In December 2008, 66 of the U.N.'s 192 member countries signed the declaration, with the United States being the only Western nation not to do so, a move that drew fierce criticism from gay rights and civil liberties groups.
The Bush administration defended the move by claiming the declaration needed further review. The Obama administration has a different legal interpretation. The State Department said that the endorsement "commits us to no legal obligations."
More changes to Bush's rules on homosexuality are likely to come in the next four years. Obama promised in his campaign to overturn the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy that stemmed from the 1993 law that forbade homosexuals from serving in the U.S. military.
In his latest rollback of Bush administration policies, President Obama signed an executive order Monday lifting the 7½-year ban on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research and a memorandum covering all scientific research. In a less-than-subtle criticism of Bush's ban, Obama said, "In recent years, when it comes to stem cell research, rather than furthering discovery, our government has forced what I believe is a false choice between sound science and moral values. In this case, I believe the two are not inconsistent," the president added before signing the order.
Obama said throughout his presidential campaign that he would overturn the ban if elected. President Bush banned federal funding for such research in August 2001, citing "moral concerns raised by the new frontier of human embryonic stem cell research. Even the most noble ends don't justify the means." Nearly six in ten Americans support loosening restrictions on federal funding of stem cell research. Proponents of stem cell research say Obama's order is a promising sign that progress can be made after a more-than-eight-year stalemate, while others say it is only a tiny step. Anti-abortion groups say the research is unethical and unreliable.
The debate on whether U.S. government should fund international family planning groups that provide abortions or related services has been brewing for decades. The "Mexico City Policy" that was signed into law by Ronald Reagan in 1984 was overturned by Bill Clinton in 1993 and restored by Bush in 2001. So, it was only a matter of time before the next Democratic president also rescinded his predecessor's rule.
Obama overturned the policy on Jan. 23, just days after he took the oath of office. "For the past eight years, [the restrictions] have undermined efforts to promote safe and effective voluntary family planning in developing countries," Obama said in a statement. Some international family planning groups hailed the decision, saying that Bush's ban discriminated against the world's poor by denying U.S. aid to groups that may be involved in abortion, but also work on other aspects of reproductive health care and HIV/AIDS. Obama's move was also met by criticism by Republicans and anti-abortion groups.