March 24, 2015 at 3:17 pm EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
Bid to block spousal benefits for gay U.N. employees fails

United Nations, gay news, Washington Blade

(Photo by Steve Cadman; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

A U.N. budget committee on Tuesday overwhelmingly rejected a Russia-sponsored resolution that sought to overturn Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s decision to extend spousal benefits to gay U.N. personnel who are legally married.

Members of the U.N. General Assembly’s Fifth Committee voted against the resolution by an 80-43 vote margin.

Algeria, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Belarus, Benin, Botswana, Brunei, Burundi, Cambodia, Chad, China, Comoros, North Korea, Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Gambia, India, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Lebanon, Libya, Malaysia, Mauritania, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Solomon Islands, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, Tanzania, Uzbekistan and Zimbabwe voted for the Russian proposal.

Thirty-seven countries abstained from the vote on the resolution.

“The secretary-general’s authority should not be undermined, this bulletin should not be politicized and this committee and the General Assembly should not be divided by a vote that almost none of us wanted,” said U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power before she voted against the resolution. “As such, the United States will be voting no and we respectfully urge other countries to do the same.”

Charles Radcliffe, a senior human rights adviser for the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner, welcomed the vote.

“This is a vote of confidence in the secretary-general’s managerial authority,” Radcliffe told the Washington Blade. “He has to be able to manage his own staff. In this case, he took a decision — a very welcome decision — that has had the effect of ending long-standing discrimination against staff with same sex spouses. Member states were always going to have differing views about the rightness of the policy but by this vote they’ve have confirmed that it’s the secretary-general’s decision to make.”

Jessica Stern, executive director of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, also praised the vote’s outcome.

“The failed effort engineered by Russia to undermine U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s authority deserved today’s fate,” she said in a statement. “The vote was taken completely without justification and based on a specious argument that the secretary-general had overstepped his authority. He did nothing of the kind.”

“The vote offered a new twist on the kind of homophobic scapegoating we see globally,” added Stern. “This was a disingenuous effort to shed the dignity of LGBT employees at the U.N., while clawing at the authority of the secretary general. Those who sided with Russia should be ashamed of such a craven vote.”

Ban, who is from South Korea, has emerged as a vocal champion of LGBT rights since becoming U.N. secretary general in 2007.

He reiterated his opposition to laws that criminalize homosexuality in January during a speech in the Indian capital of New Delhi, noting statutes “criminalizing consensual, adult same-sex relationships violate basic rights to privacy and to freedom from discrimination.” Hundreds of Asian LGBT rights advocates a few weeks later attended a U.N.-sponsored meeting in Bangkok where they discussed ways to bolster their activism.

Ban during a February 2014 speech to members of the International Olympic Committee who were gathered in Sochi, Russia, for the 2014 Winter Olympics called for an end to anti-LGBT discrimination and violence. The U.N. a few months earlier launched its “Free & Equal” campaign as part of its efforts to promote LGBT rights around the world.

Members of the U.N. Human Rights Council last September approved a resolution against anti-LGBT violence and discrimination.

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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