(Photo: AP/Susan Walsh)
The Obama administration on Tuesday called on the United Nations Human Rights Council to fight discrimination against gays and lesbians around the world.
The declaration, supported by 84 other countries, marks the first time the United States has pushed for U.N. action on gay rights.
"Human rights are the inalienable right of every person, no matter who they are or who they love. The U.S. government is firmly committed to supporting the right of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals to lead productive and dignified lives, free from fear and violence," said Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe, U.S. Ambassador to the Human Rights Council in Geneva, in a statement.
The move by Obama on Tuesday was seen as a clear departure from George W. Bush's administration, which never pressed for gay and lesbian rights. Unlike his predecessor, Obama has aggressively advocated gay rights during his presidency.
The president in February instructed the Justice Department not to defend the constitutionality of DOMA (the Defense of Marriage Act), the federal law defining marriage as between a man and a woman, and has encouraged Congress to repeal the military's Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy.
Last week, Obama announced in a joint statement with the Brazilian president the creation of a special investigator position to monitor respect for lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender individuals in the Western Hemisphere.
The representative of Colombia on Tuesday delivered the full text of the declaration entitled, "Ending Acts of Violence and Related Human Rights Violations Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity," before the Human Rights Council in Geneva.
The document calls on governments to "take steps to end acts of violence, criminal sanctions and related human rights violations committed against individuals because of their sexual orientation or gender identity."
Signers also affirmed a 2008 joint statement by a group of states representing all five U.N. regions that called for an end to discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. In the statement to the U.N., they also commend attention paid to human rights violations based on sexual orientation and gender identity by international human rights mechanisms and within the context of the Universal Periodic Review.
Acknowledging that "these may be sensitive issues for many," the document encouraged the search for "common ground" and asked the Council to "be guided by the principles of universality and non-discrimination" in dealing with these sensitive issues.
Meanwhile, the Vatican contended before the Human Rights Council Tuesday that people who speak against same-sex relationships based on religious or moral beliefs are being attacked and vilified.
"People are being attacked for taking positions that do not support sexual behavior between people of the same sex," Roman Catholic Archbishop Silvano Tomasi told the HRC session, according to Reuters.
"When they express their moral beliefs or beliefs about human nature ... they are stigmatized, and worse - they are vilified, and prosecuted.
"These attacks are violations of fundamental human rights and cannot be justified under any circumstances," Tomasi said.