President Donald Trump’s administration this week began denying visas to the unmarried, same-sex partners of foreign diplomats and officials and employees of the United Nations — making marriage a requirement to be eligible for a visa.
The policy was made effective Monday.
It comes despite the fact that the majority of countries do not recognize same-sex marriage and many same-sex couples face prosecution in their own countries.
The shift was detailed in a memo circulated at the United Nations’ headquarters in New York last month. It gives the same-sex partners of foreign diplomats and United Nations workers until the end of the year to get married or leave the country.
Foreign Policy magazine, which first reported the story, estimated there are at least 10 current United Nations employees who would need to get married to get their partners’ visas renewed. It was not clear how many foreign diplomats and United Nations employees with pending U.S. posts will be affected by the policy change.
About 12 percent of the 193 United Nations member states represented in New York allow same-sex marriage, according to Samantha Power, a former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations who served under former president Barack Obama.
The Trump administration believes the new policy is more consistent with the 2015 Supreme Court ruling to legalize same-sex marriage. The heterosexual partners of foreign diplomats and United Nations employees are also not eligible for U.S. visas.
However, critics of the move argue the new policy will create hardship for same-sex couples from countries that ban same-sex marriage or only offer civil unions. And for those who marry in the U.S. to secure their visa status, they could face criminal proceedings once they return to their home nations.
“Those not yet in the country will need to show they’re married to secure a visa, potentially forcing those living in countries without marriage equality to choose between a posting at UN headquarters or family separation,” Akshaya Kumar, deputy United Nations director at Human Rights Watch, wrote in a blog post.
UN Globe, which advocates for non-discrimination of LGBTI staff at the UN and in its peacekeeping operations, said it was a “unfortunate change in rules, since same-sex couples, unlike opposite-sex couples, have limited choices when it comes to marriage.”
Power, the former ambassador, described the policy in a tweet as “needlessly cruel and bigoted.” The State Department said the rule change would promote equal treatment and bring U.S. visa policy in line with the Supreme Court’s decision to guarantee the fundamental right to marry for same-sex couples.