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Religious Tolerance logo

LGBT Rights

2003: The U.N. Commission on Human Rights
discusses equal rights for gays and lesbians

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Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948):

When the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) was adopted by the United Nations  in 1948, the study of human sexuality was in its infancy. In particular, little was known about sexual orientation. Agitation for equal rights for gays and lesbians was not to emerge for decades.

Article 2 of the UDHR begins with:

"Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status." 1,2

Sexual orientation was not even mentioned. It was simply a non-issue in 1948. Unfortunately, the UDHR made no provision to accommodate societal changes that would lead to condemnation of new grounds for discrimination.

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Draft resolution presented by Brazil:

The 53-member U.N. Commission on Human Rights is charged with the responsibility of monitoring and promoting human rights worldwide. In 2003, the Commission was chaired by Libya -- an ironic situation, because that country has a particularly poor civil rights record. Brazil has introduced a draft resolution titled, "Human Rights and Sexual Orientation," which addresses the topic of equal rights for gays and lesbians. The text of the resolution follows:

"The Commission on Human Rights,

"Reaffirming the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination, the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women, the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child, "

"Recalling that recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world,"

"Reaffirming that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights affirms the principle of the inadmissibility of discrimination and proclaims that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights and that everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth therein without distinction of any kind,

"Affirming that human rights education is a key to changing attitudes and behavior and to promoting respect for diversity in societies, [the Human Rights Commission],

"1. Expresses deep concern at the occurrence of violations of human rights in the world against persons on the grounds of their sexual orientation;"

"2. Stresses that human rights and fundamental freedoms are the birthright of all human beings, that the universal nature of these rights and freedoms is beyond question and that the enjoyment of such rights and freedoms should not be hindered in any way on the grounds of sexual orientation;"

"3. Calls upon all States to promote and protect the human rights of all persons regardless of their sexual orientation;"

"4. Notes the attention given to human rights violations on the grounds of sexual orientation by the special procedures in their reports to the Commission on Human Rights, as well as by the treaty monitoring bodies, and encourages all special procedures of the Commission, within their mandates, to give due attention to the subject;"

"5. Requests the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to pay due attention to the violation of human rights on the grounds of sexual orientation;"

"6. Decides to continue consideration of the matter at its sixtieth session under the same agenda item."

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Reactions to the resolution:

The vote on the resolution was expected on 2003-APR-25. The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, (IGLHRC), an international homosexual-rights group, 3 reported that it has the support of Canada, New Zealand and several European Union countries. They have urged people to lobby five key countries in order to get the resolution approved: Argentina, Australia, India, South Africa and the United States. The vote was expected to be close, because the resolution is co-sponsored by at least 21 countries in the 53 member body. 4 There was speculation that the United States may abstain from this vote.

Several Fundamentalist Christian groups have opposed the resolution: 5
bullet  Phyllis Schlafly, founder of the Eagle Forum, said: "We don't need to get a moral instruction from Libya and Brazil. It's another reason for us to get out of the U.N."

bullet A. Scott Loveless, associate professor of law at the World Family Policy Center at the Mormon Brigham Young University" said: "It is highly likely that gay-rights advocates will use this resolution, if it passes, to advance their agenda to legalize gay marriage and to create hate-crimes legislation. In their quest to legitimize homosexuality, many of these countries have actually limited some of our most fundamental freedoms, including freedom of speech." He may have been referring to the decisions by two Canadian courts. A court fined one person who sponsored an advertisement which cited a biblical reference which advocated genocide of gays and lesbians. Another court fined a printer who refused to print letterhead for a homosexual-positive group.

bullet Jane Adolphe, assistant professor of law at Ave Maria School of Law asserts that the proposed U.N. resolution "opens the door for further attacks" on the policies of the Catholic Church. She said that: "Individuals could presumably use this discrimination language to bring complaints against the church with regard to hiring, employment, even the doctrines of the church itself." The Church currently discriminates in employment and ordination of lesbians, women, and sometimes against gays.

Other groups support the resolution:
bullet Amnesty International wrote in a statement: "This is the first time that a resolution specifically focusing on sexual orientation has been brought to the Commission. Its adoption is the only way to end the intolerable exclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people from the full protection of the UN system. A vote in favour of the resolution is not a leap into uncharted territory, but a necessary reaffirmation of rights firmly established in international standards. Governments who vote against will be signalling that they no longer believe in the fundamental premise of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: that all human beings are equal in dignity and rights, without distinction of any kind." 4

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Resolution tabled:

In the final meeting of the 59th session of the Commission on 2003-APR-25, the representative from Germany invoked Rule 50, in order to close debate on the resolution. The Chair proposed that the resolution be held over to the 60th session of the Commission. The representative from Canada then moved that, because of its importance, the discussion not be closed. They moved that discussion resume within two days. The Chair's proposal was then voted upon and passed by a vote of 24 to 17 with 10 abstentions. Canada's motion was not voted upon.

To our knowledge, the resolution was never passed. However, a resolution sponsored by South Africa and supported by Brazil did pass in 2011.

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References used:

  1. The text of the Universal Declaration is at:
  2. The text is available in other languages at:
  3. The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission has a web site at:
  4. "UN Commission on Human Rights: Universality under threat over sexual orientation resolution," Amnesty International, 2003-APR-22, at:
  5. "THE NEW WORLD DISORDER: Global 'gay' rights measure before U.N. Opponents fear resolution will advance homosexual agenda worldwide," WorldNetDaily, 2003-APR-25, at:
  6. "Action Alert: U.N. Resolution Needs Your Support . First-Ever Resolution Opposing Sexual Orientation-Based Human Rights Violations Set For Consideration April 23,"  National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, 2003-APR-18, at:

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Copyright © 2003 to 2013 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2003-APR-25
Latest update: 2013-MAR-23
Author: B.A. Robinson

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