US supports UN gay rights declaration

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Thursday, March 19, 2009

The Obama administration announced on March 18, 2009 that the United States, in a reversal of position, would support the UN declaration on sexual orientation and gender identity.

67 UN member states (green) have signed or say they will sign the Declaration on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity. 57 UN member states (red) have signed an opposing declaration.

The United States will become the 67th signatory to the non-binding document, which was proposed by France and the Netherlands and "condemn[s] the human rights violations based on sexual orientation or gender identity wherever they occur, in particular the use of the death penalty on this ground, extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, the practice of torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment, arbitrary arrest or detention and deprivation of economic, social and cultural rights, including the right to health".

US State Department Spokesman Robert A. Wood

Accepting the proposal, which according to US State Department spokesman Robert Wood "commits us to no legal obligations", would nonetheless be a reversal from the Bush administration's refusal to sign. According to Mark Bromley of the Council for Global Equality, "the administration's leadership on this issue will be a powerful rebuke of an earlier Bush administration position that sought to deny the universal application of human rights protections to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals".

57 UN member nations, however, including many but not all members of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, have signed a counter-declaration introduced by Syria saying that normalization of LGBT rights would lead to "the social normalization, and possibly the legitimization, of many deplorable acts including pedophilia." Vatican City also opposes the resolution but on its introduction made a statement condemning legal discrimination against LGBT persons.

Homosexuality or homosexual behavior is illegal in some 70 UN member nations and punishable by death in seven.

The United States' adoption of the document comes as the Obama administration faces continued criticism from gay rights advocates on the subject of homosexual individuals serving in the United States military. While Obama has stated he would repeal Bill Clinton's 1993 "don't ask, don't tell" compromise and end restrictions on gays, bisexuals and lesbians serving in the military, US Defense Secretary Robert Gates says that he has had "one brief conversation with the president" on the subject; meanwhile, a US House bill to end the ban is losing its primary sponsor, Ellen Tauscher, to the State Department and no complementary piece of legislation has been introduced to the Senate.

France's proposal of the document is one of several instances in the course of the Sarkozy administration where France and the Vatican have been at odds on issues of sexuality. France's foreign ministry, in response to comments by Pope Benedict rejecting the distribution of condoms in Africa to prevent AIDS, led EU member nations in rejecting the Pope's position. In September 2008, France openly affronted the Vatican by appointing an openly gay man, Denis Tillinac, as its ambassador to the Holy See; the Vatican rejected the appointment.