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Row over UN gay rules

By Dharam Shourie at the United Nations
April 03, 2004 19:35 IST
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After a heated debate, the powerful budgetary committee of the UN General Assembly  has asked Secretary General Kofi Annan to review the new policy which recognises gay and lesbian unions among staff  members provided the country to which they belong also does so.

Despite strong opposition by Muslim and several African nations to the new policy, the committee did not issue any directive to Annan but allowed him to decide whether to continue the policy or make changes in it. Annan had issued the executive directive changing policy that will allow partners of gay and lesbian couples to enjoy benefits that all married couples get.

The budgetary committee came into picture as the new policy has financial  implications.

Gay and lesbians, who had lobbied hard, had hailed the new directive which went into force on February 1, but the 57-member Organization of Islamic Conference strongly opposed that same sex couple get the benefit enjoyed by married couples. Several African nations supported this view.

UN officials justified the policy saying it applies only to citizens of the countries which recognise such  arrangements. For example, Netherlands recognises same sex marriages. Several others, including Finland, Norway, Denmark, Australia, Canada, France and Germany, recognise domestic partnerships.

The US has said it is concerned that the order was "divisive" and urged the UN chief to reconsider.

Annan's directive in part says: "A legally recognised domestic partnership contracted by a staff member under the law of the country of his or her nationality will also qualify that staff member to receive the entitlements provided for eligible family members."

Several speakers from Islamic and African countries argued that it was prerogative of member states, and not the  secretary-general, to amend the rules. They supported Egyptian envoy's view that the contribution by his country to the UN should not be used to pay the benefits for something that was against its culture.

But others equally strongly argued that the secretary general as the organisation's chief administrative officer has the right to amend the rules. The issue, they said, was not whether member states agreed or disagreed with any particular family model or relationship but rather the need to continue the long accepted practice of determining personal status for the purpose of  entitlements by reference to the law of staff members' nationality.

Ultimately, the committee adopted a resolution which asks the secretary general to re-issue the order, taking into account the views and concerns expressed by the member states. The language does not bind Annan to reverse or change the order and after review, he could just maintain the existing order.


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Dharam Shourie at the United Nations
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