[JURIST] The UN General Assembly [official website] was divided Thursday over the the issue of decriminalizing homosexuality [press release] as 66 nations signed a statement calling for decriminalization, and nearly 60 nations signed an opposing statement. The representative from Argentina, speaking on behalf of primarily European and Latin American countries, including the UK, Germany, and Brazil, read a statement urging states to:
take all the necessary measures, in particular legislative or administrative, to ensure that sexual orientation or gender identity may under no circumstances be the basis for criminal penalties, in particular executions, arrests or detention.
The representative from Syria, speaking on behalf of primarily African and Middle Eastern countries, including Iran, Iraq, and Egypt, read a statement affirming universal principles of human rights but expressing concern over attempts to introduce notions "that have no legal foundation in any international human rights instrument." The US signed neither statement. The statements remained open for signatures, no resolution was drafted, and no voting occurred on the issue. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official website] said Thursday that too many countries continue to criminalize homosexual behavior [press release]. Pillay said:
The ageless cliche that everyone is equal but some are more equal than others is not acceptable. No human being should be denied their human rights simply because of their perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. No human being should be subject to discrimination, violence, criminal sanctions or abuse simply because of their perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.
Gay rights have been a contentious issue worldwide with little global consensus. Last month, the parliament of Burundi criminalized homosexuality, and the Supreme Court of Nepal approved same-sex marriages [JURIST reports]. In October, the Portuguese parliament voted overwhelmingly against proposals to legalize same-sex marriage [JURIST report]. In the US, same-sex marriages are now permitted in Massachusetts and Connecticut [JURIST report]. In November, same-sex marriage bans passed [JURIST report] in California, Arizona, and Florida, leading to nationwide demonstrations [New York Times report; JURIST report] and a call from California's Attorney General [JURIST report] for the California Supreme Court to examine challenges to the ban's legality.