Democratic and Republican members of the US Congress have called on the newly-appointed Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, to take action to ensure that gay and lesbian State Department employees get full partner benefits.

In a letter Congresswomen Tammy Baldwin, a Democrat, and Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen joined by Senators Russ Feingold (D-WI) and Ron Wyden (D-OR), and Rep. (R-FL), wrote:

“The lack of equitable treatment could force dedicated, intelligent, and needed FSOs (Foreign Service Officers) and officials to make an unfortunate choice between serving their country and protecting their families.

“As you noted during the question and answer session of your Senate Foreign Relations confirmation hearing, many other nations now extend training, protection, and benefits to the partners of LGBT employees.

“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 programmes to cover the domestic partners. Without remedying these inequities, the State Department may fail to attract and retain qualified personnel.”

Baldwin and her colleagues asked Secretary Clinton to institute, among other things, the following changes in State Department policy regarding Foreign Service Officers (FSOs):

* Inclusion in travel orders for same-sex domestic partners of FSOs

* Access to training, including all language classes, area studies, and embassy effectiveness classes for same-sex domestic partners of FSOs

* Emergency evacuation and medevac from post when necessary for same-sex domestic partners of FSOs

* Access to post health units for same-sex domestic partners of FSOs

* Visa support for same-sex domestic partners accompanying FSOs to overseas postings, and for same-sex foreign-born domestic partners accompanying FSOs to postings in Washington or elsewhere in the U.S.

* Preferential status for employment at post comparable to that enjoyed by Eligible Family Members (EFMs) for same-sex domestic partners of FSOs.

Under the current regulations a US State Department employee’s spouse can claim several rights which are denied to unmarried partners and same-sex partners.

Other issues include the lack of training for same-sex partners to recognise terrorist threats, the lack of medical care and the need to pay for one’s own transportation when one’s partner is on duty.

On Friday Mrs Clinton met with the leaders of nine “affinity” groups within the State Department and assured
Michelle Schohn, president of Gays & Lesbians in Foreign Affairs Agencies, that she would review the situation.

During her confirmation hearing earlier this month, Mrs Clinton was asked by Senator Feingold if she will support “changes to existing personnel policy in order to ensure that LGBT staff at State and USAID receive equal benefits and support.”

She told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that “we should take a hard look at the existing policy” and she has asked for more briefing on the issue.