The move is a reversal of the position taken by the Bush administration, which refused to sign onto the document when it was first circulated late last year. It has already been endorsed by 66 other countries, including the entire European Union, Japan, Australia, and Mexico.
"The United States supports the UN Statement on 'Human Rights, Sexual Orientation, and Gender Identity,' and is pleased to join the other 66 UN member states who have declared their support of this Statement that condemns human rights violations based on sexual orientation and gender identity wherever they occur," State Department acting spokesman Robert Wood said in a statement.
"The United States is an outspoken defender of human rights and critic of human rights abuses around the world. As such, we join with the other supporters of this Statement and we will continue to remind countries of the importance of respecting the human rights of all people in all appropriate international fora," Wood added.
The Bush administration had argued that endorsing the declaration might force the federal government to take positions on issues left up to states, like gay marriage.
The Obama administration appears to have a different legal interpretation. The State Department said today that signing onto the declaration "commits us to no legal obligations." A State Department official points out that only six of the 66 signatories to the declaration have legalized gay marriage, an illustration that the endorsement does not commit anyone to do so.
The United States notified the French, who sponsored the declaration, yesterday and informed lawmakers on Capitol Hill of the decision last night.