Clinton to Announce Benefits for Partners of Gay U.S. Diplomats

By Glenn Kessler
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, May 25, 2009

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 resisted efforts to treat same-sex partners the same as spouses. Thus those partners were denied a wide array of benefits, such as paid travel to and from overseas posts, shipments of household effects, visas and diplomatic passports, emergency travel to visit ill or injured partners, and evacuation in case of a security emergency or medical necessity.

Those benefits will be extended to all unmarried domestic partners -- both same-sex and heterosexual -- under the policy shift to be announced by Clinton in the coming days, according to a draft memo prepared for Clinton's signature. The draft was provided to The Washington Post by an official with the organization Gays and Lesbians in Foreign Affairs Agencies.

J. Michelle Schohn, president of the organization, said she had read media reports on the draft memo and was hopeful the changes would be implemented soon. "It would make great changes in the lives" of gay Foreign Service officers and be "a giant step for equality," she said.

"Historically, domestic partners of Foreign Service members have not been provided the same training, benefits, allowances, and protections that other family members receive. These inequities are unfair and must end," Clinton writes in the memo. "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.", a Web site that focuses on gay and lesbian news, first reported on the draft memo. State Department officials confirmed the authenticity of the draft on Saturday and said it indicates the shift Clinton hopes to enact, but they cautioned that the final policy document still requires additional consultation within the department, including with the union that represents all Foreign Service officers. Officials are hoping to make the new policy official before the summer transfer season begins.

The issue achieved prominence in 2007 when a respected ambassador, Michael Guest, resigned in protest after 26 years in the Foreign Service. The rules and regulations, 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.

Rep. Howard L. Berman (D-Calif.), head of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, last week dropped plans to legislatively require such changes in State Department policy. He did so, he said, after he had been assured that State would soon shift its policies.

"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.

In the draft memo, Clinton says State will exercise "its inherent authority to change its regulations" and that, when appropriate, the benefits will extend to the children of domestic partners as well.

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