The UNHRC passed today a South Africa-sponsored resolution supporting equal rights for all without respect to sexual orientation. The vote tally was 23-19, with three abstentions. I'm having trouble finding a precise listing of which countries voted in what way, but the line seems to be that most of the support came from Europe and the Americas (including the USA), while most of the opposition was concentrated in African and Islamic countries.
UN Watch quotes some excerpts from speeches by various UNHRC members -- South Africa apparently received criticism from other African states for its sponsorship of the resolution, which Nigeria asserted "90% of South Africans do not support". Mauritania wondered if this issue was really on par with such important issues as the rights of women, while Saudi Arabia -- currently facing widespread protests by women seeking the right to drive cars -- complained that it "is not acceptable and reasonable to impose views on other countries and that this is not only contrary to Sharia but also to all other monotheistic religions" (of course, many denominations of many monotheistic religions have no problem with gay equality).
As pleased as I am that the normally-repellent UNHRC managed to squeak past a worthwhile resolution, I have to ask why folks even care. In New York, there is a razor-thin vote coming up in the state Senate on whether to legalize gay marriage. That's an important vote, because the consequence will be the enactment of real rights for the gay and lesbian community.
Resolutions at the UNHRC don't do that. They don't have force of law, and they have no impact on anyone's rights or responsibilities. What they provide, at least nominally, is moral force. And moral force is only as powerful as the moral credibility of the body making the statement. This, the UNHRC lacks. And I see no reason to ascribe it any.
Why should the LGBT community hinge the moral credibility of their case on the beliefs of the UNHRC? Why should they care about the perspective of a body in which a significant minority believes their equality constitutes "contempt to human rights" (Nigeria) or that they "jeopardize the entire human rights framework" (Pakistan)? Where tangible rights are on the line, one has to deal with repugnant minorities who have such views (presumably, some of the nay votes in New York have a similar perspective to that forwarded by Nigeria and Pakistan). But if all we're talking about is moral force, what has the UNHRC done to deserve the right to speak on the question?
Don't get me wrong: I'm happy this resolution passed. It's a good thing when any body (however narrowly) can commit itself on the record to supporting the equal rights and human dignity of all persons. But in terms of marking some sort of milestone or important accomplishment -- I don't see it. I don't believe in ascribing to the UNHRC that sort of normative legitimacy -- a legitimacy it has yet to, and I doubt will ever, earn.