UN to Vote on Spousal Benefits for LGBTs

AP Photo/J Pat Carter
AP Photo/J Pat Carter

A razor-thin vote is expected Tuesday at the UN that pits the power of the UN secretary general against the UN member states over marital status benefits for LGBT employees. The question is: what is the basis for allowing spousal benefits to UN-employed couples who are of the same-sex?

Since 2004, the UN has allowed such benefits but limited them to couples whose home countries allow for same-sex marriage. A same-sex couple married in Norway, for instance, may receive UN spousal benefits because Norway allows same-sex marriage. On the other hand, a gay couple from Russia, married in Massachusetts, would not be eligible for UN spousal benefits because their home country does not allow it.

Last summer, the UN secretary general issued new guidelines allowing benefits for same-sex couple regardless of the laws in their own countries. This was met with strong pushback from traditional countries in the UN budget committee in December, where the matter was deferred until this week. The question becomes: does the secretary general have the authority to unilaterally change a decision of the UN General Assembly?

The matter comes to a head Tuesday in what is called the Fifth Committee, the budget committee of the UN General Assembly. The matter is being pushed by the member states of the European Union, who say the secretary general has the authority to decide such benefits for same-sex couples. Because the European Union gives the most money to the UN system, its wishes hold great sway.

The move to block is being led by the Russian Federation, which, as a matter of principle, insists the secretary general does not have such unilateral power, particularly since the guidelines the UN has operated under since 2004 are based on a UN General Assembly resolution. Stefano Gennarini, legal expert with C-Fam (Center for Family and Human Rights), a UN-accredited non-governmental organization, told Breitbart News, “The Secretary General has openly defied that resolution. No matter how the EU tries to paint it, countries will not tolerate that the Secretary General follows directions of donor countries instead of the General Assembly.”

The push and pull of the UN Secretariat, headed by the secretary general and the member states of the General Assembly is an old story at Turtle Bay in New York. “General Assembly resolutions are the highest authority at the UN because every country has one vote. Once poor countries start losing their say through the GA, the UN becomes a tool for donor countries to do as they wish,” Gennarini told Breitbart News.

Gennarini, who follows the work of the General Assembly closely, said the issue will likely be decided by how many developing world delegations the U.S. and EU can persuade not to show up for the vote or abstain. He stated, “The U.S. and EU have been making the rounds for six years, begging countries to abstain or not show up for votes on LGBT issues.” He said the strategy has largely not worked, as LGBT issues have been stymied in the UN for years.

The issue will be decided Tuesday on how many Africans show up to vote and how many Africans and Asians will abstain. A handful of Latin American countries can be counted on to stand with Russia, including Paraguay, Bolivia, and possibly Nicaragua. Gennarini said the effort is part of a stealth campaign to inject LGBT issues into the lifeblood of the UN as part of a long-term attempt to make sexual orientation and gender identity new categories of non-discrimination in international law on par with freedom of religion.

Follow Austin Ruse on Twitter @austinruse.