U.N. Extends Marriage Benefits to Gay Employees

Gay rights has long been an issue of deep hypocrisy at the United Nations. Although the organization promotes gay rights around the world, some gay employees’ spouses weren’t eligible for benefits until Monday, when the U.N. took a major step and extended benefits to all same-sex partnerships. Only staffers from countries where gay marriage was ...

Spencer Platt/Getty Images
Spencer Platt/Getty Images
Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Gay rights has long been an issue of deep hypocrisy at the United Nations. Although the organization promotes gay rights around the world, some gay employees' spouses weren't eligible for benefits until Monday, when the U.N. took a major step and extended benefits to all same-sex partnerships.

Only staffers from countries where gay marriage was legal were previously eligible, thereby limiting benefits to spouses from just 18 countries. Now, gay employees who marry or enter a civil union with partners from anywhere in the world can put them on the employee's health insurance, for example. The world body will also cover spouses' travel expenses when they join their partners on "home leave." Staffers posted abroad periodically may return to their home countries on the U.N.'s dime.  

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, a longtime proponent of LGBT rights, was aware of the disparity between the U.N.'s rhetoric and internal policy. In an article he penned in May, Moon noted that "equality begins at home and I am all too aware that LGBT colleagues at the U.N., and their families, continue to face challenges." The new policy will place the U.N. in conflict with some of the countries it tries to help most. According to Amnesty International, 38 of 54 sub-Saharan African countries have outlawed homosexuality. They also host a large contingent of the U.N.'s 43,000 employees worldwide.

Gay rights has long been an issue of deep hypocrisy at the United Nations. Although the organization promotes gay rights around the world, some gay employees’ spouses weren’t eligible for benefits until Monday, when the U.N. took a major step and extended benefits to all same-sex partnerships.

Only staffers from countries where gay marriage was legal were previously eligible, thereby limiting benefits to spouses from just 18 countries. Now, gay employees who marry or enter a civil union with partners from anywhere in the world can put them on the employee’s health insurance, for example. The world body will also cover spouses’ travel expenses when they join their partners on "home leave." Staffers posted abroad periodically may return to their home countries on the U.N.’s dime.  

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, a longtime proponent of LGBT rights, was aware of the disparity between the U.N.’s rhetoric and internal policy. In an article he penned in May, Moon noted that "equality begins at home and I am all too aware that LGBT colleagues at the U.N., and their families, continue to face challenges." The new policy will place the U.N. in conflict with some of the countries it tries to help most. According to Amnesty International, 38 of 54 sub-Saharan African countries have outlawed homosexuality. They also host a large contingent of the U.N.’s 43,000 employees worldwide.

"The U.N. will recognize status (marriage, common law, or otherwise) if that status is obtained in any place where that status is legal," Farhan Haq, deputy spokesperson for the secretary-general, told Foreign Policy. "The U.N. would continue to recognize that status regardless of where the relevant staff member travels."

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan was widely condemned when he signed a law in January criminalizing same-sex relationships, gay groups, and public displays of affection by homosexuals. Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni one-upped Jonathan in February, making homosexual acts punishable by life in prison. Kenya, host to Africa’s U.N. headquarters, also has strict anti-gay laws with convictions for gay sex punishable by up to 14 years in prison, according to Human Rights Watch.

Reid Standish is an Alfa fellow and Foreign Policy’s special correspondent covering Russia and Eurasia. He was formerly an associate editor. Twitter: @reidstan

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