A group of Democratic lawmakers has urged the State Department to do more to ensure countries recognize same-sex partners of US diplomats.
“We are writing about the ongoing challenges surrounding diplomatic accreditation faced by LGBTQI+ State Department employees and their spouses,” reads an April 18 letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken that U.S. Representatives David Cicilline ( DR.I.), Joaquin Castro (D-Texas), Dina Titus (D-Nev.) and Gregory Meeks (DN.Y.) were the spearheads. “This issue should be proactively raised in all relevant bilateral meetings by Heads of Department, particularly at the Head of Mission level overseas and at the front office or above at the domestic level.”
The letter specifically notes that more than 70 countries around the world “continue to deny visas to same-sex spouses.”
“This effectively makes a wide range of overseas assignments inaccessible to many Foreign Service families,” the letter read. “We are concerned that the State Department has left this issue unresolved for too long, using ‘workarounds’ instead of addressing the problem. We urge you to prioritize increasing diplomatic accreditation of same-sex partners at the highest levels in all internal and external interactions.
The letter signed by more than 40 members of the U.S. House of Representatives says “several additional countries” in the Western Hemisphere, Middle East and North Africa “are finalizing agreements to soon begin accrediting spouses of the same sex”.
“We understand that the Office of Near East Affairs, under the leadership of Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Joey Hood, has been at the forefront of developing successful strategies for engagement on this issue with countries in their region,” the letter read. “We hope that you will promote and use the tactics developed by the Office of NEA (Near East Affairs), such as raising the issue of diplomatic accreditation at the level of ambassadors in addition to management advisers and other officials. operational level, as well as encouraging other regional and, where appropriate, functional offices to replicate this model.
“We further urge you to promote equal diplomatic accreditation for LGBTQI+ spouses as a priority head of mission in integrated national strategies in countries where same-sex couples are currently denied all privileges and immunities and in strategic planning of other high-level departments,” he continues. . “By including diplomatic accreditation as a mission priority, department leadership ensures that attention and resources are devoted to advancing change. Additionally, we encourage you to develop a robust reporting mechanism that allows Ambassadors and Heads of Mission to easily share feedback on successful and unsuccessful strategies, which can be used to the benefit of missions in similar situations.
The letter also notes that the Vienna Convention guarantees that “our diplomats and their family members must be accredited and enjoy full diplomatic protection and immunity in the countries to which they are assigned, regardless of their sexual orientation or their gender identity.
Former U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam Ted Osius, who co-founded the LGBT+ Pride in Foreign Affairs (GLIFAA) agencies in 1992, was among those who voiced support for the lawmakers’ call.
“This initiative could put the United States in the lead when it comes to encouraging equal treatment for all families,” Osius said in a press release announcing the letter. “Inclusiveness benefits everyone.”
The Obama administration implemented a policy in 2009 that required countries to accredit same-sex partners of US Foreign Service personnel on a “reciprocal basis” in order to receive diplomatic visas. Last year, the Biden White House released a memorandum committing the United States to promote LGBTQ rights abroad.
“We have made, and continue to make, strong efforts to engage foreign governments on the issue of same-sex spousal certification,” a State Department spokesperson told the Washington Blade on Wednesday.
The spokesperson did not specifically comment on the letter, but stressed that “promoting diversity and inclusion in the department is a top priority.”
“The Department of State strives to recruit and retain a workforce of talented individuals that reflects the true diversity of our country, including in our appointments at the highest levels,” the spokesperson said.
The spokesperson noted that Blinken had appointed former US Ambassador to Malta Gina Abercrombie-Winstanley as the State Department’s first-ever diversity and inclusion officer. Jessica Stern, the US Special Envoy for Promoting LGBTQ Rights Abroad, took office last September.
“Globally, the United States advances the human rights of LGBTQI+ people through bilateral and multilateral channels, raising official concerns with governments both publicly and privately, coordinating our response with like-minded countries and providing emergency assistance to LGBTQI+ individuals and at-risk groups,” the spokesperson said. “Through our overseas aid program, we support civil society by providing LGBTQI+ individuals and communities the tools and resources needed to prevent, mitigate and recover from violence, discrimination, stigma and other abuses.We also provide support for programs that empower local LGBTQI+ movements and work to eliminate laws that criminalize LGBTQI+ status and/or behavior.