Obama Signs U.N. Statement Decriminalizing Homosexuality
You wouldn’t think it would be news that the president of the United States went along with 66 other nations to sign a statement declaring that homosexuality should not be a crime. But after eight years of President George W. Bush, you can’t take anything for granted. So President Obama’s two-sentence sign-on to the United Nations resolution decriminalizing homosexuality yesterday was indeed worthy of notice.
In fact, Bush had refused to sign exactly that statement in the past, saying that the federal government could not sign a statement that would bind the United States on matters that fall under state jurisdiction. Never mind that the federal government has legislated in all sorts of other areas of civil rights, such as race, gender and age discrimination.
In refusing to sign the statement, reports JURIST, the United States was in some unusual company: China, Russia, members of the Islamic Conference, and the Roman Catholic Church.
The Obama administration’s decision to change course and sign the statement is at least symbolically important, as gay rights remain a contentious issue around the world. As JURIST notes, in November, the parliament of Burundi criminalized homosexuality, while the Supreme Court of Nepal approved same-sex marriages. In October, the Portuguese parliament voted against legalizing same-sex marriage. In the United States, same-sex marriages are now legal only in Massachusetts and Connecticut, though this week the Vermont legislature began debating a bill that would legalize it. In November, same-sex marriage bans passed in California, Arizona, and Florida. For Obama, signing the U.N. statement is just the beginning. He’ll have to deal with a host of other issues related to sexual orientation, including the military’s antiquated “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy; the federal government’s refusal to pay employment benefits for the same-sex partners of federal employees (which Obama has said he supports, but requires repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act); and an immigration law that denies access to the United States for foreign same-sex partners of U.S. citizens.