Report

Trump Administration to Deny Visas to Same-Sex Partners of Diplomats, U.N. Officials

The new policy will insist they be married—even if they're from countries that criminalize gay marriage.

Rainbow flags appear during event hosted by U.N. Globe, a U.N. LGBTI advocacy group, celebrating International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia on May 17 at United Nations Office in Nairobi. (Photo credit: Yasuyoshi Chiba/AFP/Getty Images)
Rainbow flags appear during event hosted by U.N. Globe, a U.N. LGBTI advocacy group, celebrating International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia on May 17 at United Nations Office in Nairobi. (Photo credit: Yasuyoshi Chiba/AFP/Getty Images)

The Trump administration on Monday began denying visas to same-sex domestic partners of foreign diplomats and United Nations employees, and requiring those already in the United States to get married by the end of the year or leave the country.

The U.S. Mission to the U.N. portrayed the decision—which foreign diplomats fear will increase hardships for same-sex couples in countries that don’t recognize same-sex marriage—as an effort to bring its international visa practices in line with current U.S. policy. In light of the landmark 2015 Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage, the U.S. extends diplomatic visas only to married spouses of U.S. diplomats.

“Same-sex spouses of U.S. diplomats now enjoy the same rights and benefits as opposite-sex spouses,” the U.S. mission wrote in a July 12 note to U.N.-based delegations. “Consistent with [State] Department policy, partners accompanying members of permanent missions or seeking to join the same must generally be married in order to be eligible” for a diplomatic visa.

But critics says the new policy will impose undue hardships on foreign couples from countries that criminalize same-sex marriages.

Samantha Power, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, denounced the new policy on Twitter as “needlessly cruel & bigoted.”

“State Dept. will no longer let same-sex domestic partners of UN employees get visas unless they are married,” she tweeted, noting that “only 12% of UN member states allow same-sex marriage.”

In July, the U.S. mission sent out diplomatic notes to the United Nations and representatives for foreign diplomatic missions explaining the new policy, which reversed a 2009 decision by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to grant visas to domestic partners of U.S. and foreign diplomats. The contents of the diplomatic note were first reported in August by the Washington Blade. The 2009 policy, however, did not allow a heterosexual domestic partner of a U.S. or foreign diplomat to enter the country on a diplomatic visa.

The new policy —which enters into force Monday—requires that foreign domestic partners of diplomats and U.N. officials posted in the United States must show the State Department proof of marriage by Dec. 31, or leave the country within 30 days. As of today, domestic partners of diplomats and U.N. officials based abroad will need to show they are married in order to enter the country on a diplomatic visa. The latest policy change, the United States explained in the note, was aimed at ensuring all couples were treated equally.

“The Department of State will not issue a G-4 visa for same-sex domestic partners,” the U.N. human resources chief explained in a note distributed to staff last month. “As of 1 October 2018, same-sex domestic partners … seeking to join newly arrived U.N. officials must provide proof of marriage to eligible for a G-4 visa or to seek a change in such status.”

There are currently at least 10 U.N. employees in the United States who would need to get married by the New Year to have their partners’ visas extended.

The new policy poses a number of risks for same-sex partners, according to Alfonso Nam, the president of U.N. Globe, a U.N. LGBTI staff advocacy organization.

Same-sex couples already inside of the United States could go to city hall and get married. But they could potentially be exposed to prosecution if they return to a country that criminalizes homosexuality or same-sex marriages.

The United States informed foreign governments that they would allow “limited exceptions” to its new policy in cases involving diplomats from countries where same-sex marriage is illegal. But that government would have to provide documentation proving that same-sex marriage was illegal and commit to accepting same-sex partners of U.S. diplomats.

Yet that exception was not offered to U.N. officials.

“With this change, the State Department is enforcing parity in the way they recognize opposite-sex partnerships and same-sex partnerships,” U.N. Globe said in a statement. “It is an unfortunate change in rules, since same-sex couples, unlike opposite-sex couples, have limited choices when it comes to marriage.”

This story has been updated.

Colum Lynch is Foreign Policy’s award-winning U.N.-based senior diplomatic reporter. @columlynch

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