by Rex Wockner
The administration of President Barack Obama has reversed a decision by the administration of former President George W. Bush and added the United States’ signature to a pro-gay declaration delivered in the United Nations General Assembly last December.
Sixty-six nations supported the groundbreaking statement that called for the decriminalization of gay sex worldwide and affirmed that international human rights standards include protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
“The United States supports the UN Statement on ‘Human Rights, Sexual Orientation, and Gender Identity,’ and is pleased to join the other 66 UN member states who have declared their support of this statement that condemns human rights violations based on sexual orientation and gender identity wherever they occur,” the State Department said March 18. “The United States is an outspoken defender of human rights and critic of human rights abuses around the world. As such, we join with the other supporters of this statement and we will continue to remind countries of the importance of respecting the human rights of all people in all appropriate international fora.”
In opposing the declaration, the Bush administration had said the document’s broad language could reach into areas that fall outside of federal jurisdiction, such as the right of each U.S. state to define marriage.
It was the first time a statement condemning rights abuses against GLBT people was presented in the General Assembly.
Gay activists hailed the State Department decision.
“It is terrific that the Obama administration is joining the United Nations’ resolution calling for an end to laws that make physical intimacy between same-sex couples a crime,” said Matt Coles, director of the ACLU Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Project. “Many of these laws are … used to put people in prison and sometimes result in people being executed.”
“That the Bush administration refused to endorse the resolution is pretty unbelievable considering the U.S. Supreme Court said it was unconstitutional to criminalize physical intimacy between consenting adults back in 2003,” Coles added. “We urge the United States to match its action on human rights abroad with bold commitment to respect and promote human rights at home. We can begin putting an end to discrimination against (LGBT) people by, as the president has proposed, banning job discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity and by repealing the section of the Defense of Marriage Act that denies federal protections to those same-sex couples who have legally married.”
More than 80 of the world’s 195 nations criminalize gay sex, and it is punishable by death in 10: Afghanistan, Iran, Mauritania, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen. In Pakistan and the UAE, however, the criminal code, which does not punish sodomy with death, tends to take precedence over the equally legal Shariah law, which does punish sodomy with death. In Somalia, Shariah law is in force in portions of the nation. Somalia presently has no national government. In Afghanistan, the penal code does not punish sodomy with death, but Shariah does – and is in force in much of the country. Nigeria has the Shariah death penalty for gay sex in northern provinces only, where Shariah takes precedence over federal law and people have been sentenced to death for gay sex, though executions apparently have not been carried out. The remaining five nations have an unambiguous national death penalty for sodomy – Iran, Mauritania, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Yemen.
The UN declaration’s original signers were Albania, Andorra, Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bolivia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Chile, Colombia, Croatia, Cuba, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Ecuador, Estonia, Finland, France, Gabon, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Guinea-Bissau, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Mauritius, Mexico, Montenegro, Nepal, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Norway, Paraguay, Poland, Portugal, Romania, San Marino, Sao Tome and Principe, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Timor-Leste, United Kingdom, Uruguay and Venezuela.