Sun, Oct 03, 2004 - Page 6 News List

New UN policy compromises on gay partner rights

CULTURE CONFLICT Many Muslim and African nations objected to an earlier policy, so the UN decided to let the staff's home countries decide

AP , UNITED NATIONS

A new UN policy that took effect on Friday allows UN staff members' same-sex partners to collect benefits if permitted by the laws of their home countries.

The powerful UN budget committee had asked Secretary-General Kofi Annan to re-examine a directive that took effect Feb. 1, which allowed gay and lesbian partners of UN staff to receive benefits.

That directive angered many Muslim and African nations but was hailed by the UN's gay and lesbian rights organization, which had lobbied for years for medical, pension and other benefits for same-sex partners.

The 57-nation Organization of the Islamic Conference said it was ``seriously concerned about extending the scope of the family'' eligible for benefits and opposed ``the presumption'' that same sex partners should qualify, a view backed by a number of African nations.

In asking for a review, the General Assembly's budget and administration committee did not propose specific changes, leaving open the possibility that Annan could maintain the policy, modify it or abandon it.

The new directive abolishes the previous one issued in January.

That directive stated that ``family status for the purposes of entitlements'' would be determined using the long-established principle that such matters should be decided by the staff member's nationality and the laws of that country.

``A legally recognized domestic partnership contracted by a staff member under the law of the country of his or her nationality will also qualify that staff member to receive the entitlements provided for eligible family mem-bers,'' it said.

The directive that took effect on Friday makes no mention of ``family status'' or ``domestic partnership.''

Instead, it states simply that ``the practice of the organization when determining the personal status of staff members for the purpose of entitlements ... has been done, and will continue to be done, by reference to the law of nationality of the staff member concerned.''

It said requests for entitlements will be sent to the UN mission of the country the staff member is from to verify its laws.

The UN doesn't keep track of laws on same-sex marriages or domestic partnerships.

The vast majority of countries don't offer any benefits to gay or lesbian couples. But UN officials have said they are aware that the Netherlands recognizes same-sex marriages and a number of countries recognize domestic partnerships, including Sweden, Norway, Finland, Denmark, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, France, Germany and Belgium.

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