He estimates that one-quarter of the roughly 190 countries that maintain diplomatic relations with the United States are willing to offer full privileges and immunity to same-sex spouses. Kero-Mentz said the United States should consider withholding visas for countries that don’t do so. But that path involves foreign-policy implications.
“It’s a political decision how far to push,” Curtin said, noting that some governments don’t respond well to pressure on LGBT issues. “It could do more harm than good, because some countries are willing to create a workaround, but if you ask directly, the answer is no.”
Kero-Mentz has firsthand experience dealing with inequality abroad. His German-born domestic partner, David, was denied diplomatic privileges while Kero-Mentz was based in Sri Lanka from 2009 to 2011.
“It caused a lot of difficulty in our relationship,” he recalled. “The [deputy] embassy chief was not terribly supportive. It left kind of a bad, lingering taste for David.”
For years, gay diplomats have pretended that their spouses and domestic partners were butlers to secure visas and avoid attention.
Observers believe President Obama’s new crop of openly gay U.S. ambassadors will push LGBT interests. They are: John Berry for Australia; James Costos for Spain; James Brewster for the Dominican Republic; Rufus Gifford for Denmark; and Daniel Baer for the Organization for Security and Cooperation.
“I think what we’ll see moving forward is that our ambassadors will make the case that we’re the U.S. and we want to be well represented in your country, and top talent represents the diversity of America,” Baer said. “I think there will be a progressive trend, where bilateral agreements will include equality for same-sex couples.”
But the rub between U.S. diplomacy and promoting American values surfaced publicly when religious leaders in the Dominican Republic opposed Brewster’s nomination. Catholic Vicar Pablo Cedano told reporters in June that the selection showed “a lack of respect, of consideration, that they send us that kind of person as ambassador.” He added that Brewster will “suffer and will be forced to leave” if he is confirmed.
The Senate has approved all of Obama’s gay ambassador picks except for Brewster, who has yet to have a hearing.
Adam Sharon, a spokesman for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the delay is not related to the religious leaders.
“There are many factors that go into the timing of a confirmation hearing,” he said, noting that about 30 ambassador nominees remain to be considered. “Brewster’s will come up in the fall.”