Obama administration to sign U.N. declaration calling for decriminalization of homosexuality

Obama administration to sign U.N. declaration calling for decriminalization of homosexuality

March 17, 2009
Written by Gregg Brekke

A March 17 report by the Associated Press indicates the Obama administration will endorse a U.N. declaration calling for the worldwide decriminalization of homosexuality that then-President George W. Bush had refused to sign.

United Church News reported the Bush administration's refusal to endorse the declaration on Dec. 19, 2008. The story quoted the Rev. John H. Thomas, the UCC's president and general minister, saying, "The fact that we were the only major western country to refuse to [sign the petition], and on the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, is especially reprehensible… One can only hope that the new administration will grow in its understanding that any limitation of human rights and civil privileges must be rejected."

Observers of the proceedings noted Bush administration's concerns stemmed from an unwillingness to commit the federal government to policies that may conflict with existing state statutes. Several U.S. states permit discrimination based on sexual orientation in matters of adoption, housing and employment at privately held companies.

Seventy of 192 U.N. member countries outlaw homosexuality - and in several, homosexual acts can be punished by execution. More than 50 nations, including members of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, opposed the declaration.

The AP reports U.S. officials said Tuesday they had notified the declaration's French sponsors that the administration wants to be added as a supporter.

The move was made after an interagency review of the Bush administration's position on the nonbinding document, which was signed by all 27 European Union members as well as Japan, Australia, Mexico and three dozen other countries, the officials said.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because Congress was still being notified of the decision. They said the administration had decided to sign the declaration to demonstrate that the United States supports human rights for all.

The Rev. Mike Schuenemeyer, the UCC's executive for health and wholeness advocacy, applauds the decision of the Obama administration. "Laws which criminalize homosexuality perpetuate and give legitimacy to stigma and discrimination that severely harass human beings because of their real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity," he said. "Moreover, UNAIDS and the International AIDS Society have shown that decriminalization is important to effective HIV prevention."

Citing the UCC General Synod's consistency in declaring God's "gracious extension of worth and dignity to all people," the Rev. Cally Rogers-Witte, executive minister for the UCC's Wider Church Ministries, said, "The gifts of sexual orientation and gender identity are integral parts of every person's worth and inherent dignity. Laws, policies or actions that defame or devalue that worth and dignity are morally wrong, a violation of human rights and must be abolished."

Since 1969 various national settings of the United Church of Christ have made more than 25 pronouncements that address the concerns of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people in church and society, calling for welcome, inclusion and justice.

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