UN Human Rights Council passes historic gay rights resolution

By Rebecca Devitt

21 June 2011

On Friday 17 June, the United Nations Human Rights Council passed a historic resolution on the rights of gay, lesbian and transgender people that “seeks equal rights for everyone regardless of their sexual orientation.” The resolution passed following a tense debate and narrow vote, in which African states accused South Africa of breaking ranks with the region following its introduction of the resolution.

The resolution, which passed with 23 votes in favour, 19 against and 3 abstentions was strongly opposed by the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC), with Pakistan’s envoy stating that there is serious concern “at the attempt to introduce to the UN some notion that has no legal foundations in any international human rights instruments.”

The resolution has been hailed as an historic step towards ending discrimination and stopping human rights abuses against gay and lesbian individuals. Rights activists called the resolution an important shift on an issue that has divided the “global body for decades.”

In a statement, U.S Secretary of State Hilary Rodham Clinton said the resolution “represents a historic moment to highlight the human rights abuses and violations that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people face around the world based solely on who they are and whom they love.” Whilst the US envoy Eileen Donahoe stated that “today we’ve taken an important step forward in our recognition that human rights are indeed universal.”

The introduction of the UN resolution on gay rights comes as pressure mounts on the Australian government to recognize same-sex marriage. On Sunday, during its state conference, the Australian Labor Party (ALP) Queensland voted in favour of allowing same-sex couples to marry, despite opposition from Prime Minister Julia Gillard.

Queensland Premier Anna Bligh backed the move to legalise same-sex marriage stating that marriage equality was an “issue of basic human rights and fairness.”

There has been renewed debate in Australia on gay rights in recent days with independent federal MP Andrew Wilkie calling on the government to lift a ban which prevents same-sex couples from marrying overseas, whilst the Australian Christian Lobby has urged the Labor government to focus on other issues rather then being fixated on a “political trophy being sought by the activist component of 2 per cent of the population.”

This is despite an indication that changes to the Marriage Act 1961 (Cth) has widespread community support, with a Galaxy Poll suggesting that 62 per cent of Australians agree that gay and lesbian couples should be able to marry and three in four Australian’s believe that a legal change to allow same-sex marriage is inevitable.

The UN Human Rights Council Resolution can be found here.