The U.S. Department of State announced recently that the Same-sex Domestic Partner benefit program is moving closer to the chopping block. The department has toyed with the idea, it seems, since the Supreme Court's decision in U.S. v. Windsor struck down a key provision of the Defense of Marriage Act. The program allows domestic partners to obtain diplomatic passports, gives them access to medical facilities in foreign outposts and covers expenses to visit family members or employees in an emergency.
GLBT groups within the department oppose the move, and there is a sad irony to their arguments. Yes, same-sex marriage may be OK with the federal government, they say, but after that, it's kind of a crap shoot. And not everyone wants to get married.
Same-sex couples in Minnesota won the right to marry in 2013. At this writing, 35 states and the District of Columbia have passed similar laws -- marry here or elsewhere, your marriage will be honored. At last count, however, there were 50 states, and that means that legally married same-sex couples haven't the same freedom to take a job or to retire to the city of their choice that opposite-sex marrieds have.
Not all employees of the Foreign Service live and work in one of those 35 states, either. Without the Same-sex Domestic Partner program, the GLBT couples will be at a distinct disadvantage. In some states, too, representatives argued, coming out by marrying someone of the same gender can get you fired.
The ramifications for partners who are citizens of other countries could be even more dire. There are countries where homosexuality is illegal. Marriage could lead to a trial in absentia or arrest on return home -- or, in some countries, death threats.
An alternative to abolishing the program would be to allow opposite-sex domestic partners to participate. Straight or gay, not every couple wants marriage to be the only way they can share their lives. A gay employee and a straight employee voiced concerns in interviews about being "forced to marry."
And, as one representative of GLBT State Department workers said, no part of the Windsor decision calls for any public or private sector employer to stop recognizing civil unions or domestic partnerships.
Source: Washington Blade, "EXCLUSIVE: State Dept. considers phasing out DP benefits," Michael K. Lavers, Jan. 14, 2015