October 5, 2018 at 2:14 pm EST | by Michael K. Lavers
House Democrats urge State Dept. to reverse new diplomatic visa policy

More than 100 Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives have urged Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to reverse a new State Department policy that requires partners of foreign mission personnel and employees of international organizations to be married in order to qualify for a diplomatic visa.

More than 100 Democratic members of the U.S. House of Representatives have urged Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to reverse a new policy that requires partners of foreign mission personnel and employees of international organizations to be married in order to qualify for a diplomatic visa.

“This policy discriminates against gay and lesbian international civil servants, many of whom are citizens of countries that outlaw same-sex marriage,” reads a letter spearheaded by U.S. Rep. Brad Schneider (D-Ill.) that lawmakers sent to Pompeo.

Congressional Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) and U.S. Reps. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), Anthony Brown (D-Md.), Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) and Don Beyer (D-Va.) are among the lawmakers who signed the letter. U.S. Reps. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.), Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) and Mark Takano (D-Calif.) are also signatories.

New visa policy ‘sends the wrong message’ about U.S.

The new policy took effect on Oct. 1.

The Obama administration in 2009 implemented a policy that asked countries to accredit same-sex partners of U.S. Foreign Service personnel on a “reciprocal basis” in order to receive diplomatic visas.

Senior administration officials who spoke with reporters on a conference call on Tuesday said the new policy is consistent with the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2015 ruling in the Obergefell case that extended marriage rights to same-sex couples across the country. A letter detailing the new policy the Washington Blade obtained in August notes it applies to both same-sex and opposite-sex couples.

The Human Rights Campaign, former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power and former U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam Ted Osius are among those who have sharply criticized the new policy. A senior administration official on Tuesday told the Blade it is “not meant to be punitive” against LGBTI diplomats and their families.

“Only 26 countries — a mere 13 percent of U.N. member states — allow same-sex couples to marry,” reads the letter to Pompeo. “In reversing the State Department’s 2009 decision to provide visas to same-sex domestic partners, your department fails to acknowledge that in most of the world, same-sex domestic partners do not enjoy the possibility of marriage — and your decision undermines the validity of these diplomats’ relationship.”

The letter also states the new policy “sends the wrong message that the U.S. is not welcoming of all people.”

“It also needlessly excludes personnel from international organizations, and places an unnecessary burden on diplomats from countries that do not currently allow same-sex marriage,” it reads. “We urge the State Department to reconsider its decision.”

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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