fighting for—and often …

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