Get married or get out.
Those are the options facing LGBTQ employees of the United Nations this week after the Trump administration announced its decision to stop issuing visas for unmarried same-sex partners of foreign diplomats. The new policy compels partners of U.N. officials stationed in the United States to show documents illustrating “proof of marriage” by the end of the year to remain in the country.
If they do not comply by Dec. 31, these unmarried partners will be forced to leave the country within 30 days.
Officials with the State Department say the move is designed to bring its policies on same-sex partners of U.N. diplomats in line with the regulations for opposite-sex couples. Currently, the unwedded heterosexual partners of U.N. officials are not granted diplomatic visas.
In a statement to NBC News, a spokesman claimed the new policy is, thus, intended “to help ensure and promote equal treatment.”
But critics of the decision say it represents anything but equality. Former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power noted that “only 12 U.N. member states allow same-sex marriage” in a series of tweets blasting the updated visa guidelines as “needlessly cruel and bigoted.”
To date, just 25 countries have passed laws granting full benefits to same-sex couples.
The State Department has claimed it will allow “limited exceptions” to the policy in cases where U.N. diplomats hail from nations where marriage equality has yet to be legalized.
Even this exemption provides its own share of challenges, however. In order to remain in the U.S., the unmarried partners of U.N. diplomats will have to provide documentation “proving” that their country outlaws same-sex unions, when such information could be discerned from simply googling the subject.
Should these couples comply with the guidelines, it could open them up to harassment, violence, and prosecution in their own countries. Currently, more than 70 nations criminalize homosexuality.
If a gay Russian diplomat, for example, marries his same-sex partner at a courthouse in the U.S., the two could face prosecution. This scenario is not hypothetical. When Russian nationals Pavel Stosko and Yevgeny Voitsekhovsky tied the knot in Copenhagen earlier this year, they were charged with “intentionally defacing an official document” after officials accidentally confirmed the marriage by stamping their passports.
The couple was eventually forced by local authorities to flee the country.
Advocates have urged the State Department to go back to its earlier policies extending diplomatic visas to unmarried LGBTQ couples, which were implemented by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton nine years ago.
The Human Rights Campaign called this week’s announcement an “unconscionable, needless attack” on the LGBTQ community.
“It is unnecessary, mean-spirited, and unacceptable,” said HRC Government Affairs Director David Stacy in a statement. “The White House must immediately go back to a policy that is fully inclusive and takes into account the dangers faced by LGBTQ foreign diplomats, U.N. employees, and their families.”
The Democratic National Committee claimed in a press release the new guidelines reflect the Trump administration’s alleged hostility toward LGBTQ people. Since 2017, critics have accused the White House of rolling back queer and trans rights.
“Now the Trump administration is doing everything in its power to roll back progress and make it harder for LGBTQ people to serve their countries,” said DNC LGBTQ Media Director Lucas Acosta. “Instead of providing moral leadership on LGBTQ rights and freedoms, the Trump administration is essentially subjecting diplomats to the same discriminatory, anti-LGBTQ policies that they face in their own countries.”
Although the policy goes into effect immediately, it was first circulated internally at the U.N. headquarters in New York City last month.
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