A group of Democratic lawmakers have urged the State Department to do more to ensure countries recognize the same-sex partners of U.S. diplomats.
“We write regarding the continued challenges surrounding diplomatic accreditation faced by LGBTQI+ Department of State employees and their spouses,” reads an April 18 letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken that U.S. Reps. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), Joaquin Castro (D-Texas), Dina Titus (D-Nev.) and Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.) spearheaded. “This issue should be proactively raised in all relevant bilateral meetings by department leaders, especially at the chief of mission level abroad and at the front office or higher level domestically.”
The letter specifically notes upwards of 70 countries around the world “continue to deny visas to same-sex spouses.”
“This effectively renders a vast swath of overseas assignments unbiddable to many Foreign Service families,” reads the letter. “We are concerned that the Department of State has left this issue unresolved for too long, utilizing ‘workarounds’ instead of addressing the problem. We urge you to prioritize raising diplomatic accreditation for same-sex partners at the highest levels in all interactions internally and externally.”
The letter that more than 40 members of the U.S. House of Representatives signed indicates “several additional countries” in the Western Hemisphere, the Middle East and North Africa “are finalizing agreements to soon begin accrediting spouses of the same sex.”
“We understand that the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, through 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,” reads the letter. “We hope that you will promote and employ the tactics developed by the NEA (Near Eastern Affairs) Bureau, such as raising the issue of diplomatic accreditation at the ambassadorial level in addition to management counselors and other working level officials, as well as encourage other regional, and where appropriate functional, bureaus to replicate this model.”
“We further urge you to promote equal diplomatic accreditation for LGBTQI+ spouses as a chief of mission priority in Integrated Country Strategies in countries where same-sex couples are currently denied full privileges and immunities and in other high-level department strategic planning,” it continues. “By including diplomatic accreditation as a mission priority, department leadership ensures that attention and resources are dedicated to advancing change. Additionally, we encourage you to develop a robust reporting mechanism that allows ambassadors and chiefs of mission to easily share feedback on successful or unsuccessful strategies, which can be used to the advantage of missions in similar situations.”
The letter also notes the Vienna Convention ensures “our diplomats and their family members should be accredited and receive full diplomatic protections and immunities in the countries to which they are assigned, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.”
Former U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam Ted Osius, who co-founded LGBT+ Pride in Foreign Affairs Agencies (GLIFAA) in 1992, is among those who expressed 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,” said Osius in a press release that announced the letter. “Inclusivity benefits everyone.”
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. The Biden White House last year issued a memorandum that committed the U.S. to promoting LGBTQ rights abroad.
“We have made and continue to make strong efforts to engage foreign governments on the issue of same-sex spouse accreditation,” a State Department spokesperson told the Washington Blade on Wednesday.
The spokesperson did not specifically comment on the letter, but stressed “fostering diversity and inclusion in the department is a top priority.”
“The State Department is striving to recruit and retain a workforce of talented people that reflects the true diversity of our country, including in our appointments at the most senior levels,” said the spokesperson.
The spokesperson noted Blinken appointed former U.S. Ambassador to Malta Gina Abercrombie-Winstanley as the State Department’s first-ever chief diversity and inclusion officer. Jessica Stern, the special U.S. envoy for the promotion of LGBTQ rights abroad, assumed her position last September.
“Globally, the United States advances the human rights of LGBTQI+ persons through bilateral and multilateral channels, raising official concerns with governments both publicly and privately, coordinating our response with like-minded countries, and offering emergency assistance to LGBTQI+ persons and groups at risk,” said the spokesperson. “ Through our foreign assistance programming, we support civil society by providing LGBTQI+ individuals and communities with the tools and resources 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 conduct.”