The United Nations General Assembly on Dec. 21 overturned its recent vote that removed a reference to sexual orientation from a resolution against extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions.
The resolution urges member states to protect the right to life of all people and calls on governments to investigate killings based on discriminatory grounds. For the past 10 years, the document included sexual orientation in a list of discriminatory grounds on which killings are often based.
In November, a General Assembly committee composed of all U.N. member nations removed the gay reference in a vote of 79 to 70 with 17 abstentions and 26 absences. That led to an intense campaign, headed by the United States, to reinsert the reference.
The reinsertion vote was 93 to 55 with 27 abstentions and 17 absences. Then, the vote to pass the full resolution with the gay language back in place was 122 to 1 with 62 abstentions.
The document is believed to be the only UN resolution ever to reference "sexual orientation."
Most opposition to acknowledging anti-gay killings came from Arab, Islamic and African nations, whose representatives complained that they don't know what "sexual orientation" means or that sexual behavior is an inappropriate basis upon which to grant official recognition or human rights protections.
Notably, South Africa and Rwanda reversed their previous votes against gay inclusion.
"Countries that tried to roll back crucial protections for gay and lesbian people have been defeated," said Boris Dittrich, acting director of Human Rights Watch's LGBT Rights Program. "The resolution does justice to gays, lesbians and transgender people in countries where they are targeted for assaults and killings simply because they love someone of the same sex or because they are transgender."
The office of President Barack Obama's press secretary issued a statement that said: "President Obama applauds those countries that supported the amendment offered by the United States to ensure that 'sexual orientation' remains covered by the United Nations resolution on extrajudicial, summary and arbitrary execution. Killing people because of their sexual orientation cannot be rationalized by diverse religious values or varying regional perspectives. Killing people because they are gay is not culturally defensibleit is criminal. While today's adoption of an inclusive resolution is important, so too are the conversations that have now begun in capitals around the world about inclusion, equality and discrimination. Protecting gays and lesbians from state-sponsored discrimination is not a special right, it is a human right. Today's vote in the United Nations marks an important moment in the struggle for civil and human rights. The time has come for all nations to redouble our efforts to end discrimination and violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people."
The United States' former ambassador to Romania, Michael Guest, who now works with the LGBT-oriented Council for Global Equality, called the U.S. campaign to rescue the gay language "remarkable."
"The United States took a very principled position, and our diplomats worked very hard at the U.N. and in capitals around the world to explain to other countries why this is an important human rights cause," Guest said. "The State Department and the White House should be commended."
The International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association said: "We want to celebrate the victory over the forces which tried to push the reference to sexual orientation into oblivion one month ago (and which) still refuse, in theory and in practice, to acknowledge that human rights are truly for all, LGBTI people included, andwhat is perhaps worsegrotesquely mask their homophobia and transphobia by referring to the universality of the Human Rights Declaration and indecently try to include under the term 'sexual orientation' bestiality and pedophilia."
Assistance: Bill Kelley