UN OK’s Same-Sex Spousal Benefits After US and EU Convince Countries to Abstain from Vote

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UNITED NATIONS — The budget committee of the United Nations is usually sparsely attended and, to all but technical experts, downright boring, but on Tuesday morning it was packed and, for a budget committee meeting, downright lively, even contentious. The issue was spousal benefits for LGBT couples.

In a vote of 80 to 43 with 37 abstaining and 33 no-shows, the UN budget committee agreed with the Secretary General that the spouses of gay employees may receive benefits no matter the laws of marriage in their home countries.

Since 2004, the General Assembly had decided that such benefits would only be allowed if they were also allowed in the employees’ home country. Last summer, Secretary General Ban ki-Moon unilaterally overruled the General Assembly and said all spouses of gay employees may receive benefits. This drew pushback from Russia and from some of the Arab and Muslim states, including some from sub-Saharan Africa.

The issue surfaced at the budget committee of the GA last December, where the issue was deferred until this week. Russia said the Secretary General could not overrule a resolution of the General Assembly.

The United States and the European Union led the charge this week, going so far as convincing a large number of UN Member States to either abstain in the vote or simply not to show up. If the nations had followed the laws of their countries, advocates for LGBT benefits would have garnered only 40 votes (only 19 countries allow same-sex marriage with the rest either recognizing civil unions for gays or offering some sort of benefits).

Stefano Gennarini, legal expert at C-Fam and who followed the negotiations closely, said, “The abstentions and no-shows are the product of a six year campaign by the United States and the European countries to get countries to abstain during votes involving LGBT rights at the United Nations.”

Money also came into play. One European diplomat told Gennarini, “Countries from the European Union contribute over 30% of the UN budget and should have a greater say in how the money is spent.”

After losing, Russia said that, despite the vote, the Secretary General’s action was not “effective” because it contradicts the 2004 resolution of the General Assembly.

Follow Austin Ruse on Twitter @austinruse.