U.S. officials said Tuesday they had notified the declaration's French sponsors that the administration wants to be added as a supporter. The Bush administration was criticized in December when it was the only western government that refused to sign on.
The move was made after an interagency review of the Bush administration's position on the nonbinding document, which was signed by all 27 European Union members as well as Japan, Australia, Mexico and three dozen other countries, the officials said.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because Congress was still being notified of the decision. They said the administration had decided to sign the declaration to demonstrate that the United States supports human rights for all.
"The United States is an outspoken defender of human rights and critic of human rights abuses around the world," said one official.
"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," the official said.
The official added that the United States was concerned about "violence and human rights abuses against gay, lesbian, transsexual and bisexual individuals" and was also "troubled by the criminalization of sexual orientation in many countries."
"In the words of the United States Supreme Court, the right to be free from criminalization on the basis of sexual orientation 'has been accepted as an integral part of human freedom'," the official said.
Gay rights and other groups had criticized the Bush administration when it refused to sign the declaration when it was presented at the United Nations on Dec. 19. U.S. officials said then that the U.S. opposed discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation but that parts of the declaration raised legal questions that needed further review.
According to negotiators, the Bush team had concerns that those parts could commit the federal government on matters that fall under state jurisdiction. In some states, landlords and private employers are allowed to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation; on the federal level, gays are not allowed to serve openly in the military.
It was not immediately clear on Tuesday how the Obama administration had come to a different conclusion.
When it was voted on in December, 66 of the U.N.'s 192 member countries signed the declaration — which backers called a historic step to push the General Assembly to deal more forthrightly with anti-gay discrimination.
But 70 U.N. members outlaw homosexuality — and in several, homosexual acts can be punished by execution. More than 50 nations, including members of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, opposed the declaration.
Some Islamic countries said at the time that protecting sexual orientation could lead to "the social normalization and possibly the legalization of deplorable acts" such as pedophilia and incest. The declaration was also opposed by the Vatican.