AUGUST 2, 2002
www.houston voice.com HOUSTON VOICE
Gay group pushes for ratification of women's rights treaty
BY RHONDA SMITH
Leaders at the National Gay & Lesbian
Task Force urged the organization's members last week to lobby for a 22-year-old
international treaty created to promote
equality for women.
"Basic equality for women should be a
no-brainer," said Lorri L. Jean, executive
director of NGLTF. "yet the anti-gay right
wing in America has blocked this treaty
for nearly a quarter century."
Sean Cahill, director of NGLTF's Policy
Institute, said the gay political organization
is lobbying for U.S. Senate ratification of the
treaty, known as the Convention on the
Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination
Against Women (CEDAW), because of its
direct impact on women, including lesbians.
"Half of gay people are women so it will
have a direct impact on lesbians," he said. "But
also, it's about equality As a gay man, I should
be concerned about this passing as well"
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee
voted 12-7 on Tuesday, July 30, in favor of
ratifying the treaty, which urges nations to
remove barriers to equality for women in
education, employment, marriage and
divorce, health care, and other areas.
Under pressure from conservative opponents to the treaty, the Bush administration
recently asked the Senate to postpone a vote
on it until the U.S. Department of Justice
reviews it. Democrats rejected the request.
Bush officials and Republicans have
said the treaty's text is vague and that they
are troubled by related UN. panel reports.
They cited one report calling on China to
decriminalize prostitution and another
chiding Belarus for using Mother's Day to
encourage women's traditional roles.
Secretary of State Colin Powell said in a
letter to Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., who chairs
the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, that
while the Bush administration supports the
treaty's goals, it wants time to examine the
treaty and the "basis, practical effect and any
possible implications of the reports."
"It's not a long or complicated treaty,"
Cahill said. "For the Bush administration
to say the Justice Department needs to
review it is disingenuous. If he's opposed
to it, he should come out and say that."
Scott McClellan, a spokesperson for the
White House, told the New York Times that
the administration "strongly supports the
goals" of the treaty but has concerns about
whether it might infringe on U.S. laws.
The ranking Republican on the Senate
Foreign Relations committee's. Sen. Jesse
Helms of North Carolina, said in a letter
that the U.N. panel's findings "are simply
out of step with generally held values of
Helms is recovering from heart surgery
and voted by proxy against the treaty He
also has expressed opposition to the treaty
and accused supporters of it of having a
"radical abortion agenda."
Two Republican senators, Gordon
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Smith of Oregon and Lincoln Chafee of
Rhode Island, joined the Senate Foreign
Relations Committee's 10 Democrats in
voting in favor of the treaty
Republicans predict uphill battle
Before the president can consider the
treaty for ratification, two-thirds of the Senate,
or 67 members, would have to vote in favor of
granting advice and consent for ratification.
Lester Munson, a spokesperson for the
Senate committee's Republicans, predicted
the recent vote would only increase objections to the treaty.
"I think we're going to see a lot of people raise their voice with objections and
concerns and actual passage on the floor is
going to face a stiff challenge," he said.
The treaty's supporters hope to schedule a floor vote on it in the full Senate in
September, before the midterm elections.
The hope is that pressure from women who
support the treaty would push moderate
Republicans to vote for it.
Congress is scheduled to adjourn for
summer recess from Aug. 5 to Sept. 3.
"The reality is that the right-wing fears
that these treaties will undermine their
own rigid concepts of the family and religion," she said. "The right wing has used
this same anti-woman, anti-gay rhetoric to
oppose reproductive freedom and equality
for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender
people, both here in the US. and abroad."
Lynne Weil, press secretary for the
Foreign Relations Committee, said the full
Senate could possibly vote on the treaty in
September, if Senate Majority Leader Tom
Daschle (D-S.D.) places it on the executive
calendar for consideration by the full Senate.
Weil also said, however, that placing the
treaty on the calendar does not guarantee a
full vote will take place. The Foreign
Relations Committee approved the treaty
for a vote in 1994 but there were "anonymous holds" placed on it by unidentified
senators who did not want a floor vote on it.
The treaty has garnered little attention
since 1980 because Presidents Reagan and
George H.W Bush gave it a low priority.
The Clinton administration pushed to
have the committee consider it in 1994.
When Biden became chair of the Foreign
Relations Committee last year, Weil said the
supporters of the treaty began examining
the option of considering it again.
"To our mild surprise and pleasure," Weil
said, "the State Department under the current
Bush administration gave this treaty a more
favorable ranking than had been expected."
As many as 170 countries have ratified
the treaty, which President Carter signed
as he was leaving office in 1980.
The U.S. is the only industrialized nation,
among 21 countries, that has not ratified the
treaty Other countries that have not ratified
it include Iran, Sudan, Syria, Somalia,
Monaco, and the United Arab Emirates.
The Associated Press contributed to this report
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