GENEVA (AP) — The United Nations issued its first condemnation of discrimination against gays, lesbians and transgender people on Friday in a cautiously worded declaration hailed by supporters including the United States as a historic moment.
Members of the U.N. Human Rights Council narrowly voted in favor of the resolution put forward by South Africa, against strong opposition from African and Islamic countries.
"You just witnessed a historic moment at the Human Rights Council and within the U.N. system with a landmark resolution protecting human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people," U.S. ambassador Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe told reporters after the vote.
Couched in delicate diplomatic language, the resolution commissions a study of discrimination against gays and lesbians around the world, the findings of which will be discussed by the Geneva-based council at a later meeting.
The proposal went too far for many of the council's 47-member states, including Russia, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria and Pakistan.
Speaking on behalf of the powerful Organization of the Islamic Conference, Pakistan's ambassador to the U.N. in Geneva said the resolution had "nothing to do with fundamental human rights."
"We are seriously concerned at the attempt to introduce to the United Nations some notions that have no legal foundation," Ambassador Zamir Akram said.
Nigeria claimed the proposal went against the wishes of most Africans. A diplomat from the northwest African state of Mauritania said it was "an attempt to replace the natural rights of a human being with an unnatural right."
The resolution passed with 23 votes in favor and 19 against, with 3 abstentions, including that of China. Backers included the United States, the European Union, Brazil and other Latin American countries.
"If you look at the history of human rights and the ever expanding circle of who counts as human, every time that circle has expanded there have been those that have dissented and in every case they have been proven wrong over time," Daniel Baer, a U.S. deputy assistant secretary, said after the vote.
Baer told reporters the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama had chosen what he described as a "course of progress" on gay rights, both domestically and internationally.
In March, the U.S. issued a nonbinding declaration in favor of gay rights that gained the support of more than 80 countries at the U.N. This has coincided with domestic efforts to end the ban on gays openly serving in the U.S. military and discrimination against gays in federal housing.
Asked what good the resolution would do to gays and lesbians in countries that opposed the resolution, Baer said it was a signal "that there are many people in the international community who stand with them, and who support then, and that change will come."
"It's a historic method of tyranny to make you feel that you are alone," he said. "One of the things that this resolution does for people everywhere, particularly LGBT people everywhere, is remind them that they are not alone."