The United States, in a reversal of Bush administration policy, has decided to sign on to a U.N. declaration that calls for the decriminalization of homosexuality, the State Department said on Wednesday.
State Department spokesman Robert Wood said the Obama administration, which took office eight weeks ago, would now join 66 other U.N. member states who supported a U.N. statement in December that condemned human rights violations based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
"The United States is an outspoken defender of human rights and critic of human rights abuses around the world," Wood told reporters.
"As such, we join with other supporters of this statement, and we will continue to remind countries of the importance of respecting the human rights of all people in all appropriate international fora."
Gay rights groups immediately welcomed the move.
"The administration's leadership on this issue will be a powerful rebuke of an earlier Bush administration position that sought to deny the universal application of human rights protections to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals," said Mark Bromley, who chairs the Council for Global Equality.
The U.N. General Assembly had been split over the issue of gay rights, with many Muslim countries refusing to sign on to the statement because of opposition to international attempts to legalize homosexuality.
A rival statement read out by Syria at the time gathered about 60 signatures from the 192-nation assembly.
The United States was the only western state not to sign on to the gay rights document. All European Union member states endorsed it, as did Canada, Australia and Japan.
Statement affirms promise of Universal Declaration of Human Rights
UN Statement on "Human Rights, Sexual Orientation, and Gender Identity