In the latest anti-LGBTQ news out of the Trump Administration — as well as what one could only expect from a Handmaid’s Tale story arc — UN Officials will no longer be able to obtain visas for their domestic partners.
Although the White House is spinning the news as a step toward equality, LGBTQ advocates, including the ACLU, have pointed out that it will unfairly target the gay partners of diplomats and employees from countries without marriage equality. The statement to the UN read as follows:
“Same-sex spouses of U.S. diplomats now enjoy the same rights and benefits as opposite-sex spouses […] consistent with [US State] Department policy, partners accompanying members of permanent missions or seeking to join the same must generally be married in order to be eligible” for a visa.
The new policy strikes down a 2009 policy made by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. At the time, gay marriage was not legal at a national level in the United States, so Clinton’s policy offered a semblance of equality to same-sex partners. Domestic partnerships granted same-sex couples more rights, although partnerships still do not grant all the same protections as a marriage. Now that the US has legalized gay marriage in all 50 states, the Trump administration claims that the 2009 legislation gave an unfair advantage to same-sex partners. The White House argues that limiting diplomatic visas to married couples prevents preferential treatment.
What this new policy completely ignores, however, is the reality that the vast majority of UN nations do not recognize gay marriage. In fact, according to an article in Foreign Policy, only 12% of nations in the UN allow same-sex marriage, and in several countries same-sex relationships are actively criminalized. In seven nations, same-sex relationships are punishable by death. The majority of the countries in opposition to gay marriage are African and Asian states, meaning that the new US policy will primarily affect gay couples of color. This makes the policy seem doubly discriminatory. The fact that the United States legalized gay marriage hardly means that gay marriage is legal on a global scale.
The proposed–or rather, demanded–solution is for diplomats to marry their partners at American embassies. Indeed, the United States has issued the ultimatum that domestic partners must become married by December 31st or they will be asked to leave the country. This is unreasonably cruel for multiple reasons. First, a marriage should be a celebration of love and unity that a couple can enjoy with their friends and family members. Instead, couples must hastily put together a ceremony for political reasons, and the majorities of their loved ones will be unable to attend. This ruins what should be a special day for many queer people. Additionally, these diplomats and employees will eventually return to their home country, where many of them will be shunned, fired, or worse for their marriage. The proposed “solution” is neither compassionate nor possible for so many of these people.
My greatest question upon hearing this news was: why? Why enact this policy? How many same-sex domestic partners of diplomats and UN employees can possibly be trying to obtain a visa to the US at this time–one hundred? One thousand? Even if it were ten thousand (and I highly doubt there are), certainly there aren’t enough queer diplomats to pose a significant strain on the economy. The nation-wide impact must be negligible at best. Moreover, these countries aren’t going to change their own domestic stances on gay marriage to accommodate a handful of queer employees abroad. If anything, those countries are more likely to avoid hiring gay people since their visas will be complication. This policy isn’t necessary in any way. It exists only to show queer people around the world that they still aren’t equal, that they are second-class citizens at best.
There’s a chilling scene in the second season of The Handmaid’s Tale where Emily (Alexis Bledel), her wife Sylvia (Clea DuVall), and their young son are attempting to flee the U. S.-turned-Gilead for Canada, where Sylvia is a dual citizen. The scene begins as simple visa troubles; since Emily is not a Canadian citizen, she merely needs to meet with a border patrol agent for a different stamp. Surely she’ll be approved since her wife has citizenship. However, at the gate, they’re told that their marriage is no longer valid. Emily will not–cannot–be granted a visa. She watches her wife and son disappear up at elevator, off to country where they will be safe and protect. And Emily is left behind.
The scariest thing about The Handmaid’s Tale is not how outlandish the world of Gilead is, but rather how close it hits to home. Hopefully civil rights lawyers can begin the process the messy process of reinstating Clinton’s 2009 policy, but until then: Make The Handmaid’s Tale Fiction Again.