President Obama Believes in Marriage Equality in the USA…and LGBT Rights at the United Nations

As you have no doubt seen, President Obama came out in support of marriage equality yesterday. And good for him!

For those of us who follow the UN, the Obama administration’s approach to LGBT issues in Turtle Bay (and Geneva) has been unquestionably progressive.

One of the first indications that this was to be a new era of robust American support for LGBT rights at the UN came just one month after the inauguration.

In February 2009, the USA voted for a Genera Assembly resolution condemning “all forms of discrimination and all other human rights violations based on sexual orientation.” Just two months prior (when President Bush was still in charge) the USA voted against a similar resolution calling for the universal decriminalization of homosexuality. The Bush administration couched its objections in legal technicalities. The Obama administration did not have the same hangups.

Then, there was a somewhat technical and in the weeds issue at the Economic and Social Council over giving an NGO which focuses on global LGBT rights credentials to attend UN meetings. The NGO,  International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, had been seeking credentials but some countries on ECOSOC (namely, conservative Muslim countries backed by the USA) put up roadblocks to prevent their accreditation.

In July 2010, the NGO finally got its UN passes in a vote at ECOSOC, thanks to the strong support of the Obama administration. How do I know the support was so strong? The White House issued a statement directly following vote praising the result.  Needless to say, it is remarkable that the President of the United States would weigh in directly on a deep-in-the-weeds issue like an NGO’s accreditation at the UN.

Then in December 2010,  the USA inserted itself into another in-the-weeds debate over LGBT rights. A measure introduced by the United States at the General Assembly helped restore “sexual orientation” to a list of groups that should receive special protection from extrajudicial killing. The measure was opposed by conservative member states, but the USA used its diplomatic weight to muscle the symbolic resolution through the General Assembly. Also in December 2010, US Ambassador Susan Rice used a Human Rights Day speech to announce the American participation in what is called “The LGBT Core Group” at the United Nations.

Next, in June 2011, the USA supported an historic Human Rights Council resolution recognizing discrimination against LGBT communities as a global human rights problem. The resolution passed, despite the objections of conservative countries. This was no small feat.

This diplomatic maneuvering culminated in a speech by Hillary Clinton at the Human Rights Council in Geneva in which she proclaimed global LGBT rights to be an American foreign policy priority.  (Parts of this post were taken from a blog post I wrote at the time of Secretary Clinton’s announcement).

So, yesterday, President Obama simply brought home the kind of human rights push that his administration has been pursuing abroad.