Thursday, September 12, 2013

Politics & Policy

Defence Department same-sex marriage leave policy under fire from Capitol Hill
U. S. Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel
By Brody Levesque | WASHINGTON -- A ranking Republican member of the U. S. Senate Armed Services committee said this week that a newly revised Pentagon policy for marriage leave for gay service members "legally fails to fix the issue of giving same-sex couples a special benefit."
An aide to Oklahoma Senator Jim Inhofe told LGBTQ Nation Thursday that Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel's response to Inhofe's inquiry, regarding the “marriage leave” provision, which had been changed early this month "left the Senator dissatisfied with the resulting changes."
Hagel had sent Inhofe a letter last Friday outlining his meeting last week with the service chiefs and Jessica L. Wright, acting undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness. After the meeting Wright issued a memorandum with “clarifying guidance” to personnel offices for the services.
During a phone interview today, a spokesman for Wright, Navy Lt. Commander Nate Christensen told LGBTQ Nation:  
"It is the Department's policy to treat all married military personnel equally and to make the same benefits available to all who qualify.  
We're constantly looking at our policies and making sure they are clear to the force. As we began to implement this new rule, the Department came up with a few additional ideas to clarify the policy and help make the implementation smoother across the force."
In his letter Hagel noted that one of Inhofe’s concerns was that the Defence Department lacks authority to grant uncharged leave. The secretary responded that this wasn't "leave;"
“There is long-standing precedent that commanders have discretionary authority to grant liberty to service members. An administrative absence to obtain a legal marriage falls within this authority,” Hagel wrote.
Inhofe fired back this week labeling Hagel’s response “a disappointment.”
“The department's decision to cancel the uncharged leave benefit and substitute an ‘administrative absence’ provision did not fix the issue at hand. 
Not only does the Secretary fail to disclose his authority to create this administrative leave benefit but it still violates their own expressed policy…that they will ‘treat all military personnel equally.’ ” 
Inhofe added that he didn't know of a situation in which heterosexual members would be eligible for administrative absence, presumably because they legally can marry in any state and overseas areas too. 
Stephen L. Peters, a spokesperson for the American Military Partner Association, which assists LGBT military families, said,
"The flaw in the Senator's logic is that same-sex marriage is currently legal in only 13 states and the District of Columbia. The policy remains “an answer to the inequality that same-gender military couples face who are stationed in states that deny them the ability to marry, thereby denying them the ability to access military support and benefits in order to care for their family and focus on the mission first.”  
Heterosexuals won’t benefit, Peters pointed out because they already can marry anywhere, “which is the fundamental point of the policy.”
Christensen outlined the DOD policy as it currently stands:
The Department's policy will now allow couples to receive an administrative absence to obtain a legal marriage, if they are stationed more than 100 miles from a jurisdiction that allows the couple to be married.  This will provide accelerated access to the full range of benefits offered to married couples throughout the Department, and help level the playing field for all couples seeking to be married. 
As operational requirements permit, commanding officers may grant an administrative absence to service members that are assigned to duty stations located more than 100 miles from a jurisdiction that allows the couple to be married.   
Military personnel assigned within the Continental United States may be granted an administrative absence for a period of up to 7 days, which may include up to 2 days for travel.  Eligible Service members assigned outside the Continental United States may be granted an administrative absence for a period of up to 10 days, which may include up to 5 days for travel. 
The Senate Armed Services Committee will hold a confirmation hearing September 19 on several key senior defense appointments including Wright who is nominated to become Undersecretary of Defence. She is expected to face questions on this revised policy from Inhofe and other conservatives on the committee.

President Obama appoints another high profile diplomatic position to an openly gay official
U. S. Ambassador to OSCE, Daniel Baer
Official State Department Photo
WASHINGTON -- Daniel Baer was sworn in as the US ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation Europe. Baer’s appointment is one of five high profile diplomatic positions awarded to openly gay men by the Obama Administration during the president’s second term.
A former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor and openly gay, Baer was sworn in Wednesday at the U. S. State Department Headquarters in Washington by an acting Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, Uzra Zeye.
Baer and his partner Brian Walsh, who attended Wednesday's ceremony, will soon be headed to the U. S. Mission to OSCE headquarters in Vienna, Austria.
Speaking with The Washington Blade after the ceremony, the newly minted ambassador said that he could have never believed he would go on to achieve such success when he was in high school, believing his sexuality would be a barrier in his life.
"I remember a very sad and lonely junior and high school student in 1994 who wondered whether it was possible for him ever to be happy, and wondered whether it was worth going on,’ Baer said. "Certainly, he would have been shocked to see today’s ceremony."