- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 10, 2004

NEW YORK — Homosexual U.N. staffers have begun to file for expanded family benefits, even as U.N. member states are organizing to challenge Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s January directive offering limited recognition of same-sex unions.

The Bush administration, which has said it will seek a constitutional amendment defining marriage as a solely heterosexual right, has not yet decided whether to oppose the measure, nor whether it will allow the organization to recognize any qualifying American U.N. staff member.

The Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), a bloc of 56 nations, will demand possibly by the end of this week that the U.N. General Assembly address the recognition of homosexual couples.

It was not immediately clear how spousal benefits are handled for applicants from Muslim countries that allow a man to have more than one wife.

Representatives from several predominantly Catholic nations, meanwhile, say their governments are uncomfortable with the world body’s recognition approach to same-sex unions.

“Our experts are working on a statement, because this is important,” said Mokhtar Lamani, the OIC’s ambassador in New York.

“The secretary-general should not do things that are controversial. The natural family must be respected, as it has been for thousands of years.”

Iran, as the rotating head of the OIC, will likely condemn Mr. Annan’s directive in the Fifth Committee, which oversees budgetary and administrative matters.

The directive extends benefits to U.N. staffers whose same-sex unions have already been recognized by their home governments.

“Any United Nations staff legally married or part of a legally recognized domestic partnership in their home country will be entitled to qualify for the entitlements provided for family members,” said the organization in a statement Jan. 28.

Mr. Annan noted that “the marriage or partnership must be recognized as valid by the laws of the country of the staff member’s nationality.”

Once an application is made, it is U.N. policy to confirm the staffer’s status with his or her government’s mission in New York, posing a potential dilemma for the U.S. Mission.

The State Department has not yet decided whether to permit the United Nations to recognize the unions of American staff members who seek benefits on the basis of “marriages” or registered partnerships in the United States.

Massachusetts’ highest court legalized same-sex “marriages” in that state in November, while a number of such “marriages” have been performed in defiance of state law in San Francisco and New Paltz, N.Y.

“We’re looking at it,” said an official with the U.S. Mission. “I haven’t heard of anyone talking about challenging it. It’s nothing we’ve been following too carefully here.”

The U.N. directive, in theory, applies to a small number of staff members. Scarcely a dozen nations currently extend to same-sex couples the same legal or financial benefits extended to heterosexual couples.

By contrast, more than one-third of the member states outlaw homosexual activity.

But a small number of staff members have already applied for expanded benefits, according to the United Nations.

“We did get a couple of claims,” said U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq, who could not obtain more specific numbers from the U.N. Office of Human Resource Management. “A small number have applied, but we don’t estimate it will have a huge impact.”

U.N. officials stress that the organization is not conferring new rights or benefits on homosexual couples and will, in the words of the directive, “continue to ensure respect for the social, religious and cultural diversity of the member states and of their nationals.”

Nonetheless, the measure has been controversial, both within the organization and among member states.

One staff member said this week that the new policy set a precedent by effectively allowing different governments to determine the compensation of international civil servants.

“If you’ve got two people doing the same job, but one comes from a country that recognizes common law, or gay ‘marriage,’ and another doesn’t, they will receive different benefits,” the staff member said. “There is unhappiness about that.”

Recognition of same-sex couples has long been a goal for UNGLOBE, an advocacy group for U.N. gay, lesbian or bisexual employees, which counts about 150 members in the worldwide U.N. system.

“Ultimately, we would like to see nondiscriminatory treatment of all lesbians and gays, regardless of their nationality, but this is a step in the right direction,” said a UNGLOBE representative who did not wish to be identified.

“We understand the limitations of a bureaucracy that has a governing body of 191 member states and within that context we see this as a victory.”

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