U.S. State Department says ‘Hasta la visas’

U.S. State Department says ‘Hasta la visas’
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Ky Watnick
HEAD COPY EDITOR

According to The Washington Blade, on July 20, a letter was distributed from the State Department stating that “all currently accredited same-sex domestic partners of officers and employees . . . who wish to maintain their derivative G-4 nonimmigrant visa status and acceptance of accreditation . . . [must] submit appropriate documentation that the couple has legally married.” A G-4 diplomatic Visa is a nonimmigrant Visa for officers or employees of international organizations so they can complete their respective activities. This is said to be in response to the U.S. legalizing same-sex marriage. An anonymous State Department official said, “It is not meant to be punitive. It is a recognition and a codification of the fact that same-sex marriage is legal in the United States.”

“However, bans against specific groups are often taken as punitive.” said Fourth-year Keelin Bettridge. Bettridge works in Professor of Political Science Michael McBride’s office and has participated in Model United Nations, including a year as a delegation chair and a year as McBride’s  delegation chair. “Perceptions are important,” said Bettridge, “and despite claims that it is not an attack on the gay community, it will definitely be perceived as such. Perceptions like that can affect how foreign diplomats work with us as a country.” Most of politics is open to interpretation, so perception is key with any policy. This is especially true in a democratic society, such as our own, which involves the people in its politics. The ban will be scrutinized by Americans and non-Americans alike for what it is and what it means about the state of our country’s politics. “[The ban] is also another example of the United States backing away from a leadership role in human rights, by not promoting unity and equality,” said Bettridge.

The ban on visas for same-sex domestic partners of foreign diplomats began Monday, Oct. 2 and was announced Tuesday, Oct. 3. This new policy will immediately affect those who are reapplying for visas, and, later, it will affect any foreign diplomat’s same-sex domestic partner. United Nation (UN) employees received a memo detailing the new ban, as stated by The New York Times. The memo states: “Those who [do not] submit proof of marriage by [Dec. 31] will be required to leave the country within 30 days,” according to The Guardian. Currently, this policy will “affect about 105 couples or families now in the United States, including 55 that work for the United Nations or other international organizations,” according to The Los Angeles Times

Assistant Professor of Political Science Sara Angevine said, “The U.S. Congress oversees these bureaucratic agencies and, if they wanted to play politics, could withhold financial support.” Citizens would need to speak up in order to fight this policy. “People could also challenge the legality of the directive and take it to court. Since this policy applies to foreign diplomats (not U.S. citizens), it would be more tricky,” said Angevine.

The real issue with the ban is not that same-sex couples require special treatment but, rather, that they are not considered equal in all countries. Former ambassador to the UN Samantha Power tweeted: “[The] State [Department] will no longer let same-sex domestic partners of UN employees get visas unless they are married. But only 12 [percent] of UN member states allow same-sex marriage.” Because same-sex marriages are not legal in so many countries, this ban is going to cause problems for LGBTQIA+ foreign diplomats. 

“The message this sends to gay (and, really, to all) Americans is about the hierarchy of marriage over other forms of domestic partner relationships,” said Angevine. “This policy move also sends a message of intolerance towards countries that do not adopt the U.S. framework of same-sex marriage [or] as a tactic to pressure other countries to legalize same-sex marriage. Regardless, it will have a harmful effect on the 10 or so same-sex couples (according to the U.S. foreign policy) who will now need to somehow get married if they are to stay together.”

While it is possible for diplomats to marry on U.S. soil, this brings about more issues. Since the ban has already begun, the domestic partner would need to obtain a separate travel visa just to get into the U.S. in the first place. Then, those who are actually able to get married in the U.S. would then face scrutiny in their home countries. This is a dangerous and potentially life-threatening requirement for some. Executive Director of the United Nations Association of the United States Chris Whatley said, “As of this past Monday, a United Nations staff member working in New York whose native country lacks marriage equality — and who cannot simply marry their same-sex partner at City Hall — faces the potential for family separation. Even worse, this person’s partner may return to their home country only to face violence and persecution because of who they love.” However, there have been some statements made about possible accommodations for diplomats coming from countries who do not support same-sex marriage. “The question lies is what will these principles of reciprocity entail . . . this is what I think has people concerned,” said Angevine.

Progress had been made during the Obama administration towards equality for same-sex couples. Not only was same-sex marriage legalized in 2015, prior to that, in 2009, a new policy “asked countries to accredit same-sex partners of U.S. Foreign Service personnel on a “reciprocal basis” in order to receive diplomatic visas,” reported The Washington Blade. “The new policy reverses an order by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who required all domestic partners of foreign diplomats or UN envoys to be given visas,” according to The Los Angeles Times. It seems that, in recent times, these acts are being countered. 

“I feel like it is not my place to speak on the message that this policy sends to the gay community, since I am not a member of the [LGBTQIA+] community and do not want to take their voices away,” said Bettridge. “However, I will say that I think this policy sends a clear message that the United States does not welcome same-sex relationships, and I find that to be incredibly harmful and sad.”