On the first day of LGBT History Month, the Trump administration began to deny visas to unmarried same-sex partners of foreign diplomats and United Nations employees, according to a report in Foreign Policy.
Starting today, United Nations staff, including those working at global headquarters in NY, will need proof of marriage to secure visas allowing their partners to reside with them in the US.
"The change in policy ensures consistent treatment between opposite-sex partners and same-sex partners by requiring that same-sex partners, like opposite-sex partners, must marry to qualify for derivative diplomatic visas", a state department official told CNN.
If they do not comply by the December 31 deadline, and subsequently submit proof of marriage, they are expected to leave the country within 30 days of the deadline. Any partners that are planning to come to the USA must similarly provide proof of marriage in order to be eligible for the diplomatic visa that allows them to enter the country.
Individuals will be eligible for "limited exceptions" if they can prove they are from countries that outlaw same-sex partners, said Stephen Schlesinger, a fellow at the Century Foundation, a think tank. The shift requires same-sex partners to apply for a spousal visa, also known as the G-4 visa, and is "effective immediately".
Former US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power decried the policy, calling it "needlessly cruel and bigoted". Affected couples could marry in the United States, but could face persecution upon returning to their home country.
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.
Critics say it makes it hard 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.
The policy backtracks a 2009 guidance from former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, which extended diplomatic visas to domestic partners of domestic and global diplomats.
Now, diplomats and officials at these organizations who are in same-sex relationships will face the choice between getting married and separating.
United Nations staff come from around the world, and in the vast majority of countries same-sex marriage is not legal. He warned that some could be vulnerable to prosecution, and that it will create hurdles for couples considering a posting at United Nations headquarters in NY.
The United States informed foreign governments that they would allow "limited exceptions" to its new policy in cases involving diplomats from countries where same-sex marriage is illegal.
Akshaya Kumar, the Deputy UN Director of Human Rights Watch, wrote that the change "will have an insidious impact on same-sex couples".