The U.S. Senate fell five votes short of a two-thirds majority to ratify the U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The 61-38 vote on Tuesday, the nays all cast by Republicans, is no small embarrassment. Not only has this country defined the standard of civil protections for people with disabilities, but it rightly seeks also to persuade other countries to follow its lead in this and other areas of civil rights.
The international treaty was negotiated under President George W. Bush, with the ardent support of leading Republicans such as Sen. John McCain, then Sen. Richard Lugar and former Sen. Bob Dole, whose presence and plea for support were of no avail this week. President Obama signed the treaty in 2009. Modeled on the Americans With Disabilities Act (which was signed in 1990 by another Republican president, George H.W. Bush), the purpose of the treaty is to ensure that governments do not deny people with physical and other disabilities their right to participate fully in society. So far 126 countries, including China and Russia, have ratified the treaty.
Opponents claim the treaty threatens U.S. sovereignty and families home-schooling children with disabilities. Yet as Sen. John Kerry pointed out, the fears are baseless, and no U.S. laws will be affected. “[The treaty] will push,” he explained, “it will leverage, it will require other countries by their commitments to be held accountable to the standards that we have set, and take our gold standard and extend it to the rest of the world.”
Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader, has promised to bring the treaty to another vote in the new Congress. The Senate should not miss the opportunity to erase this embarrassment.