US votes against UN resolution on death penalty for LGBT+ people

United State Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley. Seth Wenig, AP.

Friday, September 29, the United Nations Human Rights Council passed a resolution that condemns the use of the death penalty worldwide. For the first time since similar resolutions were passed, the language included parts about the use of the death penalty in some countries based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

The United States voted against the resolution. LGBT+ activists were outraged. The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) was among those blasting the Trump administration, calling out U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley by name, according to HuffPost Queer Voices.

““Ambassador Haley has failed the LGBTQ community by not standing up against the barbaric use of the death penalty to punish individuals in same-sex relationships,’ Ty Cobb, director of HRC Global, said in a statement,” HuffPost reported.

But it’s not as simple as it seems. The lengthy resolution covers many circumstances.

In one of its preliminary paragraphs, it states, “Taking note of the reports of the Secretary-General on the question of the death penalty, in the latest of which the Secretary-General examined the disproportionate impact of the use of the death penalty on poor or economically vulnerable individuals, foreign nationals, individuals exercising the rights to freedom of religion or belief and freedom of expression, and the discriminatory use of the death penalty against persons belonging to racial and ethnic minorities, its discriminatory use based on gender or sexual orientation, and its use against individuals with mental or intellectual disabilities.”

“But it isn't just this particular resolution or the current administration — the US has never supported any measure at the UN that condemns the death penalty,” says BuzzFeedNews. In fact, in 2014 the Obama administration abstained from a vote on a similar resolution that did not mention sexual orientation or gender identity.

“Charles Radcliffe, chief of Equality and Non-Discrimination at the U.N.’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, told HuffPost via email that the U.S. ‘consistently votes against or abstains on all resolutions having to do with the death penalty as a matter of principle ― and has done so for many years, including during the Obama administration.’ The ‘likely reason,’ he said, is that the U.S. is one of the world’s top 10 executioners,” the HuffPost article related.

It is significant that the resolution mentioned LGBT+ people for the first time, and significant that it passed without the US vote.

State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert essentially confirmed that the reason Haley voted against it was its position on the death penalty. "The United States voted against this resolution because of broader concerns with the resolution’s approach in condemning the death penalty in all circumstances and calling for its abolition," she said.

"The United States unequivocally condemns the application of the death penalty for conduct such as homosexuality, blasphemy, adultery and apostasy," Nauert said. "We do not consider such conduct appropriate for criminalization and certainly not crimes for which the death penalty would be lawfully available as a matter of international law.”

It would appear that LGBT+ activists should be condemning the US vote because it refuses to vote against the death penalty, rather than focusing on the inclusion of sexual orientation and gender identity for the first time. That is a broader moral position, and should be one that we embrace.

Copyright The Gayly – October 4, 2017 @ 5:35 p.m. CDT.