State Department employees who want to continue getting benefits for their same-sex partners will have to put a ring on it.
The federal agency is phasing out its same-sex domestic partner program now that the Supreme Court has ruled gay marriage is a right, according to the Washington Blade. The Department intends to begin winding down the program in December, with all non-spousal benefits ending in September 2018.
“When Obergefell v. Hodges legalized same-sex marriage throughout the United States, federal spousal benefits administrated by the department became available equally to married opposite- and same-sex couples,” Under Secretary of State for Management Patrick Kennedy told the paper. “Because married same-sex couples are now able to receive a wide array of benefits available to any married couple in the federal government, the original justification for the SSDP program no longer exists.”
“Because married same-sex couples are now able to receive a wide array of benefits available to any married couple in the federal government, the original justification for the SSDP program no longer exists.”
The SSDP program was first started in 2009 when then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced that same-sex partners of Foreign Service Personnel were eligible for diplomatic passports, access to medical facilities at posts overseas, emergency travel and other benefits. But extending benefits to unmarried partners is no longer necessary to avoid discrimination, in the eyes of the agency.
“We strongly believe the phase-out of the SSDP program ensures all employees are treated fairly and equitably,” State Department spokesperson Pooja Jhunjhunwala told FoxNews.com, adding that the SSDP program will gradually phased out over a three-year period.
The Department will allow for administrative leave so employees in same-sex relationships can legally marry.
“To those employees who are living overseas in countries where they cannot legally marry, we are also offering administrative leave so that they can travel to a country where they can,” Jhunjhunwala said. “The Department is also offering a hardship exception for employees to provide for any unique difficulties that may arise as a result of the phase-out.”
Some in the Foreign Service have taken issue with the program in the past, saying it should include all couples, straight or otherwise.
“While we are committed life partners who own a home together, marriage is not something we want forced on us just to have our relationship recognized,” a straight Foreign Service employee at the State Department who has been with her partner for seven years told the Blade back in January, when rumors of the program being dropped first surfaced.
“For us, and perhaps for many same-sex couples too, domestic partnership benefits would allow us to stay true to our values and also have our employer do the same. Many private employers do this. It is very unfair to me and others like me for the department not to expand domestic partner benefits to all couples.”
According to reports, Kennedy met last December with officials from GILFAA, an organization that represents LGBT Foreign Service members, and said that the Department had planned to move forward with proposed elimination if the SSDP program, saying it was a response to an unmarried heterosexual couple that had filled a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Officials for GILFAA find the final decision to roll back the domestic partner protections unfortunate.
“I can’t imagine how the family who filed this complaint would find this a fair resolution,” GLIFAA President Regina Jun said in a released a statement. “GLIFAA supports equal treatment and fair protections for all employees, and having protections available for families that have different needs.”
The advocacy group also says that the SSDP protections were “never equal” to the benefits provided to married families, claiming that those under the program were denied health insurance, pensions, social security, and immigration rights and only allowed the bare minimum when it came to medical evacuation, emergency travel and security training courses.
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, reads their statement. “LGBT+ employees continue to face significant hurdles in finding a posting abroad where they can safely and effectively serve with their families.”
Jun told FoxNews.com that the group will be working with the families affected by the phase out.
“Although GILFAA is disappointed that the domestic partnership protection program is being phased out,” she said, “we are working with our members to ensure that when it is not safe for some personnel to marry they can still be protected with the hardship exception that exists.
“LGBT employees and their families still experience discrimination in many places. The State Department should focus on ensuring that the employees, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, can serve with their families where their skills are most needed.”