The United States has publicly declared that it will fight discrimination against gays and lesbians abroad by using foreign aid and diplomacy to encourage reform.
At the United Nations in Geneva, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said:
''It should never be a crime to be gay.''
Adding that a country's cultural or religious traditions was no excuse for discrimination, she said many gay people were being denied basic human rights.
"Gay rights are human rights,'' she said. "Gay people are born into and belong to every society in the world. Being gay is not a Western invention. It is a human reality."
The BBC reports her audience included representatives from countries where homosexuality is a criminal offence.
The Obama administration has directed federal agencies to consider gay rights when making aid and asylum decisions.
Similar policies already exist for gender equality and ethnic violence.