44 The Obama Presidency
State Dept. Plan Would Extend Benefits to Same Sex Partners
Updated 11:36 a.m.
By Glenn Kessler
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton will soon announce that the partners of gay U.S. diplomats are eligible for many benefits currently denied them and allowed to spouses of heterosexual diplomats, according to lawmakers and others advocating the change.
The Bush administration had eased some rules, opening up some training to same-sex partners, but had resisted efforts to treat homosexual partners the same as married couples. Thus a wide array of benefits were denied to same-sex partners, such as paid travel to and from overseas posts, employment opportunities at the embassy, visas and diplomatic passports, mail privileges and evacuation in case of a security emergency or medical necessity.
Many of these benefits will now be granted under the policy shift that will be announced by Clinton in the coming days, according to an official with the Gays and Lesbians in Foreign Affairs Agencies organization who has seen a draft copy of a memo she plans to issue. The official provided a copy of the memo to The Washington Post.
The issue achieved prominence in 2007 when a respected ambassador, Michael Guest, resigned after 26 years in the Foreign Service to protest the rules and regulations that he argued gave same-sex partners fewer benefits than family pets. Guest said he was forced to choose "between obligations to my partner, who is my family, and service to my country," which he called "a shame for this institution and our country."
Guest was a member of Obama's State Department transition team. And Clinton, during her confirmation hearings, indicated a greater willingness to explore the issue.
In the memo, Clinton said: "At bottom, the department will provide these benefits for both opposite-sex and same-sex domestic partners because it is the right thing to do."
State Department officials said the draft indicates the direction Clinton hopes to go, but the final policy document still requires additional consultation within the department.
Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), head of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, last week dropped plans to legislatively require such a policy change, as part of the State Department reauthorization bill.
"It is my expectation, based on very recent conversations, that the Secretary of State will move forward with implementing all of the benefits provided in that provision in the very near future," Berman said at a hearing on the bill.
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida, the top Republican on the committee, is also a strong supporter of the new policy, having lobbied for it during the Bush administration.
Earlier this year, nearly 2,200 government employees involved in foreign policy issues signed a letter to Clinton calling on the government to give equal benefits to same-sex partners.
Clinton's draft includes the following list of additional benefits and allowances:
-- Diplomatic passports;
-- Inclusion on employee travel orders to and from posts abroad;
-- Shipment of household effects;
-- Inclusion in family size calculations for the purpose of making housing allocations;
-- Family member preference for employment at posts abroad;
-- Use of medical facilities at posts abroad;
-- Medical evacuation from posts abroad;
-- Emergency travel for the partners to visit gravely ill or injured employees;
-- Inclusion as family members for emergency evacuation from posts abroad;
-- Subsistence payments related to emergency evacuation from posts abroad;
-- Inclusion in calculations of payments of overseas differentials and allowances (e.g., payment for quarters, cost of living, and other allowances);
-- Representation expenses;
-- Training at the Foreign Service Institute.
Posted at 7:35 AM ET on May 24, 2009
44 The Obama Presidency
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