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UN Conditionally Recognizes Gay Marriages - 2004-01-29

The United Nations has decided to recognize same sex marriages involving staff members if the union is valid in the employees' home country. The decision will entitle gay partners of some but not all employees to the same rights as other U.N. spouses.

Secretary General Kofi Annan has ruled that marriages recognized under the law of a U.N. employee's home country will qualify that employee for all benefits provided to eligible family members. In a bulletin issued Thursday, Mr. Annan ordered the new policy effective February 1.

U.N. spokeswoman Marie Okabe says the ruling is consistent with a long-standing U.N. policy of taking into consideration a staff member's nationality when determining that employee's family status.

"There's been a growing trend over the past few years in several member-states toward recognition of same sex marriages or recognition of domestic partnerships that may involve partners of the same or different sex," she said. "The bulletin acknowledges this trend and simply extends to these new situations the existing practice of accepting as a fact the family status of U.N. staff members as determined by the laws of the country of their nationality."

Ms. Okabe said she does not know how many employees might be affected by the ruling. She said authorities are waiting to see how many applications come in. She said the list of countries recognizing same sex marriages is, in her words, not very long.

Gay couples from countries that do not recognize same sex unions would not be affected by the secretary-general's ruling

Canada, the Netherlands and Belgium permit same sex unions. Most western European countries, along with Australia and New Zealand, also provide some rights to couples, regardless of sexual orientation.

In the United States, laws governing marriage are the jurisdiction of the states, and one state - Vermont - recognizes same sex civil unions. Officials at the U.S. mission to the United Nations had no immediate comment on how the ruling would affect U.S. citizens employed by the world body.

U.N. officials estimate nearly 2,000 U.S. citizens work for the U.N. secretariat, most of them in New York. Thousands more work for U.N. agencies and subdivisions worldwide.