Welcome to the Mission of Norway. I’m pleased that so many of you havecome to this event.
I would like to say a few words about why Norway attaches such importance to the General Assembly statement to be delivered tomorrow.
The principles of universality and non-discrimination apply to all human beings. The Norwegian government has a responsibility for realising these principles at home as well as promoting them abroad.
This year we are part of the core group of supporters of the statement. In 2006, in Geneva, we led the work on the Human Rights Council statement on sexual orientation. Such multilateral efforts compliment Norway’s bilateral diplomatic activities to promote human rights of all human beings irrespective of sexual orientation and gender identity.
At home, this is no longer as controversial as it once was. Norway has come a long way since the formal decriminalisation of sex between men in 1972.
In fact, Norway’s new Common Marriage Act comes into force in exactly two weeks. On January 1st 2009 the act will grant the same marriage rights to gay and straight couples. In addition, lesbian couples will be able to apply for government-subsidised fertility treatment (ivf) on the same grounds as heterosexual couples. Interestingly, opposition to the new act is mostly centred on whether the government should be subsidising ivf treatment at all, not whether gay couples should have equal access to it. The coming into force of the act is is seen by many as the culmination of the struggle for legal parity. It is the final frontier, if you’d like.
While the new Marriage Act is a reason to celebrate – and judging from the number of couples planning to marry in the new year there will be a lot of celebrations – we are mindful of the need to promote the interests of LGBT persons beyond the scope of legal rights.
To address this the Government earlier this year launched an action plan to improve the quality of life of LGBT persons. The plan involves a range of ministries and aims at providing an LGBT perspective on all relevant policy areas. Rest assured – an English-language version is on the way.
The action plan also sets out Norway’s commitments to promoting LGBT rights in our foreign policy and international development cooperation.
Championing the work of human rights defenders is a Norwegian foreign policy priority. This includes defenders of LGBT rights, such as Nepal’s Blue Diamond Society, who have played no small part in bringing about positive constitutional change. I would like to pay tribute to Sunil Pant, the Nepalese MP and founder of Blue Diamond, for his inspiring work. I am told that he will hopefully be joining us later this afternoon. Norwegian embassies globally support organisations similar to Blue Diamond in our promotion of civil society actors.
The Government is also committed to raising issues related to sexual orientation and gender identity with development cooperation partners, both in the context of regular dialogue sessions and, more specifically, in the development of national health plans. Initiating dialogue on these topics is sensitive, as I’m sure you will understand.
This brings me back to the value of tomorrow’s statement at the UN. The statement is both stronger and attracts broader cross-regional support than the 2006 text. With this statement I am convinced we’ll be better equipped to impress upon those who do not wish to discuss LGBT issues at all, that the time has come to face these questions head-on.