On December 30, the United States submitted its fourth periodic report to the United Nations Committee on Human Rights concerning the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which is one of the most important human rights treaties that the United States has ratified. In a major departure from a prior Bush Administration report, sexual orientation and gender identity issues featured prominently in this current submission, with an honest and reflective perspective on the state of LGBT rights in the United States. The report chronicles recent progress made to advance LGBT equality at the federal and state levels, including the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the passage of hate crime legislation, support for a variety of family recognition mechanisms, and the legal recognition of gender identity discrimination in the workplace.
When the United States presented its last report to the Committee on Human Rights in 2006, the U.S. delegation tried to deny the application of longstanding sexual orientation and gender identity protections under the ICCPR, even though the Committee has recognized rights to privacy and non-discrimination for LGBT individuals since at least 1992. During that 2006 review, a member of the UN Committee noted publicly that the U.S. delegation, which included the head of the civil rights division of the U.S. Justice Department, demonstrated a lack of awareness of the “longstanding and consistent” jurisprudence of the Committee on these issues. The UN expert expressed his concern that by denying the existence of these rights under the ICCPR, the U.S. government might suggest that persons of diverse sexual orientations and identities are not fully entitled to the rights to life and privacy under the treaty. In contrast, by reporting so extensively on LGBT-related concerns in this current UN report, the Obama Administration has now made an unequivocal legal statement recognizing that international law protects the human rights of all individuals, including on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Indeed, this is the legal justification for Secretary Clinton’s emphatic assertion that “human rights are gay rights and gay rights are human rights, once and for all.”The report also identifies a number of areas in which LGBT equality has not been achieved, but where the Obama Administration has been stymied by Congress, such as with the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act, and the enactment of federal workplace nondiscrimination legislation. The Council for Global Equality urges that the Administration intensify its work with Congress to prioritize these legal impediments to full equality for LGBT Americans.
This new report represents a positive milestone in efforts to ensure that U.S. laws and practices are in keeping not only with international legal norms, but with our country’s stated commitment to fairness and equal treatment under the law. The Council welcomes this important report by the United States as yet another example of the Obama Administration’s commitment to America’s LGBT citizens and to the rights of LGBT citizens everywhere.