Why Did the Trump Administration Vote Against U.N. Motion Condemning Gay Death Penalty?

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley spearheaded the Trump position. FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images

The United States was one of 13 nations, including some of the most repressive nations on Earth, to oppose a United Nations motion condemning the death penalty for those in same-sex relationships, blasphemers and adulterers.

The United States voted in Geneva against a United Nations Human Rights Council motion entitled "The Question of the Death Penalty" on September 29.

The motion called for countries where the death penalty is legal to ensure it is not imposed in a manner that is "arbitrarily or in a discriminatory manner" or for forms of conduct such as apostasy, blasphemy, adultery and consensual homosexual relations.

The United States was joined by Botswana, Burundi, Egypt, Ethiopia, Bangladesh, China, India, Iraq, Japan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates in voting against the measure, which passed anyway, with 27 votes.

Rights activists have condemned the Trump administration and its U.N. ambassador, Nikki Haley, for refusing to back the measure, with the Human Rights Campaign slamming the decision as "beyond disgraceful."

"Ambassador Haley has failed the LGBTQ community by not standing up against the barbaric use of the death penalty to punish individuals in same-sex relationships," said Ty Cobb, director of HRC Global in a statement.

Susan Rice, ambassador to the U.N. under Barack Obama, said "shame on US!" in reaction to the vote.

"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," she tweeted.

Late Tuesday, Haley denied that the U.S. backed the death penalty for gay people, amid the mounting criticism.

"Fact: There was NO vote by USUN that supported the death penalty for gay people. We have always fought for justice for the LGBT community," tweeted Haley.

"Fact: The vote that took place in Geneva is the same US vote that took place under the Obama admin. It was not a vote against LGBT."

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert added that the U.S. "unequivocally condemns" the application of the death penalty to homosexuality, adultery, and religious offenses.

"We voted against that resolution because of broader concerns with the resolution's approach in condemning the death penalty in all circumstances, and it called for the abolition of the death penalty altogether," Nauert said in a statement.

The U.N. resolution in fact calls for states which have not abolished the death penalty to consider doing so. Seven countries abstained from the vote.

Haley is partially correct: Previous administrations have also refused to back motions critical of the death penalty, but some have chosen to abstain from votes. No U.S. administration has backed a measure condemning the death penalty.

In 2014 the Obama administration abstained from a resolution on capital punishments in the Human Rights Council, which did not highlight LGBT rights.

"International law does not prohibit capital punishment when imposed and carried out in a manner that is consistent with a state's international obligations," said Ambassador Keith Harper. "We therefore urge all governments that employ the death penalty to do so in conformity with their international human rights obligations."

In its statement following Friday's vote, U.S. mission to the UN spokesman Jason Mack said: "We reaffirm our longstanding position on the legality of the death penalty, when imposed and carried out in a manner consistent with a state's international obligations," but makes no mention of upholding the rights of those unfairly subject to the death penalty highlighted in the motion.

The U.S. has long executed more criminals than other nations. According to Amnesty International, the U.S. is seventh on the list of 10 nations in the world with the highest number of executions.

The U.N. vote comes a week after the Trump administration argued in court that federal anti-discrimination law does not protect gay people from being fired by their employers because of their sexuality.