The Trump administration will no longer provide visas for same-sex domestic partners of foreign diplomats and U.N. officials serving in the U.S., a policy that went into effect Oct. 1.
Only if a same-sex couple is married will the spouse be eligible for a visa, but that could prove problematic for some, as the majority of the world’s countries do not recognize same-sex marriages.
The decision is meant to “ensure and promote equal treatment,” according to a State Department spokesperson, as heterosexual domestic partners of foreign diplomats are also not eligible for U.S. visas. That rule has been in effect since 2009, but the Trump administration is saying because same-sex marriage is now legal in the U.S., it’s no longer necessary or fair.
The new rule will allow for “limited exceptions,” the spokesperson added.
Critics say it makes it difficult for same-sex couples in the many countries where marriage isn’t a legal possibility — let alone for those in countries where homosexuality is criminalized. Only 26 countries, or less than 14 percent, have legalized same-sex marriage, per the Pew Research Center, and in 72 countries homosexual activity is still illegal, according to the LGBTI rights group Equaldex.
“It is an unfortunate change in rules, since same-sex couples, unlike opposite-sex couples, have limited choices when it comes to marriage,” said U.N. Globe, a U.N. LGBTI staff advocacy group, in a statement.
U.N. Globe urged same-sex couples already in the U.S. to get married in America before their partners’ visa expires. There are at least 10 U.N. employees who would need to do so by the end of the year to have their partners’ visa renewed, according to Foreign Policy magazine which first reported this story. But it’s unclear what options diplomats and their partners who are not yet in the U.S., but will be posted here in the future, have available to them.
Former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power, who served under Barack Obama from 2013 to 2017, called the policy change “needlessly cruel and bigoted” in a tweet Sunday night when news of the policy began to leak.