State Department issues guidance on how to implement new rules for Foreign Service Officers with same-sex partners

Update 10/2/18: The State Department has recently updated the policy described below to remove access to visas for unmarried same-sex partners of diplomats. Read more about this development here.

The U.S. State Department released a new directive which instructs
embassies on how to implement new rules for Foreign Service
Officers (FSO) with same-sex partners. This message is a welcome
follow up to President Obama’s Oval Office signing of a
Presidential Memorandum back in June of 2009. The signing, attended
by Executive Director Jennifer Chrisler, extended a limited number
of benefits to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT)
federal employees.This new directive (posted below), instructs U.S. embassies to
carry out the President’s June order by instructing foreign posts
to ask host countries to issue visas to the same-sex partners of

The Family Equality Council applauds Secretary of State Hillary
Clinton for the leadership she has shown in making LGBT families
serving safer and stronger. While this measure by the State
Department is an important step forward, The Family Equality
Council will continue to work at the federal level, pushing for
more substantial change to support LGBT families, including passage
of the Domestic Partnership Benefits and Obligations Act, a bill
that would extend full health benefits to families of LGBT federal
employees, and repeal of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act.

STATE 000788

SUBJECT: Same-Sex Domestic Partner Accreditation

1. Summary and Action request: In this cable, the Department is
advising posts about new accreditation procedures regarding
declared same-sex domestic partners of our government personnel
under Chief of Mission authority. These individuals have been
provided a diplomatic passport by the Department and/or are listed
on the travel orders or approved OF-126 (Foreign Service Residence
and Dependency Report) of a sponsoring employee following
submission of an affidavit declaring a domestic partner
relationship pursuant to 3 FAM 1610. In this regard, we request
that posts inquire about the host government’s accreditation
policy for same-sex partners and urge host governments to accredit
them where such accreditation is possible. See action request in 5.
End Summary.

2. The Department’s new practice regarding the accreditation of
same-sex partners is part of its implementation of the
President’s June 17 Memorandum on Federal Benefits and
Non-Discrimination “to achieve greater equality for the Federal
workforce through extension to same-sex domestic partners of
benefits currently available to married people of the opposite
sex.” Secretary Clinton has repeatedly stated her commitment to
this goal.

3. The Department has taken steps to implement this policy and, as
part of that effort, has changed its visa and accreditation
policies regarding personnel of foreign missions in the

a. The Department has amended its visa regulations and is issuing
diplomatic visas to same-sex domestic partners of foreign mission
personnel, subject to reciprocity.

b. On November 4, the Department’s Office of Protocol advised
foreign missions in the that it will accept the accreditation of
same-sex domestic partners as members of the family of diplomatic
and consular personnel who enjoy privileges and immunities. The
text of Protocol’s circular note is set forth at PARA 7.

4. The Department is also working with the Department of Homeland
Security to amend the regulations regarding work authorization so
that same-sex domestic partners of foreign diplomats who are
accredited will also be able to work in the. Once the new
regulations are issued, we will be seeking to amend our bilateral
dependent employment agreements or arrangements to allow for the
reciprocal extension of employment authorization to domestic

5. ACTION: Posts are requested to approach the Ministry of Foreign
Affairs, Office of Protocol, or other appropriate office to advise
orally, in a meeting, that the United States intends to seek
accreditation for the same-sex domestic partners of its diplomatic
and consular personnel as members of the family of such diplomatic
and consular personnel and requests that they be accorded the same
status, privileges and immunities currently accorded other members
of the household, such as spouses.

Posts are asked to advise the Department (M and regional A/S by
front channel cable) whether the MFA in such a meeting expressed
its willingness to accept the accreditation of USG same-sex
partners. Posts should also advise the Department on approaches to
other offices in the host government in situations where the
decision may not rest only with the MFA. Posts are also asked to
include details on steps that post will take or is taking to ensure
same sex partners are accommodated to the fullest extent

EXCEPTION TO ACTION REQUEST: Posts that are of the view that such
an approach to the host government would do more harm than good by
impeding the ability of same-sex partners to accompany personnel to
post or otherwise cause harm to personnel or their families are
asked to advise the Department (M, L, and regional A/S) by front
channel cable of that conclusion, the reasoning supporting the
conclusion, and recommendations for further action that may
implement the President’s and the Secretary’s directives.

