The United States was one of just 13 countries to vote against a U.N. resolution banning the death penalty for homosexuality.
The mandate condemns the use of capital punishment in a variety of cases, including adultery, blasphemy, and apostasy. Thirteen countries still impose the death penalty for apostasy—or breaking away from one’s faith beliefs—and six countries mandate execution for those found convicted of homosexuality. These nations include Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen.
Saudi Arabia was joined in opposing the resolution by China, Egypt, Iraq, and the United Arab Emirates. The U.S. did not state its reasoning for voting against the mandate, which was a joint effort spearheaded by eight countries.
The U.N. resolution fortunately passed even without the United States’ support.
Calling the vote a “historic moment,” the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association condemned America’s resistance to the referendum.
“It is unconscionable to think that there are hundreds of millions of people living in States [countries] where somebody may be executed simply because of whom they love,” said ILGA Executive Director Renato Sabbatini in a statement. “This is a monumental moment where the international community has publicly highlighted that these horrific laws simply must end.”
The vote, however, represents a change in how the United States views its diplomatic role on LGBTQ rights.
Under Secretary of States John Kerry and Hillary Clinton, the Obama administration worked to advance queer and trans equality across the globe. The Trump presidency, as it works to rollback LGBTQ protections domestically, has largely remained silent on international human rights abuses impacting the community. It took months before the State Department condemned the brutal anti-LGBTQ purge in Chechnya. President Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson both declined to comment on gay Chechens being forced into concentration camps in an effort to “exterminate” them.
The Trump administration has been defending the choice they made during the vote, after a storm of criticism, with Human rights organizations calling the US position 'beyond disgraceful'. The US State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert clarified their position, saying the ‘no’ vote was because of broader concerns around criticizing countries ‘lawfully using the death penalty’, further adding that ‘the US unequivocally condemns the use of the death penalty for homosexuality, blasphemy, adultery, and apostasy.’
However, this didn’t prevent human rights organizations and prominent politicians from criticizing the decision. Director at the Human Rights Campaign, Ty Cobb slammed the US ambassador to the UN Human Rights Council Nikki Hayley, saying: ‘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.’
Continuing in a statement on their website, he adds: ‘While the U.N. Human Rights Council took this crucially important step, the Trump/Pence administration failed to show leadership on the world stage. This administration’s blatant disregard for human rights and LGBTQ lives around the world is beyond disgraceful.’
In addition to the six countries where LGBTQ people regularly face the death penalty, such laws are on the books in several other states—if seldom enforced. Sharia law in five nations, which includes Afghanistan and Pakistan, permits the execution of queer and trans individuals.
Homosexuality remains illegal in more than 70 countries.