UNITED NATIONS — The U.N. will now give benefits to all spouses of gay U.N. staffers who are legally married after Russia and other opponents of same-sex marriage failed Tuesday in an attempt to scuttle the plan by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
Currently, family benefits for U.N. staff members are determined by their country of origin. The secretary-general's plan will give family benefits to all staffers who are legally married — regardless of the laws on same-sex marriage in their home countries.
Tuesday's vote in the General Assembly's budget committee was key because it must approve additional funding to pay for the new benefits.
U.N. deputy spokesman Farhan Haq said "this means that the policy stands," adding that Ban welcomes the affirmation of his authority under the U.N. Charter to make such decisions. Ban has been an outspoken supporter of gay rights.
Forty-three countries supported a Russian-sponsored resolution that called for the U.N. chief's plan to be dropped, while 80 countries opposed it and 37 abstained. The Russian resolution was supported by many Arab and Muslim countries as well as China, India and Zimbabwe.
Members of the European Union and the United States lobbied hard against the resolution and were relieved that it was defeated.
"We must speak plainly about what Russia tried to do today: diminish the authority of the U.N. secretary-general and export to the U.N. its domestic hostility to LGBT rights," U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power said in a statement after the vote, using the initials of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.
Power and others said the vote "never should have happened" and set "a dangerous precedent in challenging the secretary-general's authority to make administrative decisions."
Jessica Stern, executive director of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, said "the vote offered a new twist on the kind of homophobic scapegoating we see globally."
"This was a disingenuous effort to shed the dignity of LGBT employees at the U.N., while clawing at the authority of the secretary general," she said. "Those who sided with Russia should be ashamed of such a craven vote."
Russia strongly opposes same-sex marriage and has adopted laws restricting gay rights activities.
The country's deputy ambassador Petr Iliichev alluded to this in urging support for the resolution, saying the directive Ban issued last June can provide the basis "for legal conflict with national legislation" of U.N. member states.
Iliichev criticized the secretary-general for adopting a plan that he said discriminates against many member states and changes a nearly 70-year-old policy.
"We think we should leave the status quo. It is an example of how the United Nations respects cultural differences," Iliichev said.