The Associated Press reported today (Dec. 19) that the United States is the only Western nation unwilling to sign a declaration presented Thursday at the United Nations calling for worldwide decriminalization of homosexuality.
The refusal drew quick reaction from the Rev. John H. Thomas, the UCC's general minister and president. "The decision of the United States to oppose a U.N. resolution that would call for the decriminalization of homosexuality worldwide is appalling," he said.
"The fact that we were the only major western country to refuse to do so, and on the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, is especially reprehensible. It should come as no surprise, however, that an administration that condoned the use of torture and that turned the relationships of gay and lesbian people into a wedge issue for partisan political gain would take this action," said Thomas.
Top United Nations human rights official lamented that there are still too many countries that criminalize sexual relations between consenting adults of the same sex and that some 10 countries still have laws making homosexual activity punishable by death.
"Those who are lesbian, gay or bisexual, those who are transgender, transsexual or intersex, are full and equal members of the human family and are entitled to be treated as such," U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay told high-level panel discussion on human rights, sexual orientation and gender identity, held at U.N. headquarters in New York.
"The ageless cliché that everyone is equal but some are more equal than others is not acceptable. No human being should be denied their human rights simply because of their perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. No human being should be subject to discrimination, violence, criminal sanctions or abuse simply because of their perceived sexual orientation or gender identity," she said in a video message.
"Ironically many of these laws, like Apartheid laws that criminalized sexual relations between consenting adults of different races, are relics of the colonial and are increasingly recognized as anachronistic and as inconsistent both with international law and with traditional values of dignity, inclusion and respect for all."
She said that laws proscribing the death penalty for such activities are used to justify threats, attacks to the physical and moral integrity of persons, including their exposure to torture, with human rights defenders being particularly vulnerable.
"The stigma attached to these issues means that violence and discrimination often go unpunished as victims dare not report their cases and the authorities do not pay sufficient attention to those who do," Pillay added.
Observers of the proceedings noted the U.S. delegation'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.
Human rights advocates are disappointed that the United States would refuse to extend the U.N.'s Universal Declaration of Human Rights to LGBT persons and are looking to President-elect Barack Obama to change course on such issues.
"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," said Thomas. "Bigotry has always been veiled in calls for moderation, in the suggestion of legal complications, and in slippery slope arguments of unintended consequences. In the end, these arguments, whether made by governments or religious groups, cannot hide prejudice or the failure of moral leadership the world so desperately needs."