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JUNE 2015



A marriage-for-benefits policy could

complicate assignment of gay Foreign

Service personnel to a range of gay-

unfriendly places.

to that same understanding by their


My involvement with the Council

attunes me daily to dangers inmany places

around the world that often attach to LGBT

individuals. In some cases, the partners

of lesbian and gay foreign affairs agency

employees hail from countries where these

threats are grave. For them, an act of mar-

riage—entirely traceable in today’s Internet

age—could carry negative consequences,

especially for families back home.

And just as tabloids already have mali-

ciously exposed the identity of gay people

in many homophobic countries, surely

they could do the same for our own per-

sonnel. In that respect, the public aspects

of a marriage-for-benefits policy could

complicate assignment of gay Foreign

Service personnel to a range of gay-

unfriendly places. It also would seem to

counter the department’s own interest in

assuring worldwide availability of talent.

No doubt State will pledge to imple-

ment any change in policy flexibly, to

account for special needs. But once out

of the bottle, the genie cannot be put

back in. A recorded marriage may be

fine in Paris. But in today’s world, might

open-source knowledge of that marriage

impede an onward assignment else-


Wider Understanding

of Diversity

What I find far more troubling about

the department’s trial balloon, however,

is what it indicates about State’s blind

spot in addressing the needs of unmar-

ried employees and their families in the

multidimensional workforce its “Strong

State” agenda is presumably meant to


To be blunt, tying benefits to mar-

riage, rather than to the employee, seems

a surprising throwback to … you guessed

it, the administration of President

George W. Bush. State leaders during his

presidency consistently turned back all

requests to address LGBT family needs

by citing the supposed limitations of the

Defense of Marriage Act.

Citing that law, of course, was a red

herring. Family support is as much a

prima facie need for LGBT employees

as it is for our straight colleagues, and

including partners in the Foreign Affairs

Manual’s already-expansive definition

of “eligible family members” was an easy

and obvious fix.

The “eligible family members”

solution was one of the recommenda-

tions offered by President-elect Barack

Obama’s State Department transition

team, on which I served. Secretary of

State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s early

adoption of it led to one of the most strik-

ing innovations of the administration’s

2009 domestic partner program: tacit rec-

ognition that the department could base

the provision of employee benefits on a

broad definition of family, rather than on

marital status.

Six years later, why would the Obama

administration retreat to a retrogressive

position—again pinning provision of For-

eign Service benefits to marriage, rather

than embracing, without qualification, all

families that accompany our employees


Putting Families First

Instead of ending the partner pro-

gram, logic would call for its expansion to

include all unmarried couples, gay and

straight alike.

Since leaving our Service, I’ve been

privileged to work with, and learn from,

talent-support professionals from some

of America’s best corporations. Most

understand that their job is as much

about retaining talent as it is about offer-

ing a solid, entry-level job. Innovative

policies to match what their companies’

best employees—single or otherwise—

need and expect is a preoccupation, not

an incidental concern.

Great companies pull out stops to

make themselves employers of choice.

They stay out of the marriage license

business, opting instead for “employee

Michael Guest on the Jan. 29, 2008,

cover of the nation’s leading LGBT


The Advocate.