President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hilary Clinton announced on Tuesday that the United States will use foreign aid as a tool to promote the human rights of gay and lesbians around the globe in a move that supporters are already saying will be hailed as an historic step to combat world-wide discrimination against Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered (LGBT) individuals.  

Obama issued a memorandum early Tuesday directing U.S. executive departments and agencies to look for ways to combat efforts by foreign governments to criminalize homosexuality, a point that Clinton underscored that same day during a speech in Geneva, Switzerland given in connection with International Human Rights Day on Dec. 10.

Gay rights are human rights and human rights are gay rights, Clinton said, while also acknowledging America's own record on LGBT equality is far from perfect.

The directive from Obama reportedly came after Uganda reopened debate on a contentious bill that would aim to outlaw homosexuality in the country by allowing the death penalty to be applied to gays and lesbians. The administration is launching a $3 million global equity fund to support the work of civil organizations working to promote and protect the human rights of those who identify as LGBT.

I am not saying that gay people can't or don't commit crimes, Clinton said. They can and they do. Just like straight people. And when they do, they should be held accountable. But it should never be a crime to be gay.

Human Rights Issue

In his memorandum, Obama wrote that ending the discrimination against LGBT in central to the U.S. commitment to promote human rights.

I am deeply concerned by the violence and discrimination targeting LGBT persons around the world, whether it is passing laws that criminalize LGBT status, beating citizens simply for joining peaceful LGBT pride celebrations, or killing men, women, and children for their perceived sexual orientation, the memorandum states.

It is unclear as to whether the president is indicating the U.S. will cut off foreign aid to countries that criminalize gays and lesbians. For instance, American ally Saudi Arabia's Sharia law states that sexual activity between two persons of the same gender is punishable by death or flogging.

Amnesty International reports there are still 80 countries with sodomy laws, with punishments ranging from imprisonment, flogging and death. The organization reports it is particularly concerned about the state of LGBT rights in multiple countries that currently have diplomatic relations with the U.S., including Cameroon, Russia, Mexico and Nigeria.

The Obama administration's directive has been praised by LGBT organizations including the National Center for Lesbian Rights, the National Center for Transgender Equality and the Human Rights Campaign.

As Americans, we understand that no one should be made a criminal or subject to violence or even death because of who they are, no matter where they live, Joe Solmonese, the president of the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement. Today's actions by President Obama make clear that the United States will not turn a blind eye when governments commit or allow abuses to the human rights of LGBT people.

The move will likely be targeted during the 2012 presidential campaign, where every Republican vying for their Party's nomination is staunchly against legalizing gay marriage. Gov. Rick Perry has already spoken out against the memorandum, saying in a statement that the Obama administration's war on traditional American values must stop.

President Obama has again mistaken America's tolerance for different lifestyles with an endorsement of those lifestyles. I will not make that mistake, Perry said.

Although Obama has repealed Don't Ask, Don't Tell, the law banning gays and lesbians from opening serving in the military, and has advocated the repeal of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, he has still come under fire for failing to clearly state whether or not he supports gay marriage. During an interview with ABC News in October, Obama said that while there is no doubt that gay couples can raise thriving families, his position on the issue of same-sex marriage is still evolving.