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"Denying visas to same-sex partners of foreign diplomats and United Nations officials is a discriminatory reversal of a policy that recognized that not all same-sex couples around the world have the freedom to marry and unfairly targets LGBT families", said Rep. Mark Takano (D-Ca.), a gay congressman who spoke at the State Department's annual gay pride event in June.

So, the administration actually banned all unmarried partners from getting visas, meaning diplomats can't just bring their girlfriends or boyfriends.

But it also rolls back a practice championed by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to extend benefits to same-sex domestic partners of diplomats or worldwide staff posted in the USA, even if they were not legally married.

Around 105 families are affected by the decision, of whom 55 are posted at US-based global organisations such as the United Nations, a State Department official said. "Consistent with [State] Department policy, partners accompanying members of permanent missions or seeking to join the same must generally be married in order to be eligible" for a diplomatic visa.

Former US ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power decried the Trump administration's move as "needlessly cruel & bigoted".

The Human Rights Campaign, the leading United States gay rights group, called the decision "unnecessary, mean-spirited and unacceptable".

The Trump administration on Monday began denying visas to same-sex domestic partners of foreign diplomats and United Nations employees, and requiring those already in the United States to get married by the end of the year or leave the country.

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"It is not meant to be an attack".

Only 12 percent of the countries in the world recognize same-sex marriage.

Should a same-sex couple from, say, for example, Saudi Arabia, Jamaica, or Egypt marry in the USA, upon returning home they could be arrested. Previously, under a policy instituted in 2009 under then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, "domestic partners" were considered members of the family - and thus eligible for a G-4 visa.

The change, which took effect Monday, impacts the partners of United Nations officials, ambassadors, full-time embassy and consulate staff, and foreign military members stationed at USA military bases or assigned to a foreign embassy or consulate in the U.S., among others.

It was not clear how many foreign diplomats and United Nations employees with pending USA posts will be affected by the policy shift.

Since taking office, however, Mr Trump has called for the ejection of transgender people from the military, backed away on anti-discrimination laws that protect gay workers and supported the right of businesses to cite religious principle in not serving gay couples.

David Stacy, government affairs director for the Human Rights Council, which advocates for gay rights, said the State Department decision was "unnecessary, mean-spirited and unacceptable".