can’t see the forest

U.S. refuses to sign U.N. declaration in favor of decriminalizing homosexuality

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Standing alone among the major Western powers, the delegation from the United States refused to sign on Thursday a non-binding United Nations resolution calling for the decriminalization of homosexuality.

The measure, co-sponsored by France and the Netherlands, was signed by 66 countries. In at least 80 nations, homosexuality is a criminal offense; in some countries, such as Saudi Arabia and Iran, it is punishable by execution.

BBC News reports:

The countries signed a declaration sponsored by France and the Netherlands demanding an end to legal punishment based on sexual orientation.

Sixty other countries of the UN’s 192 member states, including a number of Arab and African states, rejected the non-binding declaration.

They said laws on homosexuality should be left to individual countries.

Gay men, lesbians and transsexuals worldwide face daily violations of their human rights.

France and the Netherlands drafted the declaration in part to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Signatories included all 27 members of the European Union, Japan, Mexico, and Australia, as well as three dozen other member states.

France’s human rights minister, Rama Yade, called the lack of U.S. support “disappointing,” especially for a country which so vocally prides itself on its defense of human rights abroad.

Why did the United States refuse to sign? An MSNBC article explains:

According to some of the declaration’s backers, U.S. officials expressed concern in private talks that some parts of the declaration might be problematic in committing the federal government on matters that fall under state jurisdiction. In numerous 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.

Carolyn Vadino, a spokeswoman for the U.S. mission to the U.N., stressed that the United States — despite its unwillingness to sign — condemned any human rights violations related to sexual orientation.

Gay rights activists nonetheless were angered by the U.S. position.

“It’s an appalling stance — to not join with other countries that are standing up and calling for decriminalization of homosexuality,” said Paula Ettelbrick, executive director of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission.

She expressed hope that the U.S. position might change after President-elect Barack Obama takes office in January.

The federal government of the United States has never concretely expressed that Equal Protection—the Fourteenth Amendment provision which is supposed to force states to guarantee the extension of rights to all citizens—applies to matters of sexual orientation. It has left the legislation of sexuality open to the various states, such as California, where voters last month passed Proposition 8, a measure defining marriage as solely between a man and a woman. Consequently, many gays in the U.S. feel merely tolerated and frequently openly discriminated against by U.S. law. They say the federal government should take a stand against anti-gay laws and use Equal Protection to ensure compliance at the state level.

Syria represented a group of 60 countries which refused to sign the declaration. The Vatican City also abstained, stating that, while it supports an end to anti-gay laws and persecution, its view is that such a declaration “gives rise to uncertainty in the laws and challenges existing human norms.”

And that, French and Dutch delegates might argue, is exactly what the declaration was intended to do.

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