Last week, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced that the State Department would begin offering benefits to the same sex partners of Foreign Service officers. Below are the reflections of Bruce Knotts, director of the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office, who worked in many Foreign Service posts and whose partner received none of the benefits offered to heterosexual couples and families in the same positions. Read the New York Times article here.
For over 25 years I served the U.S. Government mostly overseas as an American Diplomat. I survived assassination attempts in Karachi, Pakistan and in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire (from an assassin sent by Liberian dictator, Charles Taylor who now faces war crimes and crimes against humanity charges in the Hague.) I survived the terrorist bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi in 1998. However, through all those years there were never any provisions for same-sex partners. While we worked and risked our lives, we didn’t receive equal benefits for equal work.
Heterosexual families got travel, health and other benefits. Even dogs and cats had their transport paid for by the U.S. taxpayer for up to $3,000. Kids got their education paid for in posh private schools, while same-sex partners got nothing at all, including children of the same-sex partner — nothing.
After having served for 25 years, I retired. I get my health insurance and pension, but there is nothing for my spouse, Isaac Humphrie. We were married in Canada in 2006 while I was still an active employee at the Department of State. Our marriage received no recognition, so Isaac is not covered either by my pension nor my health insurance. Isaac lost his job last month at Balducci’s because they closed their stores in New York City. He has part-time employment with no health coverage.
Heterosexual diplomatic families receive tens of thousands of dollars in benefits every year while same sex families get less than the family dog or cat. It seems that this terrible inequity is about to change. It is about time and I hope that my retirement benefits can be adjusted so that Isaac can have health insurance and rights to my pension should I pass on. It is only fair to give employees of whatever sexual orientation or gender identity equal benefits for equal work to those received by heterosexual employees.
Many of America’s top industries have been providing equal benefits for equal work for years, decades. Many states and municipal governments also provide equal benefits for equal work. It is high time for the Federal Government to provide its employees equal benefits for equal work. I put my life on the line and risked death in the service of my country many times. I deserve the same benefits as other officers who have worked as hard and risked as much as I have. Most have worked far less and risked less, but receive many more benefits worth far more money than I have received. While the Department of State provides a $3,000 allowance recognizing the bonds of love and affection that people have for dogs and cats, it gave no allowance for same-sex couples. It is high time for the Department of State to provide same-sex families with the same benefits as opposite-sex families.