India, the world's largest democracy, today voted in favour of a Russian proposal which sought to stop the United Nations from extending staff benefits to same-sex couples. India was in the company of conservative countries like Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.
The resolution was defeated, after a UN general assembly budget committee voted on the proposal with 80 countries against, and 43 for it. There were 37 abstentions and 33 countries chose not to vote.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon had said in July that same-sex couples, married in a country where it is legal, will be extended the same staff benefits as enjoyed by other UN employees. Previously gay and lesbian couples were granted benefits only if it was legal in countries of their nationality. About 40,000 UN staff around the world come under the purview of the policy.
India's vote was not surprising. Having same-sex relations is a criminal offence in the country. Saudi Arabia, China, Pakistan, Iran, Egypt and Syria were among other countries that voted in favour of Russia's proposal.
The United States was at the forefront of opposing Russia's proposal, saying it should never have happened. "We must speak plainly about what Russia tried to do today: diminish the authority of the UN Secretary-General and export to the UN its domestic hostility to LGBT rights," said US Permanent Representative Samantha Power. Russia said that was not the intention.
Petr Iliichev, Russia's deputy ambassador, stressed the changes made by Ban should have been in consultation with member states, and that nationality of staff members should be considered when deciding on entitlements. He cited previous regulations as "an example of how the United Nations respects cultural differences, the sovereign right of each and every state to determine its norms."
(With agency inputs)