It's not Earth shattering, but it's the first pro-lgbt thing the President has done. (From the Left let me know about this, but I think the Gay People's Chronicle writeup is clearer than the UN Watch posting cited.)
The Obama administration supports a United Nations declaration seeking worldwide decriminalization of homosexuality, reversing a position taken by George W. Bush at the end of his term.
Homosexuality is banned by law in 80 countries and punishable by death in at least six. Sodomy laws criminalizing gay sex were considered constitutional in the U.S. until 2003.
The new administration, however, changed the U.S. position when the same wording was presented again by France at the Durban II Review Conference in Geneva, Switzerland on February 18. The measure condemns “all forms of discrimination and all other human rights violations based on sexual orientation.”
Last week’s meeting was preparation for a larger United Nations conference for world leaders and human rights organizations to evaluate progress on goals set in 2001 to eliminate racism and xenophobia.
United States participation in the conference is, itself, a departure from the foreign policy of the Bush administration. Conservatives in the U.S. and Israel are protesting it.
The effort failed, however. Opposing it were the nations that the Bush administration joined with in December, including the Vatican, China, Egypt, Nigeria, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Botswana, Iran, Algeria, Syria, and South Africa on behalf of the African Group of nations. They succeeded in keeping any reference to human rights violations on the basis of sexual orientation out of the conference.
South Africa argued that sexual orientation “goes beyond the framework of the 2001 Durban declaration.”
South Africa's position is interesting, given that there are far greater lgbt protections in its constitution than even in statute law here in the US. They must have deferred to the other members of the African group.
This reversal of position by the new administration is nice, though it doesn't make up for Obama's policy of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in Cabinet level appointments. It certainly doesn't come close to making up for involving a dangerous, heterosexist, misogynist, religious extremist like Rick Warren in the inauguration.
We'll have to see which is more representative of Obama's future direction. So far, he gets a C- on queer issues.