The U.S. Navy will provide military benefits to gay couples stationed in Japan after previously denying dependent status to same-sex spouses there, according to defense officials.
The change came after U.S. and Japanese officials agreed to an interpretation of the status of forces agreement between the two nations, concluding that the term “spouses” applied to all individuals who are legally married to Department of Defense personnel.
“We are thankful for the support of the Japanese government as we worked through this review, and in supporting our efforts to meet the DOD guidance,” said Lt. Col. David Honchul, a spokesman for U.S. armed forces in Japan.
The Navy announced its decision this week, saying in a notice to personnel that it had added Japan to its list of overseas assignments for same-sex couples. The move came less than four months after the Washington Post published an article examining how gay service members and their spouses often miss out on U.S. benefits while living abroad.
“It’s good news that everyone else won’t have to go through what I went through,” said Austin Watkins, a gay civilian defense worker profiled in the story. “There are so many people who are going to benefit from this policy change, and I’m so glad to see it.”
Watkins said he transferred from Japan to Washington two weeks before the Navy made its announcement. “I feel bad about leaving early and would love to continue to support [the service members in Japan], but I don’t have a desire to work overseas for DOD ever again in my life after this experience.”
The Navy did not provide its usual spousal benefits to Watkins’s husband, Joseph Marcey, after Watkins was stationed in Japan shortly after the couple’s wedding.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel issued a directive in August ordering the military to treat all legally married couples equally for purposes of federal benefits, ensuring that the Pentagon complied with a Supreme Court ruling this year that overturned a key portion of the Defense of Marriage Act.
The American Military Partners Association, a gay-rights group, described the Navy’s decision as “welcome news” but noted that the armed forces still do not treat same-sex spouses equally at many duty stations abroad.
“We urgently await for other locations to be added to the list so that our families no longer must worry about the difficult circumstances and decisions they currently face,” association president Stephen Peters said in a statement.
To date, the U.S. Navy has only made Japan and Guantanamo Bay available as overseas assignments for gay couples.
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