U.N. General Assembly Cries "Nay" to Same-Sex Partner Issue

April 9, 2004 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - The United Nations General Assembly is now apparently engaged in a battle of wills with Secretary-General Kofi Annan over Annan's authority to grant family benefits to same-sex partners of U.N. staffers.

The General Assembly weighed into the thorny issue Thursday, rejecting the international body’s policy change and formally demanding that Annan take another look at the issue, the Los Angeles Times reported. Under Annan’s ruling, same-sex partners whose home governments have recognized their domestic partnerships received medical, pension and other benefits effective February 1.

The issue has been similarly contentious in the U.S. where a number of employers have taken similar moves to extend same-sex benefits while other areas of the country has seen often-bitter battles sometimes leading to an outright ban to the benefits extension.

Leading the charge against the apparent shift in U.N. doctrine were representatives of dozens of Islamic and African nations, as well as the Vatican.

Under most U.N. regulations, marriage has been defined as a union between a man and a woman – or between a man and up to four women for countries where polygamy is legal. U.N. legal experts relied in part on that elastic definition to include gay and lesbian staffers’ partners. But many diplomats complained that Annan was pushing a definition that the majority of the international community did not accept.

Iranian representative MehdiDanesh-Yazdi argued that the General Assembly – not Annan alone — should decide what constitutes a family. Saudi Arabian delegate FawziShobokshi said that same-sex marriage is a taboo in all religions and a “great evil” that threatened family unity.

The issue does not appear headed for an easy resolution since the effect of the assembly’s action goes beyond the dispute over definitions and benefits, challenging the secretary-general’s authority to make policy for the world body. That makes Annan’s office even more reluctant to alter its position.

Rosemary McCreery , the assistant secretary-general for human resources, said after the vote that Annan would reissue the benefits plan after reviewing members’ concerns, but would not change the policy’s substance.