Kerry: Foreign Gov’ts Must Accept Same-Sex Spouses of US Personnel Stationed Abroad

Patrick Goodenough | June 19, 2014 | 7:44pm EDT
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Secretary of State John Kerry. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill, File)

( – The U.S. is leading by example in promoting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered (LGBT) rights at home and around the world, Secretary of State John Kerry said Thursday.

He said the federal government recognizes same-sex marriages of foreign diplomats stationed in the U.S., and it expects all other countries to do the same in their treatment of U.S. personnel deployed abroad.

“Let me be clear: We oppose any effort by any country to deny visas for spouses of American staff,” he said. “It’s discriminatory, it’s unacceptable, it has no place in the 21st century.”

Kerry told a "Pride" event at the State Department that the U.S. also is considering "all visa applications made by same-sex spouses in the same manner as those made by opposite-sex spouses.”

Western governments’ promotion of LGBT issues has caused friction in some conservative countries in recent years, including the predominantly Roman Catholic Dominican Republic, Islamic Pakistan, and Nigeria, where homosexuality is largely frowned upon by Christians and Muslims alike.

The Obama administration has made promotion of LGBT issues a foreign policy priority. The “Pride at State” event addressed by Kerry is jointly organized by the State Department and Gays and Lesbians in Foreign Affairs Agencies (GLIFAA), the officially recognized group representing LGBT employees at the department and the U.S. Agency for International Development Aid.

'This is who we are, this what you have to respect, and that’s the way it is'

Responding to a question by a GLIFAA member about a large number of countries that currently do not issue visas to same-sex partners, Kerry said, “we are instructing embassies to inform governments locally that this is our policy and that they need to honor our policy. It’s that simple.”

He said in cases where countries do not respond positively, the U.S. will gather and make available information that will “make it easier for employees and all of you to sort of pick and choose and know what the lay of the land is.”

“But at some point in time,” he continued, “we may have to begin to make it clear to them that that can affect one program or another or the choices that we make. It’s not going to be a normal relationship. This is who we are, this what you have to respect, and that’s the way it is.”

Kerry told the gathering there were now “hundreds” of LGBT people at the department, USAID and at posts around the world.

“We’re here today to send a message. No matter who you are, no matter who you love, we stand with you. And that’s what pride means. That’s what drives us today,” he said.

“The journey isn’t complete, the march isn’t over, the promise isn’t perfected – but we will march on together.”

Kerry was speaking on the same day that the White House announced visa restrictions on Ugandans deemed to have violated the rights of LGBT people. It will also redirect some health program funds away from Uganda and cancel a regional military aviation exercise,

The administration has clamped down on Uganda since its president signed legislation in February toughening existing penalties for sexual activity between people of the same gender, with life imprisonment prescribed for those convicted of “aggravated homosexuality” – a category including homosexual sex while HIV-positive or with a minor.

Although National Security Council spokesperson Caitlin Hayden said the U.S. would continue to oppose discriminatory practices “in Uganda and around the world,” the administration does appear to have decided to make the small East African country an example at this time.

According to Amnesty International, homosexuality is illegal in 38 out of Africa’s 54 countries, including countries with strong relationships with the U.S.

Further, sex between men is punishable by death in a number of countries, in Africa and elsewhere, including Saudi Arabia, Iran, Yemen, Somalia, Mauritania, Sudan and Nigeria’s shari’a-governed northern states.

“We each have a responsibility to push back against a global trend of rising violence and discrimination against LGBT persons,” Kerry told Thursday’s meeting.

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