The truth about the new State Department policy regarding visas for foreign diplomats with same-sex partners
The reporting by many publications on the Trump Administration's new policy on awarding visas to U.N. officials and foreign diplomats from other countries who are in same-sex relationships has generated fear and anger by many in the LGBT community. Most articles would have you believe from their headlines and content that the new State Department policy will halt visas for same-sex partners of foreign diplomats, so it’s understandable why people are worked up. So was I when I first read it. The only problem with this narrative is, it isn’t actually true. Because there is so much disinformation going on regarding this policy right now, I want to take a moment and make sure everyone knows what the policy actually says, why it changed, and what it really means for LGBT equality across the globe.
Before I took a stance one way or the other, I definitely wanted to make sure I fully understood the policy, and had all the facts in order to determine whether this was a step forward or back for gay rights. Thankfully, I was able to get the answers to all my questions, which you can find below. The bottom line is this; the new State Department policy treating gay and straight diplomats the same exact way, is actually a very good thing for the cause LGBT equality worldwide!!!
- Why are same-sex couples being singled out with this new policy? They are not. On the contrary, this new policy finally views and treats gay relationships the same way our policy views and treats heterosexual relationships; If you are a diplomat and have a partner, whether they are of the opposite sex or same sex, the State Department requires you show proof of marriage, or some legal equivalency in order to obtain a visa for them. Rather than singling out a single group, this is treating all of us the same. That's a good thing.
- Why is this policy changing now? After the Supreme Court’s Obergefell decision in 2015, Secretary Kerry announced that domestic partner benefits for American diplomats would be phased out as it was no longer necessary or relevant as a policy. Since same-sex couples could be married starting in 2015, the administration decided in July 2018 that it no longer made sense to have a two-track, "separate-but-equal" method and policy for couples obtaining visas. This change simply aligns our foreign policy with our domestic policy, values, and laws.
- Several of the articles I read had headlines stating things like "U.S. to end visas for gay diplomat partners". Is this true that if you are a gay diplomat working in the U.S., your partner will no longer receive a visa? Again, no. As long as you are married (or show you have some legal equivalency to a marriage certificate), your spouse can obtain a visa whether they are gay or straight. This is treating everyone equally, and should be viewed as a step forward for LGBT equality, not back. Many in the media have mischaracterized this policy change in the most disingenuous and partisan way in order to once again stoke fear in the LGBT community. There remains many legitimate threats to LGBT persons around the world (Chechnya, Iran, Uganda, etc.), but this policy is not one of them.
- What if the diplomat lives in a country that hasn't legalized same-sex marriage yet? In these cases, the couples are allowed to marry in any jurisdiction, including the United States, where same-sex marriage is legal, and that marriage will be viewed as valid for the purposes of obtaining a visa. However, for the vast majority of LGBT diplomats, they come from countries that already allow same-sex marriage, so that likely won't even be necessary. But in the event a gay diplomat fears discrimination for marrying their same-sex partner, the State Department publicly states it is “committed to working with affected individuals to find an appropriate resolution.” This scenario is not likely because applications for domestic partner visas have always required the applicant’s home government or organization to provide a note in support of the application. Countries that would punish their diplomats for marrying a same-sex partner overseas would not have provided such a note under the prior policy either.
- How does this improve the cause of equality for LGBT people around the world? For one, it helps by treating everyone equally, and viewing same-sex relationships as important and relevant as heterosexual relationships. Also, by requiring same-sex partners of foreign diplomats be legally married, the United States is able to subtly push for more countries to allow their gay diplomats, and eventually their entire populace to marry. If they don’t, this policy leaves those countries with diminished diplomatic influence and access as a consequence of their anti-gay policies. It also gives the State Department leverage it can use to secure visas for the same-sex spouses of its own diplomats. At the end of the day, if a diplomat in a foreign country where same-sex marriage is not legal has a domestic partner and that country recognizes the rights and privileges of our U.S. diplomatic same-sex partners in their country, there is process in place to ensure that the U.S. can still grant that reciprocal visa to their domestic partner. This works to ensure that there is a diplomatic derivative visa, and encourages equal treatment of LGBT couples across the globe.
- When do existing same-sex diplomats need to be married by in order to maintain their visas? By December 31st, 2018. The State Department states however that if the requirements can't be met by that date, that they’d work with those individuals on a case-by-case basis to help them to try to legally adjust their status to remain in the United States beyond the deadline.
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