By Joe Jones
Get married or leave the country. This is the difficult position the United States is putting unmarried LGBTQ U.N. diplomats and staffers in who are currently working in the United States and living in the country with their same-sex partner. Starting now under a change of policy, the State department will stop issuing visas for the same-sex partners workers of U.S.-based international organizations and will only provide visas for those who are legally married.
A statement on the state department’s website indicates the change in policy is to treat same-sex partners the same as opposite-sex partners. “Effective immediately, U.S. Embassies and Consulates will adjudicate visa applications that are based on a same-sex marriage in the same way that we adjudicate applications for opposite gender spouses.” Opposite-sex partners are required to be legally married in order to apply for a special G-4 visa, which is intended for “Individuals coming to the United States to take up an appointment at a designated international organization, including the United Nations, and their immediate family members.”
In the previous policy created in 2009 by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, same-sex couples as “domestic partners” were eligible for the G-4 visa, as they fell into the category of “immediate family members”. Under the new policy they are not.
There’s one glaring flaw with the new policy. Not every country has legalized same-sex marriage. According to Human Rights Watch, only 25 countries recognize some form of marriage between members of the same sex. And in many more countries, homosexuality is still criminalized. According to Equaldex, homosexual acts between consenting adults is illegal in 73 countries. The International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association’s (ILGA) latest State-Sponsored Homophobia report finds that there are eight countries where homosexuality is punishable by death.
They do have the option of marrying in the United States to avoid deportation, but for many of them, they would be putting themselves at risk of persecution and oppression upon returning to their home country.
For those U.N. employees who live in any of the countries where they are not granted the liberty to lawfully wed their partner, they are offered the difficult choice of sacrificing their profession for their relationship or giving up love in pursuit of their career. And while the change in policy was claimed to be intended “to help ensure and promote equal treatment” between gay and straight couples, same-sex couples are at a disadvantage because there are no laws prevent which prevent consenting opposite-sex couples from marrying.
A former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power voiced her displeasure with the new initiative in a tweet, where she called the new policy “needlessly cruel and bigoted.” She also went on to say “Only 12% of UN member states allow same-sex marriage.”
Power is not the only to criticize the new change of policy. HRW deputy United Nations director Akshaya Kumar denounced the law as an act which will “tear LGBT U.N. staff” away from their partner. In a statement addressing the controversial decision by the State Department she said, “Requiring a marriage as proof of bona fide partnership is a bad and cruel policy, one that replicates the terrible discrimination many LGBT people face in their own countries.”
The Trump administration is quick to reject the notion the policy is an intended offensive directed at the LGBTQ community. "This is certainly not an attack. It was not meant as an attack; it is not meant to be punitive. It is a recognition and a codification of the fact that same-sex marriage is legal in the United States."
According to NPR, administration officials say there are 105 families which will be affected by the halting of visas for same-sex couples and their partners. NPR also claims the administration is open to exceptions to the policy. “The administration is prepared to work with diplomats from countries where same-sex marriage is illegal, provided the country offers equivalent protections to LGBTQ diplomats from the U.S.”
After December 31st, Same-sex couples from abroad hoping to stay in the country will have 30 days to get married and change their visa status or leave the country.