Sunday, May 24, 2009

WASHINGTON, May 24, 2009 (AFP) - In a policy shift, the U.S. State Department will offer equal benefits and protections to same-sex partners of American diplomats, The New York Times reported Sunday.

The newspaper said the shift was spelled out in an internal memorandum Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton sent last week to an association of gay and lesbian foreign service officers.

Clinton said the policy change addressed an inequity in the treatment of domestic partners and would help the State Department recruit diplomats, since many international employers already offered such benefits, the report said.

“Like all families, our foreign service families come in different configurations; all are part of the common fabric of our post communities abroad,” Clinton said in the memorandum, a copy of which was provided to The Times by a member of the gay and lesbian association.

“At bottom,” the paper quotes Clinton as saying, “the department will provide these benefits for both opposite-sex and same-sex partners because it is the right thing to do.”

A senior State Department official confirmed the new policy, but did not say when it would take effect, the paper said.

Among the benefits are diplomatic passports, use of medical facilities at overseas posts, medical and other emergency evacuation, transportation between posts, and training in security and languages, according to the report.

Under current policy, diplomats with domestic partners could be evacuated from a hazardous country by the US government while their partners were left behind, The Times noted.

In the past, the State Department declined to provide some benefits to the partners of diplomats, invoking the Defense of Marriage Act, which limited federal recognition of same-sex unions, The Times noted.

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