Only if a same-sex couple is married will the spouse be eligible for a visa, but that could prove problematic for some, as the majority of the world's countries do not recognize same-sex marriages.
They said that there are a limited number of people who will be affected by the new policy.
In an insulting turn, the government is using the 2015 Supreme Court ruling that legalized gay marriage against the very people it's supposed to benefit, claiming that their new ruling is based on "equality" for both straight and queer diplomats.
They can conduct a same-sex marriage overseas, but face being imprisoned in some countries, travel alone, or break up with their partner.
Samantha Power, a former United States ambassador to the UN, said she was also dismayed by the visa policy, calling it "needlessly cruel & bigoted" in a tweet last week.
David Pressman, who served as United States ambassador to the UN Security Council for special political affairs under President Barack Obama, said the policy change was so damaging because the UN was "composed of probably one of the most diverse workforces of any organization in the world".
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Should a same-sex couple from, say, for example, Saudi Arabia, Jamaica, or Egypt marry in the US, upon returning home they could be arrested. Gay marriage is only legal in about 10 percent of the countries in the United Nations.
It was detailed in a memo circulated to employees at the United Nations' headquarters in NY last month.
Calls to the State Department and United Nations were not immediately returned. Same-sex marriage is only legal in a handful of countries worldwide.
"US diplomats as of yesterday have to be legally married in order to get this sort of derivative diplomatic status when they go overseas, so these changes are to mirror what USA policy now is", one of the senior administration officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity. If by the start of 2019 they're not married, they have 30 days to leave the country. The new policy only allows entry into the United States if the partners are legally married.
The new United States policy has drawn criticism from gay rights advocates who say it is not accommodating toward diplomats who come from countries that are hostile to same-sex unions.
The State Department said in a letter in July that the move is created to reflect the U.S.'s law on same-sex marriage in its global policies. But they could potentially be exposed to prosecution if they return to a country that criminalizes homosexuality or same-sex marriages.
United Nations staff seeking U.S. visas to work at headquarters could theoretically get married in one of the 25 countries that allows same-sex marriage.