Unmarried Same-Sex Partners of Diplomats Now Denied Visas Under Policy Touted as “Cruel”

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By Rachel Pressdee, Staff Writer


The landmark 2015 Supreme Court decision of Obergefell v. Hodges legalized same-sex marriage in the United States.[1]  The same cannot be saidof the majority of other countries.  Many countries continue to prosecute same-sex couples, making it impossible for some foreigners to marry their domestic partners.[2]  Beginning in October, the Trump administration began denying visas to unmarried same-sex partners of foreign diplomats and United Nations employees.[3]

The memo circulated on September 13, 2018,at the United Nations’ headquarters in New York indicates that the Department of State willno longer issue G-4 visas for same-sex domestic partners.[4]  Additionally, accredited same-sex domestic partners that currently holda G-4 visa must submit proof of marriage by December 21, 2018.[5]  Those that are not able to submit proof of marriage will have 30 days to leave the country.[6]

Some members of Congress have spoken out and described this policy change as “needlessly cruel,” “bigoted,” and “utterly unnecessary.”[7]In 2009, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, enacted a policy that defined “family” to include same-sex domestic partners of diplomats posted at embassies and the United Nations.[8]  This definition allowed domestic partners to obtain visas so that they could accompany their partners as members of the household.[9]  The same treatment was not provided to opposite-sex domestic partners, acknowledging that this policy was put in place to reflect the discrimination against same-sex marriage and same-sex couples in other countries.[10]  Of the 193 sovereign states that are members of the United Nations, only twenty-six, or thirteen percent, allow same-sex marriage.  In ten member countries, LGBTQ people face the death penalty for their sexual orientation.[11]

On October 8, 2018, 119 members of Congress sent a letter to the Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, addressing their concerns aboutthe new policy.[12]  The letter stated, “In reversing the State Department’s 2009 decision to provide visas to same-sex domestic partners, your department fails to acknowledge that in most of the world, same-sex domestic partners do not enjoy the possibility of marriage – and your decision undermines the validity of these diplomats’ relationship.”[13]

The Trump administration states that the policy was changed to be more consistent with the Supreme Court ruling in Obergefell.[14]  The administration says the policy ensures equal treatment for allcouples.[15]  The diplomatic notemade part of the September 19, 2018, memo positions that same-sex spouses of United States diplomats enjoy the same rights as opposite-sex spouses.[16] Therefore, the exception created in 2009 that allowed same-sex domestic partners of diplomats is no longer necessary.[17]

Same-sex domestic partners from countries that ban same-sex marriage must now choose betweenunfavorable options.  Those couples that already reside in the United States could get married here, where it is legal, but would then face criminal proceedings when they return to their home country.  Those that have not yet entered the US will now be forced to choose between accepting a posting at the United Nations headquarters or separating from their family.[18]

Representative Mark Takano, an openly gay congressman from California, urged the administration to reconsider the policy.[19]  Takano said,“Denying visas to same-sex partners of foreign diplomats and U.N. officials is a discriminatory reversal of a policy that recognized that not all same-sex couples around the world have the freedom to marry and unfairly targets LGBT families.”[20]

“Same-sex couples already face enough hurdles as it is to legalize their unions and to have these unions recognized,” said UN-GLOBE, an organization advocating for the equality and non-discrimination of LGBTI staff in the United Nations system and its peacekeeping operations.[21]  “This is why domestic partnerships matter: because, for one thing, it expands the number of limited choices available. It is unfortunate that it is in the United States that yet more hurdles will be faced.”[22]





[1]Obergefell v. Hodges, 135 S. Ct. 2584 (2015)






















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