June 18th, 2009
09:18 PM ET

Clinton blazes trail on same sex benefits

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Elise Labott
CNN State Department Producer

Yesterday's groundbreaking move by President Obama to provide some benefits to same-sex partners of federal employees came to fruition in large part due to Secretary of Clinton, who first put the issue on the table.

It is unclear whether the Obama administration came to office planning to offer government-wide benefits to domestic partners of civil service employees, but Clinton, a longtime advocate of gay rights, was on it day one. Since President Obama named her as his pick for Secretary of State in November, Clinton's transition staff and the State Department had been working with members of the American Foreign Service Association and the group GLIFAA (Gays & Lesbians in Foreign Affairs Agencies) on what could be done to extend benefits to domestic partners of diplomats serving abroad.

At her very first senior staff meeting Clinton instructed the State Department to review whether she had the authority to extend benefits to same-sex domestic partners. About a week later a gay employee asked Clinton during a town hall with employees to eliminate discrimination against same sex partners. The Secretary of State drew loud applause when she said the issue was "of real concern" to her, and that she was already working on it.

Several weeks ago, a memo to employees from Clinton instituting the changes was leaked to the press. Clinton's aides at the time said the memo was a draft, and that Clinton couldn't change policies without an "interagency review" of the issue to make sure State Department actions wouldn't negatively affect other agencies. But the memo seemed to light a fire under the administration, which quickly caught up to Clinton's lead.

Still, the health benefits announced Wednesday for same sex partners of non-State Department civil employees is a drop in the bucket compared to the long list of other benefits the State Department extended to the gay partners of US diplomats serving abroad. In addition to health benefits and access to medical and emergency evacuation, domestic partners will also get diplomatic passports, training at the Foreign Service Institute and housing allowances. Same sex partners will get the same preference for US embassy jobs that spouses currently enjoy, and the State Department will now work with foreign governments to provide same-sex domestic partners, to the extent possible, with diplomatic visas, work permits and other privileges, including diplomatic immunity. The State Department will even pay for them to fly home if a relative is gravely ill. Few of these benefits are currently offered to domestic partners.

Although the Foreign Service has difference rules and regulations which allow the State Department to do more in the first place, Clinton extended the full range of legally available benefits and allowances to same sex partners of members of the Foreign Service. In a statement issued Thursday acknowledging the support partners provide to overseas posts, Clinton said, "domestic partners of federal employees have for too long been treated unequally."

Clinton knows the move is also good business. Today's US diplomats serving around the world are increasingly having to shed their pinstripe suits and get dirty in the field, which requires a whole different skill set. These days the State Department is competing for the same Arabic and Farsi speakers and technology gurus as top notch multinational companies, where domestic partner benefits and allowances are increasingly the norm. Clinton herself noted if the State Department wants to remain a "word class employer" which attracts and retains high caliber personnel, the change is "the smart thing to do."

soundoff (20 Responses)
  1. nan

    this is just ONE of the many reasons I supported Hillary for President (and still do). She was far more honest about what could and could not be achieved for the LGBT community during the primary. When you go back and watch her interview on LOGO channel (compared to Obama's), she was by far the leader on gay rights (and human rights) issues. Furthermore, to me anyway, she is far more trustworthy on both international and domestic (economic) issues. It's such a shame that the left wing, blogging community – along with the media did everything in their power to ensure she did not win the primary (even though she really did by getting the most votes).

    June 19, 2009 at 10:07 am |
  2. Jennifer

    It's a step forward, although much more is required to grant equal benefits to same-sex partners. Kudos to Secretary Clinton and her staff for pushing the issue. The guests on Wednesday's show brilliantly analyzed the situation, particularly Dustin Black for emphasizing that same-sex marriage rights and benefits for partners are civil rights. Two wars and an economic crisis are not excuses to delay granting those rights, "There is never a convenient time to give full & equal civil rights in this country. That is not the tradition of this country." These are issues that should matter to all Americans, not only the Gay & Lesbian community. Civil rights are a national discussion and one category of second-class citizenship can easily lead to another group's subjugation.

    June 19, 2009 at 9:03 am |
  3. RLWellman

    Did anyone hear of Sodom and Gomorrah? Do you think this was just a fairy tale? Our country keeps pushing immorality. How long do you think God will allow this to go on?
    It's still not too late to stop and change our ways! For those who think God won't do anything to you. I pray that you will change before it is too late!

    June 19, 2009 at 8:56 am |
  4. Barb

    I heart Hillary Clinton! She rocks for staying true to her word.

    June 19, 2009 at 8:12 am |
  5. Los Angeles, California

    One step at a time – teach tolerance.

