This Monday, the Trump Administration began a new policy denying visas to same-sex partners of foreign diplomats and UN employees. It used to be that only spouses in traditional marriages to UN employees were allowed a G-4 visa: this policy was extended to gay couples in 2009 by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who said domestic partnership was enough to receive a visa, even though gay marriage hadn't been legalized. Now the rule is "get married or get out."
Under this new policy, LGBT couples in domestic partnerships have until the end of 2018 to get married. If they aren't wed by the beginning of 2019, they will have until the end of next January to leave the country. The administration had prepared diplomats in July when they announced this change, but their reasoning, as always, was specious:
"Same-sex spouses of U.S. diplomats now enjoy the same rights and benefits as opposite-sex spouses,” the U.S. mission wrote in a July 12 note to U.N.-based delegations. “Consistent with [State] Department policy, partners accompanying members of permanent missions or seeking to join the same must generally be married in order to be eligible” for a diplomatic visa.
In short, since gay marriage is now legal in the United States, and since straight couples who were not married in 2009 didn't get the same rights as gay couples, they should both get fair and equitable treatment. But what is being framed as a push for equality between groups has malicious downsides that cannot be ignored.
No one can deny the speed at which LGBT rights have progressed in the United States, especially under President Obama. The same cannot be said for most countries.
Only 25 nations currently have marriage equality laws on the books. Several other countries, like Chile, Ecuador, and Switzerland, either have civil union laws or are on their way to passing gay marriage. The majority of countries with these laws are in the western hemisphere, with the exceptions of South America and Australia. Not a single Asian country has a gay marriage law, although Taiwan is expected to become the first. These countries only make up 12% of UN member states.
By contrast, more than 70 countries consider homosexuality a punishable crime. Countries that have placed propaganda "bans" to stop the flow of LGBT ideas include Russia, Egypt, Libya, and Syria. In at least 13 countries, homosexuality is punishable by death, including Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.
Same-sex couples from one of those countries are now faced with two options, neither of them good. According to Alfonso Nam, President of the LGBT group U.N. Globe:
"If you’re currently in New York, then you have the option of going to City Hall and getting married. If your next assignment is New York and you would like to bring your same-sex domestic partner, then you would have to either get married before you come to New York (so you can secure a visa for your partner) or you would have to come here and bring your partner here and get married here, and from then on you will be able to get the G-4 visa.”
The problem is that if they do this, they could face trial and punishment when their mission ends and they have to return to their home country. Two years ago, the marriage of gay Nigerian immigrant David Shoen-Ukre to his husband Eric caused an international uproar when photos of their wedding surfaced on blogs in his home country. If a foreign diplomat did the same thing, the reaction might be much more severe.
The international community has been vocal in their disdain towards the administration's decision. Former US Ambassador on Human Rights Keith Michael Harper called it "disgraceful" and a "new low" for the State Department. Samantha Power, UN Ambassador under Obama, called it "needlessly cruel & bigoted." Sadly though, it's hard to imagine this policy being overturned soon, though, as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has always stood against LGBTQ rights.
Last week, the United Nations laughed at Donald Trump for his claim that his administration had "accomplished more than any other" in history. Perhaps making the lives of LGBTQ people in the diplomatic community more difficult was a response to their laughter. Or perhaps it was simply another "accomplishment" this unconscionable administration can check off on its hateful agenda.