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February 27, 2009

Obama supports U.N. bid to decriminalize gays

U.S. reverses its December position against the measure

New York City--The Obama administration supports a United Nations declaration seeking worldwide decriminalization of homosexuality, reversing a position taken by George W. Bush at the end of his term.

The 13 point non-binding measure sponsored by France late last year was the first time gay rights were debated and put to a vote before the General Assembly.

Homosexuality is banned by law in 80 countries and punishable by death in at least six. Sodomy laws criminalizing gay sex were considered constitutional in the U.S. until 2003.

France, which then held the presidency of the European Union, introduced the declaration knowing it did not have enough support for a binding resolution.

The declaration�s goal is �to ensure that sexual orientation or gender identity may under no circumstances be the basis for criminal penalties, in particular executions, arrests or detention.�

Sixty-six countries voted in favor of the declaration on December 18, mostly European and Latin American nations.

The United States was not among them.

The new administration, however, changed the U.S. position when the same wording was presented again by France at the Durban II Review Conference in Geneva, Switzerland on February 18.� The measure condemns �all forms of discrimination and all other human rights violations based on sexual orientation.�

Last week�s meeting was preparation for a larger United Nations conference for world leaders and human rights organizations to evaluate progress on goals set in 2001 to eliminate racism and xenophobia.

United States participation in the conference is, itself, a departure from the foreign policy of the Bush administration.� Conservatives in the U.S. and Israel are protesting it.

According to the human rights group U.N. Watch, the Obama administration joined the Czech Republic, which currently holds the E.U. presidency, New Zealand, Denmark, Colombia, the Netherlands, Argentina and Chile on behalf of the South American states, in a bitter fight to add gay equal rights to the agenda.

The effort failed, however. Opposing it were the nations that the Bush administration joined with in December, including the Vatican, China, Egypt, Nigeria, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Botswana, Iran, Algeria, Syria, and South Africa on behalf of the African Group of nations. They succeeded in keeping any reference to human rights violations on the basis of sexual orientation out of the conference.

South Africa argued that sexual orientation �goes beyond the framework of the 2001 Durban declaration.�

The Vatican said the conference should only deal with �inner conditions� and that sexual orientation is conduct, not a condition.

U.N. observer and blogger Mark Leon Goldberg wrote that, despite the loss, �it�s relieving to see that the United States is now back on the side of the enlightened on this issue of basic human rights.�

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