Not a question of rights, a question of survival abroad

Samson Kaala Reiny

According to the Advocate, a magazine covering the LGBT community, 2,200 U.S. Department of State employees signed a petition that was sent to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, urging her to extend the rights granted to "eligible family members" to same-sex couples.

Gays and Lesbians in Foreign Affairs Agencies (GLIFAA), which composed the letter, says that withholding benefits from same-sex partners not only makes a career in foreign service more challenging for them but more dangerous as well. Ninety-two percent of those who signed the petition would not be affected by the proposed policy change, meaning they are largely either single or in a heterosexual marriage.

Secretary Clinton should enact this change as expeditiously as possible because the lives of U.S. citizens and their loved ones stationed abroad are at risk.

It is apparent that the United States is divided over gay rights. The federal government currently grants no rights to same-sex couples, but two states allow gay marriage, several others honor civil unions and domestic partnerships, and Hawai'i's Legislature is currently considering a civil-unions bill. However, still others have yet to add sexual orientation as a form of discrimination. If there is a line where ideology should bend to sensible reason, this is a starting place.

Whatever one thinks about same-sex relationships, it's hard to deny that someone willing to go halfway around the world with a partner working to promote U.S. interests and safety has the right to equal accommodations as his or her heterosexual counterpart.

Foreign service officers work in the some of the most hostile regions in the world, in embassies, consulates, and other diplomatic missions burdened by constant threats and crises. It is understandable why married partners are entitled to language immersion, since communicating in that country might mean the difference between knowing where to go and knowing what not to do. It makes sense that partners are entitled to federal health-care benefits in regions where the local medical care is far below decent standards. And it is a basic right for spouses to have access to evacuation assistance during times of extreme danger.

But none of these "benefits" are allotted to same-sex partners of employees. Yes, even in the precarious throngs of a political fallout, they literally are not shown the escape plans.

How can a country that supposedly puts a high premium on protecting its citizens at home and abroad completely disregard this small contingent of people who've chosen to risk their safety to be with someone for whom they love? How can a citizen, especially working in, say, Baghdad or Kabul, function at the highest level knowing his or her partner is exceptionally vulnerable, particularly in those countries where homosexuality is forbidden?

Ultimately, the petition to grant same-sex couples these basic necessities does not infringe upon the sanctity of traditional marriage or so-called normative relationships. Rather, it is a matter of recognizing the sanctity of human life– a principle we should all vigorously support.