April 07, 2015 Practice Points

From Russia with Love

By Nick Kacprowski

On March 24, 2015, the U.N. General Assembly budget committee voted to reject Russia's attempt to strip employee benefits from the spouses of same-sex employees. The issues arose in July 2014 when U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon granted benefits to all same-sex spouses of U.N. staff. Prior to his decision, same-sex spouses were granted benefits only if their countries of nationality recognized same-sex marriages, even if they had been married in another country that recognized same-sex marriages. Thus a same-sex spouse of Egyptian nationality would not receive benefits, even if the couple had been legally married in New York.

Russia fiercely resisted the U.N.'s expansion of LGBT benefits to its employees. It based its opposition on an argument that the prior system based on the nationality of the spouse was "an example of how the U.N. respects cultural differences." The Russians also cited the financial impacts of increasing employee benefits as a reason for opposing the Secretary General's decision.

Russia's proposed measure to override the Secretary General's ruling failed in a vote of 80 to 43 with 47 nations abstaining. Countries voting against the measure included North Korea, Somalia, and Iran. The United States and the European Union countries led a diplomatic effort to defeat the proposal. The Secretary General's decision applies to approximately 40,000 U.N. employees.

Key Words: LGBT, litigation, United Nations, U.N., benefits, Russia, same-sex marriage

Nick Kacprowski is with Alston Hunt Floyd & Ing in Honolulu, Hawaii.


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