The Obama administration will introduce its first statement calling for the United Nations' top human rights body to combat discrimination against gays and lesbians around the world, completing a U.S. reversal from years of ambiguity on the subject during the presidency of George W. Bush.
The U.S. declaration will be made Tuesday at the Geneva-based Human Rights Council and has the support of more than 80 countries. Although it is not in the form of binding resolution, the American push for U.N. action has helped win over a handful of new countries to the cause. A resolution could be brought to a vote later this year.
The issue of gay rights has polarized nations at the U.N. for years. And despite growing acceptance for homosexuality in Western nations and parts of Latin America, lawyers say there is still a gap in human rights treaties for the protection of gays against discrimination and mistreatment.
"We are very concerned that individuals continue to be killed, arrested and harassed around the world because of their sexual orientation or gender identity," said Suzanne Nossel, deputy assistant secretary of state for international organizations. "This statement sends a strong message from across the globe that such abuses should not be tolerated."
The U.S. document calls for nations to end any criminal punishments against lesbians, gays and bisexuals, and asks the global body to review how governments treat them in the U.N.'s human rights assessments. It acknowledges that "these are sensitive issues for many," but insists that people must be freed from discrimination because of their sexual orientation.
Mr. Obama has stepped up the case for gay rights in recent months, winning a congressional vote to repeal the "don't ask, don't tell" ban on gays serving openly in the U.S. military and urging last weekend in a joint statement with the Brazilian president for the establishment of a special investigator to monitor respect for lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender individuals in the Western Hemisphere.
Under the Bush administration, the U.S. policy was markedly different. The administration didn't support a French resolution at the U.N. General Assembly in 2008 that addressed similar concerns, joining Russia, China, the Vatican and Islamic states in opposition.
U.N. General Assembly and Human Rights Council resolutions aren't legally binding. They reflect only the view of the majority of the world's nations.
Supporting the statement Tuesday will be newcomers such as Thailand, Rwanda, El Salvador, Honduras and the Dominican Republic.