The Obama administration Tuesday called on the U.N. Human Rights Council to fight discrimination against gays and lesbians around the world.
"Human rights are the inalienable right of every person, no matter who they are or who they love," Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe, U.S. ambassador to the council in Geneva, said in a statement. "The U.S. government is firmly committed to supporting the right of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals to lead productive and dignified lives, free from fear and violence."
The council has condemned human rights violations based on sexual orientation or gender identity, including rape, torture and murder.
"It is a really pressing issue globally that there continue to be killings on the basis of sexual orientation and persecution on that basis," said Suzanne Nossel, deputy assistant secretary of State for international organization affairs. "I think this will stimulate dialogue and increase recognition of the importance of the issue among governments."
The Obama administration's expression of support for U.N. action on the issue marks a change from George W. Bush's presidency. His administration generally sidestepped the issue in the United Nations.
The statement was the most recent in a series of moves by the Obama administration to show support for gay rights, including holding that the Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as between one man and one woman, was unconstitutional and moving to end the "don't ask, don't tell" policy toward gays in the military.
Last weekend, in a statement with Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, President Obama announced the creation of a government position to monitor gay rights in the Western Hemisphere.
Fred Sainz, vice president of communications at the Human Rights Campaign, a gay rights advocacy group, said the U.S. was finally stepping into the role it should have held all along as a worldwide leader in promoting equal rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.
"For those who have been denied their equality for decades, change will never come soon enough," Sainz said. "But there should also be no doubt that in the past two years more positive change for and on behalf of gay people has been made than ever before."