Opinion | Diplomatic visas should include same-sex partners

Raven Peterson, 2018 alumna

Last week, in a complete reversal of policies instituted in 2009 by the Barack Obama administration, the U.S. declared that it would no longer grant diplomatic visas to “same-sex partners of foreign diplomats and United Nations employees.

This policy was circulated in a United Nations (U.N.) memo that as of Oct. 1, same-sex domestic partners “accompanying or seeking to join newly arrived U.N. officials must provide proof of marriage to be eligible for a G-4 visa or to seek a change into such status.”

A G-4 visa is a nonpermanent U.S. visa given to employees of international organizations and their immediate families.

There are still 71 countries where homosexuality is illegal, and only 25 have legalized same-sex marriage, according to the BBC.

The U.S. Department of State had previously granted G-4 visas to U.N. employees’ and U.S. diplomats’ families, including their “spouse or domestic partner” as according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

However, the U.S. Department of State now claims that only a relationship “legally considered to be a marriage in the jurisdiction where it took place” will allow a spouse to be eligible for immigration benefits.

This means that families of U.N. employees and U.S. diplomats who are in same-sex relationships from countries where same-sex marriage is illegal are unable to qualify for this visa.

The only exception to this policy is for couples who come from countries that do not recognize same-sex marriage.

“They will be granted a diplomatic visa if the government which sends them to work in their embassies in the U.S. grants the same privileges to same-sex partners of U.S. officials sent to that country,” according to BBC.

This means the U.N. employee or U.S. diplomat’s partner will only be granted a visa if a U.S. same-sex couple would be granted equal rights in the their country of origin, which is often not the case.

This policy is childish and regressive; the U.S. has made an effort to be more inclusive in the past, but is now regressing to a level of ignorance that many of us thought we had moved beyond.

The U.S. is framing this as “recognizing equal rights” (requiring the same documentation from same-sex and heterosexual couples) without recognizing that equal rights don’t exist in the home countries of many of people affected by this policy change.

The new policy also says, by the end of 2018, unmarried same-sex partners of diplomats and U.N. employees will be expected to “leave the U.S. within 30 days if they remain unmarried” and don’t change their visa status.

There are at least 10 U.N. employees in the U.S. with same-sex domestic partners who will need to be married by next year to maintain their partner’s visa, according to Foreign Policy Magazine. This policy takes away the U.S.’s promise of safety to these people and forces them into a legal marriage that could result in prosecution (or worse) when they eventually return to their home countries.

With this policy, the U.S Department of State is granting “equality” by giving everyone technically equal rights, without acknowledging that their logic is flawed: Not everyone the policy affects come from a similar background, and many families don’t have the option to obtain the necessary documentation for a G-4.

“Equity” is what we had achieved under the Obama administration: Requiring same-sex couples to have less legal documentation, as it might not be available or safe to have, while still complyingwith U.S. law.
In this case, moving toward “equality” is actually a step backwards, hurting and endangering people who already face great injustice.