Michelle Garcia, Advocate.com: A joint statement addressing homophobia and LGBT rights for the first time at the United Nations was tabled Thursday, without the backing of the United States.
"We urge states to take all the necessary measures, in particular legislative or administrative, to ensure that sexual orientation or gender identity may under no circumstances be the basis for criminal penalties, in particular executions, arrests or detention," the draft document read.
The unprecedented gay rights declaration was proposed by the French and read by Argentinean ambassador Jorge Arguello. The nonbinding statement is based on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, stating that "all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights."
The United States did not sign the statement, but former U.N. spokesman Richard Grenell said the U.S. was hung up on its "don't ask, don't tell" policy, which bars out gays and lesbians from serving in the military.
"The fact that the Bush administration hired as many gays and lesbians with top secret security clearances in and of itself means that we are not criminals," Grenell said. "To later suggest that because of 'don't ask, don't tell' we can't support this resolution flies in the face of real compassion."
Grenell added that before he left his post in October as the longest-running American spokesman for the United Nations, he explained to State Department officials that the United States should sign the statement immediately, as a means to show the Bush administration is compassionate and accepting. "Yet, they came up with this phony argument that legally they had a problem with 'don't ask, don't tell.'"
Sixty-six of the 192 member countries, including the full European Union, Central African Republic, Brazil, Cuba, Israel, and Japan urged the decriminalization of homosexuality on Thursday to fellow member countries. In addition to the United States, China, Russia, and all of the Arab nations refused to back the statement.
A rival statement, read by Syria, garnered 58 signatures, according to Bloomberg News. Syrian envoy Abdullah al-Hallaq, reading the statement, said homosexuality could "usher into social normalization and possibly the legitimization of many deplorable acts, including pedophilia."
More than 77 countries find consensual same-sex relations to be a punishable offense, according to the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Intersex Association. Seven countries -- Iran, Mauritania, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, the United Arab Emirates, and Yemen -- punish homosexuality by death.