March 11, 2020 at 12:34 am EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
Advocacy groups sue State Department over human rights commission

Several advocacy groups have sued the State Department over its controversial human rights commission.

Democracy Forward on March 6 filed the lawsuit in federal court in New York on behalf of the Council for Global Equality, Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, the Center for Health and Gender Equity (CHANGE) and the Global Justice Center. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Peter Berkowitz, director of the State Department’s Policy Planning Staff, are both named as defendants.

The Commission on Unalienable Rights, which Pompeo announced last year, stresses “natural law and natural rights.” Pompeo named Mary Ann Glendon, a Harvard Law School professor who is known for her vocal opposition to marriage rights for same-sex couples, as the commission’s chair.

The commission’s first meeting took place last October at the State Department.

The lawsuit states the commission’s creation violates the Federal Advisory Committee Act that requires “when the Executive Branch establishes or uses non-federal bodies for the purpose of seeking advice and generating policy, it does so in a transparent way that allows for meaningful public participation.” The plaintiffs also criticize the commission’s members.

“Most of these members, moreover, hold well-documented views that privilege religious liberty above all other fundamental human rights, and treat with skepticism, or outright derision, rights claims by lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex (“LGBTQI”) individuals, proponents of gender parity, and women and girls seeking access to sexual and reproductive health and rights,” reads the lawsuit.

The Council for Global Equality, along with the Human Rights Campaign and dozens of other LGBTQ advocacy groups have urged the State Department to disband the commission. Former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power and U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) are among those who have also condemned it.

A senior administration official with whom the Washington Blade spoke after the commission’s creation said the State Department “consulted with a wide coalition of leading scholars in the field of human rights” before the Federal Registrar published an official announcement.

“It was never an intention to single out a group of people, whether it be LGBTQ people, whether it be women,” the official told the Blade.

Council for Global Equality Chair Mark Bromley disagrees.

“Secretary Pompeo often argues that the modern proliferation of human rights claims cheapens the currency of human rights,” he noted in a press release that announced the lawsuit. “But it is this illegal commission, with its warped use of religious freedom and natural law to deny rights, that cheapens the very notion of religious freedom and our country’s proud tradition of standing up for the rights of those who are most vulnerable.”

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael //

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