Administration to Support U.N. Declaration Decriminalizing Homosexuality
By Colum Lynch
NEW YORK --The Obama administration announced today that it will endorse a French-sponsored U.N. General Assembly declaration calling for the decriminalization of homosexuality, reversing a decision by the Bush administration last December to withhold U.S. support.
In announcing U.S. support, State Department spokesman Robert Wood said the U.N. declaration is consistent with the U.S. commitment to being an outspoken defender of human rights. The United States "is pleased to join the other 66 U.N. members states who have declared their support of the statement that condemns human rights violations based on sexual orientation and gender identity wherever the occur," Wood said.
The Obama administration's decision was the latest signal of a sharp break with with the Bush administration over the promotion of conservative social initiatives at the United Nations. Over the past eight years, the Bush administration had sided with Islamic governments and conservative Catholic countries on a range of social issues, from the rights of gays and women to the importance of banning stem cell research.
The December 18 U.N. General Assembly declaration, which is not legally binding, condemns rights abuses against gays and urges states to pass laws to ensure that "sexual orientation or gender identity" can "not be the basis for criminal penalties, in particular executions, arrests or detention."
Human rights groups report that homosexuality is still outlawed by more than 85 countries and that it is punishable by death in several Islamic states, including Afghanistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Yemen.
The gender and sexual orientation discrimination declaration was sharply criticized by Islamic countries, which assert that it would promote sexual behavior that is considered socially unacceptable. The Vatican also denounced the declaration.
The Bush administration said it opposed discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation but refused to sign the declaration in December, citing concerns that it would interfere with states rights to legislate on matters involving discrimination.
U.S. officials decided to reverse that decision following an interagency review of the policy. They concluded that the declaration does not create any new legal obligations on the United States, and doesn't have any affect on existing U.S. laws.
The decision places the United States squarely behind liberal Western democracies, including the 27 members of the European Union, on an important cultural matter. And it follows a previous decision by the United States to release millions of dollars of funding for U.N. programs that allow family planning.
As a courtesy, the U.S. mission to the United Nations informed the French mission Tuesday that it would support the French text. "We are absolutely delighted," said Stephane Crouzat, a spokesman for the French mission to the United Nations. "We are very pleased that the United States has decided to join the declaration."
Posted at 2:20 PM ET on Mar 18, 2009
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