By Justin Sink
President Obama has directed U.S. diplomats to do more to promote gay rights internationally, Vice President Biden told a gathering of political leaders and gay rights activists Tuesday evening.
Hailing gay rights as “the civil rights issue of our day,” Biden said the protection of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender citizens across the globe was an essential issue for any “civilized country.”
The vice president said that while the U.S. could abide cultural differences based on religion, it could not permit persecution based on sexual orientation. Biden sounded alarm that countries like Lithuania were considering anti-gay legislation similar to what Russian President Vladimir Putin “has put through” in his own country, and noted than in 80 countries it was illegal to be homosexual.
Still, Biden said, he was encouraged by the advancement of gay rights in the U.S.
"The only reason that change is taking place is because more and more of you have the courage...to stand up and say 'I'm gay, I'm lesbian, I'm transgender,'" he said.
Earlier Tuesday, national security adviser Susan Rice called the protection of gays one of the country’s toughest foreign policy challenges.
"Governments are responsible for protecting the rights of all citizens, and it is incumbent upon the state, and on each of us, to foster tolerance and to reverse the tide of discrimination," she said.
Last week, the White House announced it would discontinue aid to and implement travel bans against Ugandan officials in protest of that country’s anti-gay legislation.
Under the laws, enacted in February, penalties for homosexual acts — already illegal — were strengthened, with homosexuals potentially facing life in prison. The law also calls for jail time for those who counsel gays and lesbians, and provisions penalizing human rights groups that provide services to LGBT individuals.
At home, the White House announced in recent weeks it was drafting an executive order barring federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation. The administration also said it would expand federal spousal benefits to couples which had gotten married in states that permitted gay marriage, but moved to states which did not.
The vice president's comments were warmly received by the assembled crowd, which included the ambassadors from Britain, Sweden, Denmark and Iceland. Perry posted a selfie with the vice president to her Instagram account, and said Biden had "made me call my 93 year old grandma to thank her for my baby blue eyes."