Annan cold-shoulders gay UN employees

January 28, 2004

NEW YORK — UN Secretary General Kofi Annan took a cautious step on gay rights and common-law marriage on Thursday, extending UN employee benefits to domestic partners recognised as such by their homelands.

Addressing an issue quietly debated at the United Nations for years, Annan told UN staff that those with partners who are legally recognised in their home countries would now be eligible for family benefits and entitlements.

However, only a handful of the UN's 191 members have legalised same-sex marriages or give domestic partners legal status.

Susan Allee from UNGLOBE, the association of gay, lesbian and bisexual UN staff that was founded in 1996, said her group was not disappointed by Annan's refusal to extend the benefits to all staff irrespective of nationality.

"In the best of all possible worlds that would have happened, but most of us have a pretty realistic idea of how policy works in this organisation," she told AFP.

"We're very happy with this first step. We think the secretary general has done the right thing," said Allee, a US national.

"We've been working for this for many years."

A spokesman for Annan, Farhan Haq, said that only a "small number" of staff are likely to be affected by the decision, which comes into force on Sunday, and that most of them are unmarried heterosexual couples.

"We at the United Nations are neutral on this question," Haq said. "We are not conferring any additional rights but we have a policy of not taking away rights that are conferred by individual states to their nationals."

In his announcement to the more than 9,000 UN staff worldwide, Annan said the decision would "continue to ensure respect for the social, religious and cultural diversity" of the world organisation's member countries.

He said national delegations at the United Nations headquarters in New York would have to confirm the legal status of a domestic partnership claimed by any employee in order to receive the benefits.

One nation whose citizens would notably be left out of the decision is the United States, where the legal status of unmarried partners is decided by individual US states rather than the federal government. –Sapa-AFP

Related links and staries
UN to vote on sexual orientation [28/04/2003]
UNCHR considers sexual orientation resolution [25/04/2003]
UN Fails To Act On Gay Rights Proposal [25/04/2003]
Brazilian UN resolution (E/CN.4/2003/L.92) Petition



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