GENEVA -- The Obama administration bluntly warned the world against gay and lesbian discrimination yesterday, declaring the United States will use foreign assistance as well as diplomacy to back its insistence that gay rights are fully equal to other basic human rights.
In unusually strong language, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton compared the struggle for gay equality to difficult passages toward women's rights and racial equality, and she said a country's cultural or religious traditions are no excuse for discrimination.
"Gay rights are human rights, and human rights are gay rights," she said. "It should never be a crime to be gay."
Clinton's audience included diplomats from Arab, African and other nations where homosexuality is criminalized or where brutality and discrimination against gay people is tolerated or encouraged.
Many of the ambassadors in the audience responded with stony faces and rushed out of the room as soon as Clinton finished speaking.
President Barack Obama directed the State Department and other agencies to make sure U.S. diplomacy and foreign assistance promote gay rights and fight discrimination. But there are no specific new consequences for poor performers, meaning the directive is more of a challenge to other governments than a threat.
In announcing the policy, the United States did not point to individual countries with specifically poor records on gay rights, although an annual State Department accounting of global human rights has cited abuses against gays by such friends as Saudi Arabia.
A White House official said yesterday's announcement marked the first U.S. government strategy to combat human rights abuses against gays and lesbians abroad.