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Trump Administration Halts Visas for Unmarried Same-Sex Partners of Diplomats

3 minute read

A new Trump administration visa policy appears to give the partners of same-sex diplomats a difficult ultimatum: get married, or get out.

As of Monday, the U.S. State Department will no longer issue visas to the same-sex partners of foreign diplomats or staffers of U.S.-based international organizations like the United Nations, unless they are married.

According to a notice posted on the State Department website, the U.S. will now consider applications from same-sex partners of diplomats and international officials the same way it does for heterosexual partners. The shift requires same-sex partners to apply for a spousal visa, also known as the G-4 visa, and is “effective immediately.”

But that could put pose a problem for couples ineligible to legally marry in their home country.

Only 25 countries recognize some form of same-sex marriage, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW), while in more than 70 others, same-sex relationships are punishable by law.

The policy change was announced in July, when the State Department said it would only “accept the accreditation of spouses, both same-sex and opposite-sex,” beginning on Oct. 1. Foreign same-sex partners who wish to remain in the U.S. are advised to submit proof of marriage to the State Department by Dec. 31, 2018, or expect to leave the U.S. within 30 days of that deadline.

The new policy is intended “to help ensure and promote equal treatment” between straight and gay couples, a State Department spokesperson said in a statement, according to NBC News.

But it also rolls back a practice championed by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to extend benefits to same-sex domestic partners of diplomats or international staff posted in the U.S., even if they were not legally married.

The new visa regulations quickly garnered criticism for seemingly coercing same-sex couples to enter into a marriage that could earn them prison time back home.

Samantha Power, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, called the new policy “needlessly cruel & bigoted.”

“Only 12% of UN member states allow same-sex marriage,” she wrote on Twitter.

HRW deputy United Nations director Akshaya Kumar said Monday that the new policy will effectively “tear LGBT U.N. staff” from their partners.

“Requiring a marriage as proof of bona fide partnership is a bad and cruel policy, one that replicates the terrible discrimination many LGBT people face in their own countries,” she wrote in a statement.

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Write to Eli Meixler at eli.meixler@time.com