From the confusion in the room, it was clear to Bilal Hayee, a UN delegate from Pakistan, that several countries did not know what they were voting for. He tried to re-start the vote, but failed. In the end, it meant that the UN late last month railroaded some nations into giving two international gay-rights groups lobbying access to its headquarters and agencies around the world, overturning previous decisions not to admit them.
Yvan Lapointe, director of the Gay and Lesbian Coalition of Quebec (CGLQ,), said he was "surprised and happy" with the unexpected acceptance and hoped to use the group's new status as a lobbying organization to improve gay rights in places like Egypt-a country that voted against them: "We'll not only be reaching out to homosexual activists in those countries, but we'll be asking our government why we're trading with them and others."
It is that sort of global agenda that worries social conservatives about groups like CGLQ and an also-admitted Swedish organization, RFSL. Beyond seeking to overturn violence against homosexuals, the groups advocate for family privileges such as gay marriage and civil unions.
For Americans, the impact of the UN condoning gay lobby groups may be slight. But especially in poor countries, UN lobbies have heavy clout. The UN already has extended international human-rights agreements to include abortion on demand. Using that standard, pro-abortion lobbies in countries traditionally inclined to outlaw the procedure have then pressured their judiciaries to change local laws. Following such a campaign, Colombia eased its abortion ban last year. Gay rights, it appears, are the next frontier.
"The tactics seem to be the same," said Susan Yoshihara, executive vice-president of the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute (C-FAM). "Re-interpret, (or) misinterpret, already existing human rights and falsely deliver it as a fait accompli to state parties of treaties through UN officials sympathetic to the cause."
The Swedish and Canadian groups join some five other gay-rights groups that have "consultative status" at the UN, which allows them to attend and speak at certain meetings and to advise nations. The UN's Economic and Social Council, or ECOSOC, approves or rejects groups' applications. Altogether, some 2,700 nongovernmental groups have the status, but the UN-until now-was wary of homosexual activist groups.
The United States voted to admit the two gay-rights groups-having last year rejected, then accepted, similar groups-based on whether the organizations could assert that they do not condone pedophilia. Otherwise, said U.S. mission spokesman Richard Grenell, it's "a human-rights issue. Around the world, in many countries, people are put to death [for being homosexuals]."
In the 1990s, the large umbrella International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA) tried but failed to win UN consultative status because one of its member groups was the unsavory and pedophilic North American Man-Boy Love Association.
Now ILGA encourages its member groups to apply to the UN individually. Last year three gay groups won UN access. Lapointe, of the Quebec group CGLQ, is also a North American ILGA representative.
That link worried Hayee, a second secretary in Pakistan's mission who also sits on ECOSOC's initial vetting committee. During its two sessions this year, and after much questioning, Pakistan and other nations in the 19-member body decided to reject the Quebec and Swedish applications.
Generally, ECOSOC respects the decisions made by its vetting committee. In this case the full, 54-member council overrode the committee.
Led by the European Union, the council at its late July session asked members to vote on the two gay-rights groups. But Hayee said the vote itself remained unclear through the process: Several delegates were confused about whether they were voting "yes" to affirm the committee's recommendation not to admit the groups or "yes" to admit the groups.
Indonesia hesitated, unsure. When Luxembourg did the same, it prompted the council president to explain more clearly what was happening. Hayee objected, asking for the vote to re-start, because the clarification should have come before-not during-the vote. He told WORLD that taking such a vote effectively nullifies the committee's research: "We oppose this process, which politicizes ECOSOC."