Former U.S. Ambassador To D.R. Criticizes New Diplomatic Visa Policy

Oct 7, 2018
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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The State Department said last week that it will no longer issue visas to the same-sex partners of foreign diplomats and employees of U.S.-based international organizations unless the partners are legally married before the end of the year. A spokesperson from the State Department said that the policy, quote, "ensures consistent treatment between opposite-sex partners and same-sex partners," unquote. But critics point out that many of the families affected by the policy come from countries where same-sex marriage is not an option. And these critics argue that, if those couples choose to get married in the United States, they could face persecution back home. But if they do not marry, some partners could face deportation.

James Wally Brewster is a former U.S. ambassador to the Dominican Republic under President Obama. And he has been speaking out about this, so we called him. Ambassador Brewster, thank you so much for talking with us.

JAMES WALLY BREWSTER: Thank you for having me.

MARTIN: And one of the reasons we called you is that you had had firsthand experience with navigating accreditation policy. You are married to your husband, and you served as ambassador in the Dominican Republic, where same-sex marriage is not recognized. How did you navigate that?

BREWSTER: So as we were going, my husband had to go as a family member, not as a spouse. We were able to change his status, eventually, to be a member of household. But we never saw him known as esposo - or as a spouse - as other married diplomats have on their schedule list (ph). Our main objective was to make sure that he had the full immunities, though, that a spouse has, and we were able to get that. But he was never recognized completely as other spouses were. And there was much discrimination based on that.

MARTIN: Can you just give me an example of that?

BREWSTER: Sure. I mean, the first thing that happened to us when we first arrived was that the papal nuncio, who is the diplomatic representative of the Vatican, informed me that my husband - because he was not recognized, officially, as a spouse would not be invited to the reception of the diplomatic corps, which he was leading, for the greeting of the president and the first lady of the Dominican Republic because of that nonrecognition as a spouse. And so that was just one of many examples where we had to fight to make sure that my husband was given the same privileges when it came to social aspects as well as legal aspects.

MARTIN: This new position by the State Department is a reversal of a policy that had been in place since 2009 under Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The State Department allowed same-sex domestic partners to qualify for dependent visas. Now, the Trump administration says, as I said earlier, that this is to put same-sex couples on the same footing as couples that comprise two different genders. How do you respond to that?

BREWSTER: Well, I say it's one of two things. One, it's either they're inept in really understanding the logistics of what happens to gay couples and the challenges they have, or two, it is straight discrimination, which is what I think it is from this administration. And the reason that it's different is - after Obergefell, that was, essentially, a landmark ruling of the Supreme Court that recognized marriage in all 50 states so that same-sex couples, who now legally could be married in the U.S., throughout our diplomatic corps no longer had special privileges.

But this is totally different. This is about couples that live outside of the United States that did not have an Obergefell situation, you know? There are 88 percent of the countries around the world that do not recognize same-sex marriage. But you're not allowing that person, who is a great representative for the United Nations or another international organization, to come and live in the United States with their partner.

MARTIN: So you're saying some of these families - the partners wouldn't be able to come at all. They wouldn't even have the option of leaving the country in order to even try to get married.

BREWSTER: That is one of the things, too. I mean, there's a lot of countries, for example - we have heard our current president say there's many countries where we're denying visas from. The other thing is if they came, they might not be able to work because they're not on a work visa. So it creates a hardship in so many different ways and so many unknowns. But they're not guaranteed that they're going to get a visa. The only way they would be guaranteed is if they go through somehow and figure out how to get married in another country and whether that is even something that's an option.

MARTIN: That is James Wally Brewster. He was ambassador to the Dominican Republic from 2013 to 2017. He's currently a principal at the consulting firm Insignias Global. Ambassador, thank you so much for talking to us.

BREWSTER: Well, it's such a pleasure to speak with you, and I wish you to have the best of days. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.