Limited and limiting “equality”.
A new US government policy taking effect on October 1 may make it difficult – if not impossible – for some diplomats and LGBTQI UN staff to live together with their partners in the US. This is because UN staff, including those working at global headquarters in New York, will now need “proof of marriage” to secure visas that will allow their partners to reside with them in the US.
This new policy is supposed to “help ensure and promote equal treatment” between straight and gay couples, particularly since marriage equality is now the rule of the land in the US.
“Same-sex spouses of US diplomats now enjoy the same rights and benefits as opposite-sex spouses,” the US mission wrote in a July 12 note to UN-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.
The policy change is worth highlighting for its non-consideration of contexts because UN staff come from around the world, and in many countries, same-sex marriage is still not legal. Only 25 countries allow same-sex marriage; and in over 70 countries, homosexual conduct remains illegal and in some, anyone found “guilty” can be sentenced to harsh punishments.
Since 2009, UN staff working in the US have been brining their partners into the US without showing a marriage license. A 2009 decision by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton granted visas to domestic partners of US and foreign diplomats; though this same 2009 policy did not allow a heterosexual domestic partner of a US or foreign diplomat to enter the country on a diplomatic visa.
Now, domestic partners of UN staff who are already in the US could face deportation “unless they submit the required proof of marriage.” Meanwhile, those not yet in the US 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.