In December 2014, GLIFAA was informed that State Department management intended to roll back its same-sex domestic partner protections (SSDP), because an opposite-sex unmarried couple had filed an equal employment opportunity (EEO) complaint asking to be recognized as domestic partners. GLIFAA, in partnership with our allies at the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA), registered our protest, engaging with management to reconsider their decision.
The Department’s October 14 announcement makes this rollback official. “I can’t imagine how the family who filed this complaint would find this a fair resolution,” said GLIFAA President Regina Jun. “GLIFAA supports equal treatment and fair protections for all employees, and having protections available for families that have different needs.”
The announcement includes a hardship exception. GLIFAA encourages all employees, who are in same or opposite sex relationships and face difficult circumstances, to follow the instructions for seeking an extension of SSDP protections.
The Department’s 2009 SSDP protections were never equal to the “benefits” provided to married families. SSDPs were denied health insurance, pensions, social security, and immigration rights, among other key benefits. SSDPs were only allowed a limited set of skeletal protections such as medical evacuation, emergency travel, and the chance to take security training courses (full list at http://www.state.gov/secretary/20092013clinton/rm/2009a/06/125083.htm). As a result of the decision, many families will now be denied these basic protections.
Rather than focusing on rollback, the Department should work to ensure all Americans can represent their country overseas, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. LGBT+ employees continue to face significant hurdles in finding a posting abroad where they can safely and effectively serve with their families. An April 2015 report in Buzzfeed described these challenges faced by GLIFAA families. In his June 2014 remarks Secretary Kerry said “We will push back. That’s the bottom line.” Deputy Secretary Higginbottom reiterated the commitment stating, “We refuse to accept that equal treatment by our foreign counterparts is too much to ask.” GLIFAA eagerly awaits the Department’s next steps on this matter.