Baldwin asks Clinton to follow through on State Dept. pledge

Openly gay U. S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.) called on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton this week to make good on her pledge to review the Department of State’s LGBT policies.

Baldwin, along with Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) and Sens. Russ Feingold (D-Wisc.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), issued a letter to Clinton Feb. 2 requesting that she take action to address widespread inequities faced by State Department employees and their partners.

Currently, the same-sex partners of Foreign Service Officers are considered members of household, not eligible family members, as are opposite-sex married partners. The distinction in status bars same-sex partners from accessing many of the rights afforded heterosexual FSOs and their spouses.

Same-sex partners currently don’t have equal access to the language-training and other educational classes the department offers the spouses of heterosexual FSOs, nor are they given the same preferential treatment for overseas employment. They are also not included in the FSOs’ travel orders, are not part of emergency-evacuation plans and do not have access to certain healthcare options. Same-sex partners additionally have to overcome obstacles in obtaining visas to accompany FSOs overseas that heterosexual spouses do not face, and foreign-born same-sex partners also face visa complications if they wish to return to the United States with the FSO.

In their letter, Baldwin and her colleagues requested that Clinton rectify these disparities and suggested that the inclusion of same-sex partners as eligible family members could be a viable solution to the problem.

“The lack of equitable treatment could force dedicated, intelligent and needed FSOs and officials to make an unfortunate choice between serving their country and protecting their families,” the letter stated, referencing former U.S. Ambassador to Romania Michael Guest, who resigned last year because of the employment issues he and his partner faced.

Baldwin and her fellow lawmakers said that the employment disparities “should not be the reason why highly qualified employees leave the State Department at a time when their service is needed more than ever.”

“Many other nations now extend training, protection and benefits to the partners of LGBT employees,” the letter went on to say. “Further, the State Department’s past inattention to these disparities places it below parity with the best employment practices used in the private sector, where the majority of Fortune 500 companies extend employee benefit programs to cover the domestic partners. Without remedying these inequities, the State Department may fail to attract and retain qualified personnel.”

In addition to expanding the opportunities for gay FSOs and their partners, the lawmakers also called on Clinton to institute a policy of recognizing the same-sex partners of foreign diplomats who are serving in the United States and affording them the same rights and privileges provided to heterosexual couples. The letter also requested that Clinton “provide guidance” to the U.S. Missions to the United Nations to allow for American employees of the United Nations to have their same-sex partners recognized as domestic partners.

The letter reminded Clinton that during her recent confirmation hearing she said she would look into the employment disparities faced by gay FSOs and their partners.

“As you work to advance America’s national security and exemplify this great country’s values around the world, we hope you will follow through on this pledge and also work to fully support your diverse workforce.”

Jen Colletta can be reached at [email protected].