On 17 July 2023, media reports revealed an alleged row between the governments of Jamaica and the United States concerning a request by the US to extend diplomatic immunity to the spouse of an American diplomat where the couple is in a same-sex marriage.
Allegations Stem From Earlier in 2023
The issue arose earlier in 2023 when the US government made a formal request for approval from Jamaica’s government to extend diplomatic immunity and attendant privileges to the same-sex partner of a diplomat scheduled for a posting in Jamaica. The issue was complicated by the fact that same-sex marriage is not recognized in Jamaica. Following a reportedly late response and ultimate denial of its approval by the Jamaican government, some media outlets stated that the US government had “retaliated” by denying a request from Jamaica to extend the stay of three of its diplomats in the US.
Both Nations Deny Reports of a Diplomatic Rift
In response to the media reports, both the US and Jamaica denied there was any diplomatic problem. Jamaica’s Foreign Affairs Minister Senator Kamina Johnson Smith said that Jamaica considers all requests presented to the Ministry in the light of the country’s Constitution and that Jamaica extends privileges and immunities to diplomats being posted to the island, their staff, and families as stated in the context of the Constitution. Information Minister Robert Morgan, who cited Johnson Smith’s statement during a media briefing, that staff from both the US and Jamaica continue to live and work in each other’s territory and are “expected to observe the laws of the host country.”
Jamaican Ambassador Sets the Record Straight
Jamaica’s ambassador to the US, Audrey Marks, issued a clarification on the alleged “row” between the two countries on 26 July 2023. Denying there was any diplomatic rift, Ambassador Marks shared that the Jamaican Embassy received a request from the US on 20 June 2023, to extend diplomatic immunities and privileges to all spouses of accredited staff, regardless of gender, who were assigned to the US Embassy in Jamaica. Upon receiving the forwarded message, Jamaica’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade provided the recommended response in keeping with the nation’s laws and sent it to the US Department of State on 5 July 2023. Marks emphasized that the request had not been “ignored or was a “second demand” as reported in the media.
Marks Explains Current Diplomatic Policies
The US has made requests of all nations since 2015 asking that they recognize the spouses of diplomats in same-sex marriages. This policy is clearly in conflict with Jamaican laws. Marks also denied media reports that suggested she be removed from her post or that she immediately leave the US prior to the end of 2023 or immediately when her diplomatic visa expired. She said she will return to Jamaica at the appropriate time as stated in her contract or when asked to return by Jamaica’s government. She did admit that in the past two years, “a few extensions were requested, and some were denied.”
New US Policy
According to Ambassador Marks, a new policy was implemented by the US in August 2019 and became effective in August of 2021 in which diplomats around the globe will be accredited for a maximum of five years. After that five-year period expires, the diplomats are expected to leave the US. However, this policy is not applicable to the Ambassador, Chargé d’Affaires, or the Deputy Chief of Mission. Ambassador Marks emphasized that the leaders of Jamaica have not been “snubbed” by the US in any way.
Jamaica and Us Make Assurances of Their Continued Strong Relationship
The department assured that the United States and Jamaica continue to foster a close relationship based on shared values, trade, culture, tourism, and a dynamic diaspora community in the US. The US Embassy noted that, as of August 2021, diplomats from all bilateral missions to the US worldwide are accredited for a maximum of five years.
Both US and Jamaica Confirm a Strong Relationship
Jamaica’s government has repeatedly denied any “diplomatic row” with Washington DC, as has the US. Morgan said there was “no diplomatic spat” as reported in the media, while the US Embassy in Jamaica continues to emphasize the fact that both countries continue to maintain close ties based on their shared values, trade, tourism, culture, and the existence of a large and vibrant diaspora community in the US.