6. Where the MFA expresses a willingness to accept same-sex
partners, post should subsequently notify the MFA that the
individual is a member of the family of an accredited member of the
diplomatic or consular mission in the identical fashion that it
accredits other family members. In such situations, posts are asked
to update the Department (M, L, and regional A/S) by front channel
cable if any implementation issues arise in the context of such

7. The Office of Protocol’s Circular Diplomatic Note: The
Secretary of State presents her compliments to Their Excellencies
and Messieurs and Mesdames the Chiefs of Mission and refers to the
notes dated November 3, 1988, February 2, 1987, and May 22, 1986,
concerning the definition of family members. As indicated in the
referenced May 22, 1986, note, it has long been an accepted
principle of international law that the privileges and immunities
to which members of the mission are entitled extend, to a certain
degree, to the members of their families forming part of their
households. The Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations (Article
37(1)) specifies the privileges and immunities which shall be
accorded such “members of the family of a diplomatic agent
forming part of [the] household” but does not provide a
definition of the term “members of the family” for the purposes
of the Convention. The drafters of the Convention recognized that
the concept of “family” differs among the societies of the
world and left the matter to be resolved according to the standards
of the respective receiving States.

The Chiefs of Mission are informed that, in addition to the
categories of individuals previously accepted as family members,
the Department has determined that the definition of “family”
forming part of the household of a diplomatic agent may include
same-sex domestic partners (“domestic partners”) for purposes
of the application of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations
and Vienna Convention on Consular Relations in the United States.
In accordance with guidance from the White House, the Department is
not in a position to accept the accreditation of opposite-sex
domestic partners as members of the family.

In order to be eligible for acceptance as a domestic partner of a
member of a diplomatic or consular mission, a same-sex domestic
partner must not be a member of some other household, must reside
regularly in the household of the principal, and must be recognized
by the sending State as a family member forming part of the
household of the principal, as demonstrated by eligibility for
rights and benefits from the sending State. Therefore, when
notifying the Department of domestic partners of its mission
members, the sending State is requested to submit appropriate
documentation that it recognizes the same-sex domestic partner
relationship, which could include evidence that the sending State
provided the domestic partner with a diplomatic or an official
passport or other documentation based on that status, or with
travel or other allowances. Domestic partners of employees of a
diplomatic or consular mission (and of miscellaneous foreign
government offices) accepted by the Department will be eligible for
“A” or “G” visas. The new visa regulation is enclosed.

In addition, the Department intends to pursue the legal measures
necessary to enable the to offer dependent employment to same-sex
domestic partners, on a reciprocal basis, in the context of
bilateral dependent employment agreements or arrangements. The
Chiefs of Mission will be advised of any such developments as soon
as it is possible to do so.

The attention of the Chiefs of Mission is also drawn to applicable
provisions of international law in respect of the termination of
status. As stated in previous circular notes, whenever any person
who has been accorded status as a member of the family in the
United States (other than a student attending boarding school or
college) ceases to reside with the principal, such person
immediately ceases to be a member of the family within the meaning
of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations and the Vienna
Convention on Consular Relations. Accordingly, all privileges and
immunities, if any, to which such person previously had been
entitled in the United States would terminate thirty days
thereafter unless in a particular case a shorter time has been
specified by the Department of State.

The Chiefs of Mission are advised that until the Department of
State publications and circular notes are revised explicitly to
incorporate “domestic partners” as members of the family of
diplomatic or consular agent forming part of the household,
references to family members in the context of privileges and
immunities and related matters other than dependent employment
should be understood to include domestic partners as described

It is emphasized that the standard set forth in this note is to
define members of the family for the purposes of the Vienna
Convention on Diplomatic Relations and the Vienna Convention on
Consular Relations and is without prejudice to other definitions of
family for other purposes which have an independent basis in
international agreements or domestic law.