The US will sign UN Declaration on Human Rights, Sexual Orientation, and Gender Identity

19 03 2009

The Obama administration announced on Wednesday that it will join 66 other UN member states in declaring support for the UN Statement on “Human Rights, Sexual Orientation, and Gender Identity.”  Robert Wood, Acting Department Spokesman for the Bureau of Public Affairs in DC, stated:

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.

This declaration was opposed by the Bush Administration in 2008.  The US was, at the time, the only Western government that refused to sign.  The declaration is a “resolution for a universal decriminalization of homosexuality” that asks the UN Human Rights Council

to request a universal abolition of the so-called ‘crime of homosexuality’, of all ‘sodomy laws’, and laws against so-called ‘unnatural acts’ in all the countries where they still exist.

Mark Bromley of the Council for Global Equality stated that:

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 (LGBT) individuals.

The Bush administration insisted that although it was opposed to discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, parts of the declaration raised legal questions.  Matthew Lee of the Associated Press wrote:

According to negotiators, the Bush team had concerns that those sections could commit the federal government on matters that fall under state jurisdiction. In some states, landlords and private employers are allowed to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation; on the federal level, gays are not allowed to serve openly in the military.

But the Obama administration has concluded that supporting the statement holds no legal obligations.

66 UN member states stand in support of the statement, and more than 50 have refused to sign the declaration.  A full 70 UN member states outlaw homosexuality, and in several, the punishment for homosexual acts is execution.  The declaration is also opposed by the Vatican.  Several Islamic countries have argued that protecting people on this level could lead to the “social normalization and possibly the legalization of deplorable acts” such as pedophilia and incest.

It is awful how such a simple declaration of human rights has elicited so much backlash around the world.  It just emphasizes how much still needs to be done in the struggle for equality.


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