Foreign Policy Workers Ask State to Back Benefits for Gay Partners

Longtime envoy Michael Guest resigned over partner benefits.
Longtime envoy Michael Guest resigned over partner benefits.
  Enlarge Photo    
By Glenn Kessler
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Nearly 2,200 government employees involved in foreign policy issues signed a letter delivered to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton yesterday calling on the government to give equal benefits to same-sex partners.

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. But Clinton, during her confirmation hearings, indicated a greater willingness to explore the issue.

"I think that we should take a hard look at the existing policy," Clinton said in response to a question from Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.). "My understanding is other nations have moved to extend that partnership benefit."

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.

In the letter, which was organized by the group Gays and Lesbians in Foreign Affairs Agencies, the signatories wrote, "We believe that no colleague of ours is a second-class colleague, and no colleague's family is a second-class family." Many of the disparities could be resolved with an order from Clinton's office, the letter said, though some would require legislation.

J. Michelle Schohn, president of the organization, said that since Guest's resignation, State has opened an overseas security training seminar and short language courses to same-sex partners, among other measures. But she said a wide array of benefits are still 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.

"We question the logic of leaving same-sex partners to fend for themselves during an emergency evacuation of a high danger post," the letter said. "We are embarrassed when the Department will reimburse a variety of moving expenses, including the cost of transporting a pet, when an employee is assigned overseas, but will not do the same for a same-sex partner."

Schohn said that 92 percent of the people signing the letter were single or married to someone of the opposite sex.

A State Department official said Clinton had received the letter. "The secretary wants to review this soon and plans to hear from all relevant stakeholders," he added.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company