NITED NATIONS – Gay rights advocates scored a hard-fought victory at the U.N. on Tuesday when member states restored a reference to sexual orientation, dropped last month from a resolution opposing the unjustified killing of minority groups.
The removal of the reference, at the urging of African and Arab countries last month, alarmed human rights advocates who said gay people are among minority groups that need special protection from extrajudicial and other unjustified slayings. U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice at the time said she was "incensed" by the change and announced she would sponsor the measure to restore the language.
The battle underscores the divide between U.N. members with their diverse religious and cultural sensibilities on gay rights issues and sparked something of a culture war at the international body.
Belgium, Finland and other Western nations spoke in favor of including sexual orientation. A coalition of African countries said it was "greatly alarmed" that the direct reference to sexual orientation was included, and called it an attempt "to create new rights, new standards or new groups."
Boris Dittrich, director of the gay rights program at Human Rights Watch, said he was "relieved" by the vote, and credited Rice with introducing the new amendment.
"The resolution does justice to gays, lesbians and transgender people in countries where they are targeted for assaults and killings," Dittrich said. "Hate crimes on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity must be countered just like hate crimes on the basis of race or religion."
Mark Bromley, of the Washington-based Council for Global Equality, called the vote "an important victory."
Rights groups worked ahead of the vote to lobby countries that had abstained earlier in hopes of getting them to approve a U.S.-sponsored amendment to restore the words "sexual orientation." Colombia and South Africa were among the countries they persuaded to approve the amendment.
"The council applauds the principled leadership of the United States and other like-minded countries in restoring the language and staking out a clear claim for gay men and lesbians at the United nations," said Bromley, whose council aims to advance gay rights in American foreign policy.
General Assembly resolutions are not legally binding, but rather reflect the views of the majority of the world's nations.
The assembly on Tuesday voted 93 in favor of the United States' proposal to restore the previous language, with 55 countries against and 27 abstaining. The assembly then approved the amended resolution 122 in favor, with 0 votes against, and 59 abstentions.
President Obama said the vote "marks an important moment in the struggle for civil and human rights."
"The time has come for all nations to redouble our efforts to end discrimination and violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people," he said.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the U.S. reintroduced the language to send an unequivocal message that "No one should be killed for who they are."
"Sadly, many people around the world continue to be targeted and killed because of their sexual orientation," she said. "These heinous crimes must be condemned and investigated wherever they occur."
The call came after the UN General Assembly today endorsed a resolution on a moratorium on the use of the death penalty, the third since 2007.