Congressman Chris Smith (R-NJ-4), Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Sub-Committee on Africa and Human Rights, responded to the controversy about a remark concerning homosexual rights and human rights that he made during a hearing last week on combating violence inflicted by the terrorist group Boko Haram in Nigera with a statement issued to MoreMonmouthMusings:
“All governments have a duty to protect everyone and I am unequivocally opposed to acts of violence against anyone,” Smith said, “All individuals, including LGBT persons, should be treated with respect and compassion.”
While questioning Principle Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Robert T. Jackson, Bureau of African Affairs, about the Obama Administration’s humanitarian and anti-terror efforts in Nigera, including work with Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), and whether the Administration has withheld aid and assistance from faith based organizations, “Christian or Muslum,” Smith said,
“If I could, just for clarification, Mr. Jackson. As you know, there are fundamental differences in the United States over the whole LGBT issue. I am a strong believer in traditional marriage and do not construe homosexual rights as human rights. Others have a different view, and I certainly respect them. But I want to know, has the administration, and I would ask for a clarification on this, has the administration’ s view on LGBT affected in any way or in any way hindered U.S. supprt to Nigeria to combat Boko Haram?” (emphasis added)
The phrase “do not construe homosexual rights as human rights” has been extracted from Smith’s question and used as a sound bite by pro-gay marriage activists and by Congressman Frank Pallone to portray Smith as a bigot and to create the impression that he was saying that homosexuals do not have human rights. The phrase “others have a different view and I certainly respect them” has been omitted from complaints about Smith’s remarks.
In his statement, Smith said that the attacks against him are regrettable political attacks that “have attempted to distort his position and extensive record defending human rights.”
First, Smith inquired if the administration’s view on LGBT, which differs from the Nigerian position, “affected in any way or in any way hindered U.S. support to Nigeria to combat Boko Haram?” Second, he asked, “… has the administration held back or in any way affected funding to the faith community, whether it be Muslim or Christian, in the dissemination of those funds to combat malaria or any of the other problems faced by Nigerians?”, including assisting Internally Displaced Persons.
Mr. Jackson said “there had been no impact.”
Smith said that his “interactions with African officials and religious leaders led to his questions about US policy in Nigeria. This is a war-torn country where the most horrific violence is perpetrated by terrorist groups, most notably Boko Haram. US humanitarian assistance is needed and sought not just by the government but by NGOs—including faith-based NGOs which often have the aid infrastructures and the trust of the people but which do not always agree with the policies of the US administration.”
“My record is consistent in demonstrating support for democratic rule and universally recognized human rights for all,” Smith said. “It is unfortunate that political foes are using the volatile situation in Nigeria to distort my record and push their own political interests.”
Pallone, in a press release, said that Smith comments were “an effort to push the Administration into ignoring the rights of LGBT people as a matter of policy.”
A review of the video of the entire hearing and the transcript of Smith’s questioning of Jackson indicate that Smith was not, as Pallone asserts, pushing the Administration into ignoring the rights of LGBT people, but rather, getting the Administration on record that the issue of gay marriage, and where any governmental organization or NGO stands on the issue, is not impacting the distribution of humanitarian and anti-terrorism aid in Nigeria.
A group of Republicans supportive or homosexual marriage, Equality GOP NJ, released a statement on Friday that said Smith’s remarks are “completely outside the recognized global human rights framework, inconsistent with his solid pro life record, contrary to Catholic teachings regarding violence against LGBT people, and not at all reflective of the values of equality and inclusion that have been the bedrock of the U.S. Republican Party and the values of life and liberty that have been the foundation of American democracy.”
“There is no greater violation of an individual’s human rights and no more tangible a threat to human rights universally than state-sanctioned violence against a living human being based on sexual orientation or gender identity,” the group said.
Clearly, Smith never said anything condoning state sanctioned violence against LGBT persons or anyone else.
At the Republican gathering in Atlantic City on Monday, MMM asked Kim Taylor, Vice Chairwoman of Equality GOP NJ if she had viewed the video or read the transcript of Smith’s remarks. She said she had not and relied on others characterization of the remarks in the statement that she sent to MMM and other members of the press.
Over the years Smith has built a well-respected record advancing the protection of all human life and opposing acts of violence. He has been a leader fighting on behalf of abused and/or disenfranchised people in the US, China, Vietnam, Russia, Eastern Europe, Northern Ireland and throughout Africa—including his signing a congressional letter to Ugandan President Museveni opposing legislation that would penalize a single act of homosexual conduct with a life sentence and a mandatory death penalty if the person is HIV-positive.