Luxembourg’s prime minister, Xavier Bettel, confronted Arab leaders this week over the repression of LGBTQ rights, telling them his same-sex marriage would condemn him to death in most of their countries.
Bettel is one of three openly gay world leader, along with Leo Varadkar of Ireland and Ana Brnabić of Serbia. He became the first European Union Leader to enter into a same-sex marriage when he wed his civil partner, Gauthier Destanay in 2015. Destanay, who is an architect, is from Belgium, and Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel attended their wedding.
In 1999, Bettel became the youngest member of the Luxembourg Parliament at just 26-years-old and became Prime Minister in 2013.
Bettel’s Deputy Prime Minister, Etienne Schneider is also openly gay and married his partner, Jérôme Domange, in 2018.
Luxembourg is bordered by France, Germany and Belgium. The constitutional monarch is Henri, Grand Duke of Luxembourg (not gay).
In 1997 President William Jefferson Clinton appointed openly gay James C. Hormel as ambassador to Luxembourg. Although Hormel was eminently qualified for the post and quickly won approval from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he was subjected to an ugly confirmation battle during which he was mocked by Republican senators. His nomination was blocked by Republican Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, who refused to schedule a vote. Finally, two years later, Clinton named Hormel ambassador while Congress was in recess. Republicans were pissed. Hormel became the first openly gay ambassador to represent the United States of America in the same year that Bettel became the youngest member of the Luxembourg parliament.
Luxembourg is the planet’s second-wealthiest country after Qatar. It is ranked #14 overall by U.S. News & World Report ranks it Number 19 in its list of the 25 Best Countries and ranked Number One for Business and Number 10 in Quality of Life.
At a summit of European Union and Arab states in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, the auditorium fell silent when Bettel made his statement. It was the first gathering between the EU and Arab League.
Saying nothing was not an option for me.
Homosexuality is punishable by death under sharia law in Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Yemen. Other countries in the region prohibit same-sex acts, including Algeria, Morocco, Oman, Tunisia, Syria, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates.
Homosexuality is not illegal in Egypt, but LGBTQ people are frequently detained on euphemistic charges such as debauchery. After a coup in 2013, the new Egyptian president, Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, appeared to embrace persecution of LGBTQ people as a political strategy.
EU Council President Donald Tusk told journalists after the summit:
I insisted that our summit declaration should include our common commitment … to the upholding of all aspects of internal human rights law.
Too bad then that the EU had to acquiesce to Arab demands to drop a reference to freedom of expression, and instead use more general wording on upholding international Human Rights law.
Sisi defended the death penalty and dismissed criticism of Egypt’s human rights record, telling reporters:
We are two different cultures. Our priority is preserving our countries and stopping them from collapse, destruction and ruin, as you see in many surrounding states.
His remarks gained enthusiastic applause from Arab officials and journalists.
Tusk, a former journalist who was jailed for his political activities in Poland, countered sarcastically:
I really appreciate how enthusiastic your media is. It’s impossible in Europe to have such a reaction. Congratulations.
Most EU presidents and prime ministers took part at the conference, including Ireland’s Varadkar, while the most controversial Arab leaders stayed away, including the Sudanese president, Omar al-Bashir, who is accused of war crimes, and Trump buddy and journalist murderer, Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman of Saudi Arabia.