Take it from me, traveling to a foreign country by yourself is lonely; as a friend said, you feel a bit like Willy Loman. I can’t imagine what it would be like living in a foreign country alone, without your loved one.
Yet, the State Department just condemned foreign envoys whose countries don’t respect same-sex marriage to exactly that. This week, in a little-noticed announcement, the Trump administration ruled that it will no longer issue family visas to “same-sex domestic foreign partners or employees of international organizations who work in the United States.” Under the new rules, which will affect not just foreign emissaries before the U.S. government but also employees at the United Nations and the World Bank, to name a few, only married couples will be eligible for the G-4 visas given to spouses of foreign diplomats.
In effect, what this means is that the U.S. is not extending a right to foreign same-sex couples that its own Supreme Court, in the landmark Obergefell v. Hodges decision in 2015, extended to its own citizens. In other words, if your country is too retrograde to recognize same-sex marriage, then we’re not going to extend partnership rights to you no matter how much you love and need each other, and no matter how much having your partner with you will help you in your job performance.
Let’s just put this in context: The U.S. Supreme Court has recognized a right, but the U.S. State Department will not recognize that right when other countries fail to recognize it. To just extend this a little then, could other rights that the U.S. Constitution and the judicial system recognize then also be denied visiting envoys if their home countries doesn’t respect them. In what other realms of freedom and judicial precedence does this occur in U.S. policy? Speech? Freedom of association? Cruel and unusual punishment? Women’s rights? None that I can think of, and yet because of the animus of this administration toward LGBTI rights, they are willing to extend a country’s discriminatory practices to U.S. diplomatic policy.
This is no small issue for foreign envoys from Latin America and the Caribbean. In all, 22 countries in the hemisphere have no provisions for marriage equality. (I have not included Mexico in the 22 because several Mexican states do recognize it—though I have included Costa Rica and Cuba even though laws there may change soon). In other words, if you’re a LGBTI envoy from the Bahamas, Bolivia, Chile, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Jamaica, Panama, Paraguay, Peru—well, you get the picture—don’t bother trying to bring your partner with you under traditional diplomatic protocol. Because your home country isn’t willing to recognize your right to marriage, the U.S. will no longer recognize the equality of your partnership. Here’s hoping you enjoy working alone or seeing your partner irregularly on a tourist visa.
There’s an interesting twist to all of this. Three of the countries that the Trump administration has stood most firm on defending the rights of their citizens—Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela— don’t recognize marriage equality. Not only has the State Department abdicated the U.S.’s moral legacy as a beacon of freedom globally since President Trump took office, it now also stands with governments that it rightly abhors for the violations of its own citizens’ rights. With its decision to bar same-sex partners—not recognized by marriage in their home country—of foreign envoys from receiving family visas, the U.S. government has extended those violations to its own territory.