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Amy Sherman
By Amy Sherman May 10, 2018

No, Trump didn't vote for death penalty for gay people

A vote at the United Nations on a resolution about the death penalty has led to some inaccurate headlines about President Donald Trump.

"Trump votes for death penalty for being gay," said a May 7 headline on the WashingtonSources website.

The story, which repeats a claim circulating for months, said that the vote put the United States in the same category as China, Iraq and Saudi Arabia, and Egypt.

Facebook flagged this story as part of its efforts to combat false news and misinformation on Facebook's News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)

We found that the United States voted against a resolution that called for an overall ban on the death penalty, not a ban specific to gays and lesbians. The United States has said formally that it opposes the death penalty for people in same-sex relationships.

Death penalty resolution

While the story said that the vote "just" took place, it actually happened several months ago.

On Sept. 29, the UN Human Rights Council voted on a broad resolution about the death penalty. Among other things, the resolution condemned imposing the death penalty "as a sanction for specific forms of conduct, such as apostasy, blasphemy, adultery and consensual same-sex relations, and expressing serious concern that the application of the death penalty for adultery is disproportionately imposed on women."

The resolution also stated that the Secretary General had found discriminatory use of the death penalty, including based on sexual orientation.

The four-page resolution includes a long list of arguments against the death penalty, and said that states that have not abolished the death penalty should "consider doing so."

The United States was one of 13 countries to vote against the resolution, while 27 nations voted in favor and seven abstained.

(The story said that Trump took the vote, but technically U.S. voting decisions are reached through internal discussions involving senior officials.)

The U.S. statement about the vote made no specific mention of same-sex individuals. Instead, it said that the United States opposed the resolution because the resolution advocated for the outright abolition of the death penalty.

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"The United States is disappointed that it must vote against this resolution. As in previous years, we had hoped for a balanced and inclusive resolution that would better reflect the position of states that continue to apply the death penalty lawfully. We reaffirm our longstanding position on the legality of the death penalty, when imposed and carried out in a manner consistent with a state’s international obligations."

The Trump administration faced a barrage of negative headlines about the section of the resolution pertaining to people who are gay.  

Days after the vote, U.S. State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert reiterated that the U.S. was against a broad condemnation of the death penalty, but also spoke up about the portion that pertained to people who are engaged in same-sex relations:

"The United States unequivocally condemns the application of the death penalty for conduct such as homosexuality, blasphemy, adultery, and apostasy. We do not consider such conduct appropriate for criminalization."

Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the UN, also pushed back against the headlines. She tweeted Oct. 3: "Fact: There was NO vote by USUN that supported the death penalty for gay people. We have always fought for justice for the LGBT community."

Impact of the resolution

After Nauert’s statement, some gay rights activists remained critical of the vote.

The Human Rights Campaign stated that it "welcomes this clarification but continues to be concerned about the Trump/Pence administration’s engagement on the human rights of LGBTQ people abroad. It is disturbing that leadership in this administration did not discuss this position in their original explanation for the "no" vote."

According to the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association, as of 2017 there were six countries (eight if we count the parts of Syria and Iraq still occupied by ISIS) where the death penalty is implemented for same-sex relations. There were also five where it is technically allowed (if not actually invoked), and one where it has not yet been implemented.

John Fisher, Geneva director of Human Rights Watch, an organization that opposes the death penalty, told PolitiFact that the United States made clear that it's vote against the resolution was not based on the reference to same-sex conduct.

The United States has traditionally had issues with death penalty resolutions at UN forums, said Louis Charbonneau, the UN director at Human Rights Watch.

"HRC resolutions have political power in that they are expressions of a key collective body, the UN’s top human rights body," he said. "But they’re not legally binding in the way that Security Council resolutions can be."

Our ruling

A headline by WashingtonSources said, "Trump votes for death penalty for being gay."

In September, the United States voted against a four-page resolution about the death penalty that included a provision condemning the imposition of the death penalty as a sanction for "consensual same-sex relations." But the U.S. had another reason to vote against the resolution: The United States still uses the death penalty, and this resolution broadly condemned it. Days later, the State Department went on record stating that it "unequivocally condemns the application of the death penalty for conduct such as homosexuality."

We rate this claim False.

Our Sources

WashingtonSources, "Trump Votes For Death Penalty For Being Gay," May 7, 2018

Mission of the United States, U.S. Explanation of Vote: Resolution on the Question of the Death Penalty, Sept. 29, 2017

United Nations Human Rights Council, Death penalty resolution, Sept. 29, 2017

United Nations Human Rights Council, Membership on the Human Rights Council, Accessed May 8, 2018

Human Rights Campaign, "Trump administration explains vote against United Nations resolution," Oct. 3, 2017

AP, "In Africa, LGBT rights activists worry about Trump impact," Oct. 15, 2017

Forbes, "Death Penalty For Same-Sex Relations Denounced By United Nations," Oct 2, 2017

NBC News, "Following Backlash, US Clarifies UN Vote on 'Death Penalty for Gays,'" Oct. 4, 2017

The International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA) "UN Resolution condemns penalty for same-sex relations," Oct. 2, 2017

The International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA), "State-sponsored homophobia report," May 15, 2017

Snopes, "U.S. Votes Against United Nations Ban on Death Penalty for Same-Sex Relations," Oct. 3, 2017

Interview, Daniele Paletta, ILGA spokesman, May 8, 2018

Interview, Rolando Gómez, Public Information Officer Human Rights Council Branch OHCHR, Geneva, May 8, 2018

Interview, John Fisher, Geneva director of The Human Rights Watch, May 8, 2018

Interview, Louis Charbonneau, United Nations director at Human Rights Watch, May 8, 2018

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No, Trump didn't vote for death penalty for gay people

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