Russia fails in benefits challenge for gay UN workers

24th March 2015, Comments 0 comments

Russia failed Tuesday to block a United Nations decision to extend full spousal benefits to legally married gay UN employees.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon last June gave same-sex couples the same benefits, such as pension entitlements and travel allowances, that heterosexual couples can expect, provided they were wed in a country where gay marriage is legal.

Previously, same-sex couples could only enjoy benefits if they were citizens of a country where gay marriage is recognized, which is not the case in Russia.

Moscow tried to block the initiative and demanded a vote before the Fifth Committee of the UN Assembly General, which manages the international organization's budget.

Russia argued the previous rules were not discriminatory and said the changes violate the sovereignty of states under the pretext of respecting human rights.

But Russia's appeal was roundly rejected by 80 votes to 43, with 37 abstentions. China, Belarus and Muslim countries like Malaysia supported Moscow. Indonesia abstained but voiced "strong objections" to Ban's decision.

European nations, the United States, Australia and Mexico were among those who rejected Russia's motion. For Samantha Power, the US ambassador to the United Nations, Ban was within his rights to make the administrative decision, which has no effect on national laws.

Russia's challenge "would set a dangerous precedent in diminishing the authority of the secretary-general and creating a legal uncertainty on the durability of any future administrative decision," Powers said.

She accused Moscow of trying to "export to the UN its domestic hostility to LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) rights."

Russia's LGBT community has come under increasing attack, with the government earlier this year passing a controversial law banning transvestites and transsexuals from driving.

In 2013, President Vladimir Putin signed a law banning the so-called "propaganda" of gay relationships to minors, despite an outcry from rights groups, Western governments and celebrities including Madonna.

Russia decriminalized homosexuality in 1993 and only in 1999 lifted its classification as a mental illness.

© 2015 AFP

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