Islamic nations, led by Iran, objected on Monday to a new U.N. policy that would grant health care and other benefits to the partners of gay and lesbian staff members and to unmarried heterosexual couples if their home country allows it. In a bulletin issued in January, U.N. secretary-general Kofi Annan took the cautious step toward recognizing nontraditional families, which U.N. officials said would affect only a small percentage of the staff. Iran, representing the 56-nation Organization of Islamic Conference, told a General Assembly finance committee that such a decision needed to be approved by the 191-member assembly and requested Annan submit "in writing a clarification and explanation."
While the issue has not been resolved, many diplomats believe a resolution on the subject opposing Annan would fail. "Whereas no decision has been taken by the General Assembly to change the long-established scope of the family definition for the purposes of entitlements, therefore there is no justifiable basis for the approval of expenses," Iranian envoy Alireza Tootoonchian told the committee. Envoys from Indonesia, Pakistan, Kuwait, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, Bangladesh, Cameroon, and the Vatican echoed Iran's view. But Mehmet Sahin Onaner of Turkey urged prudence and noted that Annan had respected the legislative authority of member states.
Margaret Stanley of Ireland, speaking on behalf of 25 European Union and associate members, called Annan's decision a "welcome step" that reflects his determination to modernize human resource management. She said she sees no reason to challenge Annan's prerogative as chief administrative officer. Canada and New Zealand agreed, with Canadian Jerry Kramer calling the decision "principled" in defining family status. The Bush administration, which is seeking a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, did not speak in Monday's debate. U.S. officials have not yet decided whether to oppose the new U.N. measure for American staff. The Netherlands, Belgium, and two Canadian provinces have legalized same-sex marriage. Scandinavian governments offer extensive nonmarital partnership rights for gay and straight citizens, while some comprehensive rights are offered in most Western European nations, Australia, and New Zealand. GLOBE, an advocacy group for U.N. gay, lesbian, and bisexual employees, has welcomed Annan's decision as a step toward recognizing diversity among U.N. staff and hopes all staff will be covered eventually.