Are U.S. senators really pro-homophobia overseas?
Mari Carmen Aponte. (Getty Images)
December 15th, 2011
04:00 PM ET

Are U.S. senators really pro-homophobia overseas?

Editor's Note: Christopher Sabatini is the Editor-in-Chief of Americas Quarterly.

By Christopher Sabatini - Special to CNN

Citing an op-ed she wrote condemning violence against gays and lesbians, Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC) for weeks led the charge in the U.S. Senate to block the nomination of Mari Carmen Aponte to be the U.S. Ambassador to El Salvador.  On Monday, the Senate voted 49 to 37 to block Aponte’s nomination, 11 votes short of the 60 needed to break a Republican-sponsored filibuster.  Lost in the lead-up to the vote and the outcome was a key question: why is a position against violence targeting homosexuals and in defense of gay rights a valid reason to reject a nominee to an ambassadorship?

At issue for Senator DeMint and the 48 Republicans (and one Democrat, Senator Ben Nelson [NE]) was Aponte's op-ed titled “For the Elimination of Prejudices Wherever They Exist” in the El Salvadoran daily La Prensa Gráfica on July 28th this year.   The offending op-ed declared that everyone has a responsibility to “inform our neighbors and friends about what it means to be lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender” and praised El Salvador for signing - along with the U.S. and 80 other nations - a U.N. declaration for the elimination of violence against gays and lesbians.

Echoing the sentiments of a coalition of conservative El Salvadorans and Latin Americans who had objected to the essay, DeMint said this week that, “We should not risk…an ambassador who shows such a blatant disregard for [El Salvador’s] culture…”  Never mind the fact that Ambassador Aponte - posted in El Salvador for the last 15 months on a recess appointment - was only implementing the administration's initiative in support of Gay Pride Month, which really means this is a policy issue better taken up with the President.  The larger issue should be whether making locals uncomfortable on issues of human rights should be the way we gauge our policy and diplomats.  Would we pursue the same course in other civil and political rights?  Human rights in Syria?  Voting rights in Russia?  When did homophobia or violence against the LGBT community become a matter of local culture that deserves respect?

The truth is that the gay-bashing justification was a thinly disguised reason to finally reject a nominee that Republicans have objected to from the beginning and whom the White House had appointed to the post in a recess appointment over their objections.  But that doesn’t make it any less ugly and ultimately damaging.   When the White House originally proposed Aponte in December 2009, Republicans had opposed the nomination because of a boyfriend she had 23 years before.  The former boyfriend, Cuban-American Roberto Tamayo, had been alleged to be a Cuban agent by a Cuban spy.   Later, though, a U.S. counterintelligence officer said the opposite, instead asserting that Tamayo was an informant for the FBI.  No other evidence was uncovered (including, most importantly, that Aponte was aware or complicit), and Aponte received two top-secret clearances afterwards.  The evidence was enough to convince Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) - no softee on the Cuban regime - who stated on Monday that “there was nothing - nothing - in [Ambassador Aponte’s] file to substantiate the claims raised by my colleagues.”

So homophobia became the rallying cry.  Sadly, though, with the exception of Scott Brown (MA) and Susan Collins (ME), 39 Republican senators and Senator Nelson voted against the nomination.     None registered even the slightest objection to the reasoning that the nominee was unfit for office because she had written an anti-homophobia essay that had “stirred controversy and was rebuked throughout Latin America,” as claimed by the Republicans leading the anti-Aponte charge.   Whatever way they wanted to vote, they could have done so by still distancing themselves from this attack against U.S. values.   Instead, in seeking to make a point against the Obama administration, they cast doubt on the U.S.’s commitment in opposing violence against homosexuals and LGBT rights.   For Republicans who have actively fought homophobia here and gay Republicans, I couldn’t help wondering this morning how they felt.   Proud that they had scored a victory against the Democrats? Or scared that the rights many uphold and enjoy overseas had been attacked without a word of objection?

The views expressed in this article are solely those of Christopher Sabatini.

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Topics: Latin America • Sex

soundoff (4 Responses)
  1. Benedict

    I have said it before that any reason to go against Obama has become a rallying cry for Republican politicians and here is a good example of such.

    December 16, 2011 at 5:05 am | Reply
  2. j. von hettlingen

    Jim Demint is a leading member of the Tea Party. Moreover he represents South Carolina. He has had a low profile sofar. Aponte's op-ed in the El Salvadoran daily La Prensa Gráfica on July 28th this year gave him a chance to come into the spotlight.

    December 16, 2011 at 5:11 am | Reply
  3. stanJames

    Why is the mostly republcian party against gay equality.? Because its base is the southern bible belt – the same people who gave us slavery, segregation, and the kkk. And whose rednecks worst nightmare has come true – a black president.

    DR. King said it well when he said "a mind is a terrible thing to waste". He was of course referring to the segregated and useless schools to which balck kids were sent in the south.

    He may not have realized that he was also referring to the wasted minds of the repulbican religiious extremist base

    December 17, 2011 at 4:50 pm | Reply
  4. Alexander M

    It was so sad to see Mrs Aponte leaving San Salvador's US embassy on last December. She has been the most active ambassador El Salvador's has ever had in terms of social and humanitarian aid. I'm Salvadoran and in my humble opinion, the senate ignored the essence of the US foreign policy which is crucial and it has direct impacts on developing nations. They made a decision based on their internal fights/political differences which have nothing to do with El Salvador's progress, something that Mrs Aponte committed to achieve working on countless projects in benefit of thousands of Salvadorans, it is a shame that they used as excuse the article she wrote about gays and lesbians because that didn't harm anyone in the country.

    January 18, 2012 at 12:26 am | Reply

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