    June 19, 2009 at 7:48 am |
  6. David, Indiana

    @Annie Kate I agree with you that Sec. Clinton looks better and better each and every day as she fulfills her duties as Secy. of State. It is interesting to get the inside story on part of how the Obama admin. has come to extend benefits to same sex partners of federal employees, a move that should've come years ago.

    I wish Madame Secretary a speedy recovery from her broken elbow. She's a hardworking person who puts a blogger like me to shame.

    June 19, 2009 at 4:08 am |
  7. J.V.Hodgson

    Only thing wrong with this is it is "bitting" at the process and problem, and not dealing with the whole issue, and letting religion interfere with legislative government ( congress) and thier duty in defence of a minorities constitutional rights.

    June 19, 2009 at 3:59 am |
  8. Sue

    Blazing a trail, will be when the government lets go of its bias, and is willing to recognize the gay & lesbian community as human beings!

    June 19, 2009 at 1:05 am |
  9. Dr. Donna K Buechler

    Thank you so much Secretary Clinton. I'm glad to see someone is standing up to their campaign promises.

    June 19, 2009 at 1:04 am |
  10. Pam

    Good for her. I'm glad we have someone in her position with such dignity and courage and willingness to stand for equality. We all, whether gay or straight, male or female, black or white or green, religious or non believer, genius or slow, etc. etc, have the God given right to be authentic and genuine and to express the unique being we are. And certainly we have the right to extended the benefits, as well as assume the responsibilities, that go with forming a legal union of our choosing. Love is in far too short a supply for anyone to be judging who its expressed with, we should spend far less time worrying about the behavior in other people's bedrooms, and concentrate a little more on how we treat one another. After all, a kiss is just a kiss.
    Gay people are just people, with children and jobs, mortgages and debts. concerns and joys, faith and despair, hopes and dreams. People are people, labels are nothing more than tape with letters scrawled on them. Remove the label and we usually find we have far more in common than we do different.

    June 18, 2009 at 11:56 pm |
  11. deborah rice

    this is probably why clinton lost to obama. i love obama and i am looking to see who i will vote for next., Jesus first then i pick.

    June 18, 2009 at 11:26 pm |
  12. John

    Clinton better get the credit rather than that egotistical Obama!

    June 18, 2009 at 11:04 pm |
  13. Jarrod

    g_d bless Hilery Clinton for her support of gay people. She has always been there for us. Got ta luv that woman.

    June 18, 2009 at 10:54 pm |
  14. terry F

    Good for Hilary.

    It seems to me that everyone wanted or expected their needs to be met as soon as Obama took office. Well welcome to the real world. Let's get our priorities straight. How about we fix the economy, get out of Iraq and get Afghanistan straightened out. And then, of course there is Iran and the other loose canon in North Korea.

    I understand the equality issue, I'm gay and I want those things also but the man has been in office for 6 months! How about we let patience rule the day. Rome was not built in a day and neither will all of our social injustices be fixed in 6 months

    June 18, 2009 at 10:48 pm |
  15. Eleanor Coombs, Ga

    I have a solution to all this "Hoopala".. Insure everyone alike.No gender check, If the person is employed, the employer pays what they are mandated to pay and the employee pay what is mandated for 'single, or 'family'. The unemployed will accept individual coverage. If they have a family, then the spouse and each child will have to be separately insured....just like medicaid. Medicaid or Medicare do not have a ".family plan".

    June 18, 2009 at 10:28 pm |
  16. w martin

    Secretary Clinton is really coming into her own. She has my respect for her desire to do the right thing and for getting it done.

    June 18, 2009 at 10:13 pm |
  17. Jolene

    I don't think same sex couples should get benefits unless they are going to allow men and women that are living together the same benefits. Isn't this discrimination against regular men and women? Just because same sex couples can't get married doesn't give them the right to have benefits. The world was intended for men and women to be together not same sex gender.

    June 18, 2009 at 10:10 pm |
  18. Annie Kate

    Good for Secretary Clinton – she just looks better and better with what she does and what she helps the administration do. I'm glad she has such a pivotal role in this administration and is using it for the advantage of some of the key issues she ran on. I know that there is still a lot to be done to ensure equality to same sex couples but Mrs. Clinton has at least helped the federal government take that first step.

    June 18, 2009 at 8:54 pm |
  19. Tim Gibson

    Until all the cards are laid out on the table, the divorce from the democratic party will continue, even though I am a fan of Hillary, but cannot stomach Barney Frank.

    June 18, 2009 at 8:12 pm |
  20. Teresa, OH

    re: what is this: "large part due to Secretary of Clinton" what is a secretary of clinton? Maybe I'm reading that wrong, due to having vomited today from a migraine...

    But anyhow... of course gay couples should get benefits.

    June 18, 2009 at 8:07 pm |