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State Dept.: Same-Sex Partners Need to Get Married to Qualify for Diplomatic Family Visas

Charlie Craig and David Mullins hold hands as they talk about a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that sets aside a Colorado court decision against a baker who would not make a wedding cake for the same-sex couple as they meet reporters June 4, 2018, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

WASHINGTON — The State Department is giving same-sex partners at overseas posts until the end of the year to get married in order for the non-diplomat partner to continue receiving a family member visa.

The U.S. has recognized same-sex domestic partnerships for certain classes of diplomatic visas since 2009; a senior administration official said Tuesday that now “marriage equality is since 2015 the law of the land in the U.S., so this policy is just in furtherance of that.”

Since fewer than 10 percent of United Nations members have legalized same-sex marriage, the administration said it will work with couples on a case-by-case basis to help bring them into compliance through getting wed.

“The purpose of the policy is to promote the equal treatment of all family members and couples, and this decision is in light of the 2015 Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage. So since 2015, the department announced that it would change its policies to accommodate that Supreme Court decision, and this is part of that policy,” the official said. “And then roughly there are 105 families that would be impacted total in the U.S., and of those only about 55 are with international organizations.”

“…We understand that a lot of other countries don’t necessarily view that the same way, so we are proud of the fact that we’re forward-leaning in this policy and are glad that we can implement a policy in furtherance of that. And the department has also been working with foreign governments where same-sex marriage isn’t legal to – and like, for example, Israel, where our foreign diplomats – our diplomats serving abroad in Israel are treated the same as opposite-sex spouses. So in the U.S., we would then do the same for those spouses.”

As of Monday, U.S. diplomats have to be married to their same-sex partners “in order to get the sort of derivative diplomatic status when they go overseas, so these changes are to mirror what U.S. policy now is,” a second administration official said.

“We are absolutely concerned about human rights implications, about safety of same-sex couples, given laws in their home countries,” that official said. “I would note though that in all of these cases under our current regulations the derivatives are receiving visas in their passport now. This does not change that. It just changes the definition. So somebody today is getting a visa in their passport as the derivative of a diplomat in their passport, and it says that they are the derivative of the principal applicant in their passport today.”

The official said the new policy “was not meant as an attack; 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. It is a codification of policies on derivative status for diplomatic missions to bring those policies in accordance with the long-planned policy changes in the Department of State for our own diplomats,” the official continued. “…We want to ensure equal treatment and reciprocity for our same-sex couple diplomats overseas, first of all. Second, we are concerned about human rights violations. We are concerned about people’s lives, which is why, as I’ve described, we have a process in place for diplomatic members who are being posted to the United States who come from countries where same-sex marriage is not legal.”