Why Did The U.S. Vote Against A Ban On The Death Penalty For Homosexuality?

The United States was one of only 13 countries that opposed a U.N. resolution condemning capital punishment.

On Friday, the U.S. joined 12 other countries in voting against a U.N. resolution condemning the use of the death penalty against homosexuals. It put us in strange company: The other “nay” voters were Bangladesh, Botswana, Burundi, China, Japan, Qatar, Egypt, Ethiopia, India, Iraq, the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia (which currently has the death penalty for sodomy).

Even with Donald Trump reversing advances in LGBT rights, it’s almost unfathomable that the U.S. would approve of executing people because of who they love. So why did we?

Because the U.N. Human Rights Council resolution didn’t just censure the death penalty for homosexuality—it asked member nations not to use it in a “discriminatory manner”—including against against minors, pregnant women, the mentally disabled, adulterers and blasphemers.

That’s a little too close for comfort for a country with nearly 3,000 people on death row.

The UNHRC has proposed measures calling for the abolition of capital punishment before——under the Obama Administration, the U.S. abstained from voting——but this was the first to include language about “consensual same-sex relations.”

A White House spokesperson told The Washington Blade that the U.S. “unequivocally condemns” the application of the death penalty for homosexuality, adultery and heresy.

“As in years past, we voted against this resolution because of broader concerns with the resolution’s approach to condemning the death penalty in all circumstances.”

Former U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice lashed against out the vote on Twitter: “Shame on US! I was proud to lead U.S. efforts at UN to protect LGBTQ people, back in the day when America stood for human rights for all.”

In a statement HRC criticized the White House and U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley for “failing the LGBTQ community.”

Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post via Getty Images

“While the U.N. Human Rights Council took this crucially important step, the Trump/Pence administration failed to show leadership on the world stage by not championing this critical measure. This administration’s blatant disregard for human rights and LGBTQ lives around the world is beyond disgraceful.”

If you’re an opponent of capital punishment, there is a bit of a silver lining: Only 20 people were executed in the U.S. in 2016—the lowest number since 1991.

Dan Avery is a writer-editor who focuses on culture, breaking news and LGBT rights. His work has appeared in Newsweek, The New York Times, Time Out New York, The Advocate and elsewhere.