The Trump administration has announced that all domestic partners of foreign United Nations officials and diplomats will be denied US visas unless they are married, in a move that is set to make the process more difficult for same-sex couples from countries where marriage equality remains illegal.
The policy, which entered into force on Monday (1 October), states that domestic partners of diplomats and UN officials based abroad must prove they are married in order to enter the country on a diplomatic visa, Foreign Policy reports.
Partners of diplomats already in the US must show the State Department proof of marriage by December 31 or leave the country within 30 days.
The move overturns a policy introduced in 2009 by then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton which granted visas to unmarried same-sex partners of foreign diplomats, many of whom are unable to marry in their home countries.
According to Foreign Policy, a diplomatic note sent to the UN by the US in July insisted the policy change was to ensure that heterosexual and homosexual couples were treated 'equally'.
With same-sex marriage legal in just 12 per cent of UN member states however, the reality is that same-sex partners of diplomats in many countries will face increased difficulty in joining their partner in the US.
The White House says that the move brings its international visa policy in line with its domestic policy, which, since the introduction of nationwide marriage equality in 2015, sees visas offered to the married same-sex spouses of US diplomats.
Samantha Power, a former US ambassador to the UN, slammed the change as "needlessly cruel and bigoted".
"State Dept. will no longer let same-sex domestic partners of UN employees get visas unless they are married," wrote Power, who served as Ambassador to the United Nations from 2013 to 2017.
"But only 12% of UN member states allow same-sex marriage."
Needlessly cruel & bigoted: State Dept. will no longer let same-sex domestic partners of UN employees get visas unless they are married. But only 12% of UN member states allow same-sex marriage. https://t.co/MjZpRVLYcf— Samantha Power (@SamanthaJPower) September 28, 2018
The United States said they would allow "limited exceptions" to the new policy in cases involving diplomats from countries where same-sex marriage is illegal.
However, that government would have to provide documentation proving that same-sex marriage was illegal, and commit to accepting same-sex partners of US diplomats in their own countries.
Foreign Policy notes that this exception was not offered to UN officials.
UN Globe, a UN LGBTI staff advocacy organisation, said in a statement: "With this change, the State Department is enforcing parity in the way they recognize opposite-sex partnerships and same-sex partnerships.
"It is an unfortunate change in rules, since same-sex couples, unlike opposite-sex couples, have limited choices when it comes to marriage."