Diplomatic Community

SURPRISE: Hillary Clinton Is Giving Gay Diplomats Their Rights. Why Now?


In what can only be described as a stunning development inside an administration that’s shown almost no concern for the well-being of gay Americans, the State Department will begin offering gay diplomats the same benefits as their straight counterparts. This is important not just because it’s a step toward equality, but because it contradicts the very rationale that President Obama has been using to perpetuate discrimination.

An announcement is expected from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who will say discriminating against same-sex loving officials is “unfair and must end,” not just because it’s morally wrong, but that “providing training, medical care and other benefits to domestic partners promote the cohesiveness, safety and effectiveness of our posts abroad.”

YOU READ THAT RIGHT: Offering equality to American officials actually makes the whole department stronger, more effective, and safer! Also, GET THIS: It will help recruit talent!

Included in Clinton’s expected remarks in a memo sent to the organization Gays and Lesbians in Foreign Affairs Agencies: “It will also help the department attract and retain personnel in a competitive environment where domestic partner benefits and allowances are increasingly the norm for world-class employers. 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.”

Why such a big deal?

Because Clinton’s remarks will be an official Obama administration statement on why it’s important to treat gays equality. You remember equality, don’t you? It’s that thing gays in the military aren’t being given, because military officials keep insisting granting gay servicemen the right to serve openly would make the armed forces less safe, less effective, and would hurt retention and recruitment. Certainly, the military and diplomatic outposts abroad are not apples to apples, and neither should all their policies; but Clinton’s remarks are the most striking and definitive so far that ending discrimination is, very simply, the right thing to do both ethically and logistically.

So what will our diplomats be receiving? They will be able to have “diplomatic passports, government-paid travel for their partners and families to and from foreign posts, and the use of U.S. medical facilities abroad. In addition, gay diplomats’ families will now be eligible for U.S. government emergency evacuations and training courses at the Foreign Service Institute.” (That gay partners have so far not been eligible for emergency evacuations — say, in the case of an attack on an embassy — is stunning.)

It’s unclear why Clinton is making this call now rather than, say, in tandem with other government offices. But her openness toward the State Department’s gays is well-publicized; they even drafted up a definitive list of what their new boss could do for them. (From the looks of things, Clinton agreed to the major pillars. Previously, she said: “And even though, as you pointed out, all of our personnel share the same service requirements, the partners in same-sex relationships are not offered the same training, the same benefits, and the same protections that other family members receive when you serve abroad. So I view this as an issue of workplace fairness, employee retention, and the safety and effectiveness of our embassy communities worldwide. So I have asked for a staff review of current policies, especially those that are set forth in State Department regulations, and recommendations and a strategy for making effective changes.”)

The new policy almost certainly went through President Obama, who likely gave a tacit approval, if only because of the changes’ sensitive political nature. But the policy will bring gay American diplomats up to speed with their foreign counterparts, many of whom already receive these benefits from their nations. And that’s pretty remarkable, especially given the inherent admission: The United States has been doing something wrong to gay people.

And also: The entire thing violates a smug little policy known as the Defense of Marriage Act. Funny how top officials don’t need an act of Congress to end discrimination.