“Some have suggested that gay rights and human rights are separate and distinct,” Mrs. Clinton said at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, “but in fact they are one and the same.”
Neither Mr. Obama nor Mrs. Clinton specified how to give the initiative teeth. Caitlin Hayden, the National Security Council’s deputy spokeswoman, said the administration was “not cutting or tying” foreign aid to changes in other nation’s practices.
Still, raising the issue to such prominence on the administration’s foreign policy agenda is important, symbolically, much like President Jimmy Carter’s emphasis on human rights.
With campaigning already under way in the 2012 presidential contest, Mr. Obama’s announcement could bolster support among gay voters and donors, who have questioned the depth of his commitment. He chose the Rev. Rick Warren, a pastor who opposes same-sex marriage, to deliver the invocation at his inauguration. Mr. Obama himself has not come out officially in favor of same-sex marriage. But he successfully pushed for repeal of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy that prevented gays from serving openly in the military. And the Justice Department has said it will no longer defend in court the Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as between a man and a woman.
The initiative also invites attacks from Republicans trying to appeal to a conservative base in the primary and caucus states.
One Republican candidate, Gov. Rick Perry of Texas, said: “President Obama has again mistaken America’s tolerance for different lifestyles with an endorsement of those lifestyles. I will not make that mistake.”
It could also irritate some American allies, including countries like Turkey, where there have been reports of harassment, and Saudi Arabia, where homosexuality is banned and sex between people of the same sex is punishable by death or flogging.