New instructions issued by the Obama administration call for the first time on US government agencies to consider gay rights when deciding aid and asylum cases.

It is the first US government strategy dedicated to combating rights abuses against gay people abroad.

In the memo, issued yesterday, Obama writes: “The struggle to end discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons is a global challenge, and one that is central to the United States commitment to promoting human rights. “

He adds: “Our deep commitment to advancing the human rights of all people is strengthened when we as the United States bring our tools to bear to vigorously advance this goal.“

Obama instructs the executive departments to combat criminalization, protect vulnerable LGBT refugees and asylum seekers, and ensure “swift and meaningful” reactions to human rights abuses, and instructs agencies to report annually on their progress.

Sanctions for countries which do perform rights abuses are not specified in the memo, which tells agencies to “ensure that U.S. diplomacy and foreign assistance promote and protect the human rights of LGBT persons.”

Last month, the UK government confirmed it would be redirecting aid money away from central governments who refuse to recognise gay rights.

The UK policy was roundly denounced by several Commonwealth governments who see it as an attempt to influence domestic policy by withholding aid.

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe called the policy “satanic”.

The move to publicly support foreign rights through diplomacy and aid decisions has also drawn criticism from Republican candidates in next year’s presidential race.

Repbulican presidential hopeful Rick Perry said: “Just when you thought Barack Obama couldn’t get any more out of touch with America’s values, AP reports his administration wants to make foreign aid decisions based on gay rights.

“This administration’s war on traditional American values must stop.”

He concluded: “President Obama has again mistaken America’s tolerance for different lifestyles with an endorsement of those lifestyles.“

Santorum added: “Obviously the administration is promoting their particular agenda in this country, and now they feel its their obligation to promote those values not just in the military, not just in our society, but now around the world with taxpayer dollars.“