Wednesday, July 30, 2008
It's time to stop selling ambassadorships
By BARBARA BODINE
During the Cold War, Malcolm Toon, a career diplomat in the U.S. Foreign Service and ambassador to Moscow, was chatting with his good friend, a four-star admiral and head of the 6th Fleet in the Mediterranean. They were both coming to the end of long and distinguished careers and mused about what they would do next. The admiral told Toon he thought he might want to be an ambassador — someplace nice, of course. The ambassador paused, considered this and, in response, quipped that he thought he might become an admiral.
The American Academy of Diplomacy, which counts among its members all living ex-secretaries of state, recently called upon Sens. Barack Obama and John McCain to pledge to end this practice and accord the nation’s diplomacy and diplomats the same recognition we accord our senior military officers, who dedicate their careers to national service.
The academy acknowledged that there has been, and will continue to be, notable noncareer ambassadors such as Mike Mansfield and Howard Baker (interestingly, both former senators) and realistically recommends that noncareer ambassadorships be held to no more than 10 percent, down from the current 30-plus percent. But it makes clear that it is untenable for a great power, a global power, to entrust its frontline national security managers — ambassadors — to used car salesmen, hairdressers, art dealers and strip mall developers, as it has in the recent past.
It is not an issue of individual patriotism, loyalty to the president and to administration policies, or personal commitment; politically appointed ambassadors are no more or less patriotic, loyal or committed than are career diplomats. It is a question of experience, expertise and depth of competence. Diplomacy is not an amateur sport or avocation; it’s a skilled profession.
It is imperative to hold the selection of America’s ambassadors to the highest standards of leadership, judgment, national and international knowledge, intellect, and interpersonal skills (just a few of the skill sets the academy set out as the standards for selection). But there is one other less immediate but profoundly important reason for the next American president to recognize and advance professionalism at the top: to attract talent at the bottom.
The American people need our government to attract and promote the very best of the next generation — and our foreign policy and national security demands it. Government service, the Foreign Service, is a calling. Foreign Service officers do it not for the glamour or the lifestyle (and certainly not the money), but out of a sense of commitment to country, of service, and out of a belief — and idealism, perhaps — that they can, through individual efforts as part of an embassy “team,” make the United States and the world just a little safer, just a little better than when they walked in.
American diplomats dedicate their careers, their lives, to developing the skills, experience and expertise necessary to test their mettle daily. Their investment is matched by the investment the American taxpayer makes to develop this cohort of skilled professionals.
How do you explain to a student or any aspirant to the Foreign Service that, while the U.S. government expects that level of commitment, no matter how well and how long you serve, it is likely that a political donor with little relevant experience will end up with the top job of your profession?
You can read the entire piece here.
Sunday, July 27, 2008
Here's a sample:
But the ruling — which Kennedy admitted is unprecedented — appears to indicate a double standard from the State Department. Last June, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) delivered a speech to the Economic Club of Canada in Ottawa. The event was reportedly organized in part by U.S. Ambassador to Canada David Wilkins, whom President Bush appointed in 2005. But more than that, the U.S. Embassy in Ottawa confirmed to ThinkProgress that Wilkins also attended the event.
Not only did McCain make clear references to and critiques of Obama’s policy positions in the speech, but he also referred to his own presidential campaign six times.
Although both the McCain and Obama campaigns denied their respective speeches in Ottawa and Berlin were political, the State Department only prohibited diplomats from attending Obama’s event. The fact that Wilkins attended McCain’s speech without worries that he would “be seen to be advocating one side or the other,” undermines Kennedy’s justification for barring Foreign Service personnel from attending Obama’s speech.
What these and similar websites are failing to understand is that Ambassador Wilkins is NOT a Foreign Service Officer any more than Ambassador Bolton was. They both were (and Wilkins still is) political appointees. All Ambassadors are the President's representatives overseas and will resign their positions come January. Those who are NOT political appointees will likely resume their positions and those who aren't likely will not, even if the Republicans retain control of the White House.
Not so with your standard issue FSO. We continue in our positions regardless of shifts in administration. We are to be seen abroad as advocates for the current foreign policy of the United States. Our ability to do that is weakened if we are seen as taking one political side over the other.
So would it have been a double standard had FSOs attended the fundraiser organized by Ambassador Wilkins? Likely. Is it a double standard that Ambassador Wilkins, a political appointee picked by the President, did? Not really.
Friday, July 25, 2008
At the risk of public flogging, I sort of understand the ban.
Yes, as a public diplomacy-coned officer, I would have liked to have been there to gauge crowd response. But this was a very partisan event, paid for by the Obama campaign. Unlike the Afghanistan and Iraq portions of the trip, which were part of a CODEL (Congressional Delegation) and therefore required mission support, this was paid for by a campaign funds.
When we are overseas, we are considered to be on duty 24/7 and we represent the American people --all of them-- and the American government. We are allowed to comment on domestic policy but not to disagree with foreign policy. That is part of the deal we sign on to when we join the Foreign Service. You may not like it, you don't have to like it, but you have to do it or find employment elsewhere.
Some have argued that had this been McCain, Embassy officials would have been allowed to attend. Perhaps. But it would have been no more appropriate for them to attend if that trip was paid for by campaign funds.
Oh and for the record, the reports that say we can not donate to a political campaign are incorrect. According to the Hatch Act, we CAN donate to campaigns, we can volunteer our time, etc. We just can't use our official position in any capacity in that work, regardless of political affiliation.
Wednesday, July 23, 2008
Here is her letter:
Dear Secretary Rice:
It is with the deepest regret that I submit my resignation from the Foreign Service. I have greatly enjoyed serving my country and the Department for ten years as a Foreign Service Officer. During this time I served as a General Services Officer in both Sao Paulo and Maputo, as the Ethiopia Desk Officer, on the INR Watch, and as a Deputy Coordinator teaching A-100 for incoming Foreign Service Generalists. However, I cannot in good conscience continue to subject my same-sex partner to discriminatory security, health, language, employment, training, travel and housing policies.
I would remain a Foreign Service Officer if I were confident that the Member of Household (MOH) policy would improve and offer support for my family. However, the discrimination inherent in the current Department of State MOH policy makes my continued service impossible. It is time the Department catch up to the private sector where the majority of Fortune 500 companies have domestic partnership benefits that that value employees and welcome their families. Particularly in a climate of increasing numbers of unaccompanied and dangerous posts, it is unconscionable that the Department has chosen to disregard opportunities where forward looking leadership and vision would have made an immeasurable difference in my partner’s everyday life.
Thank you for the opportunity to spend ten years in service to the United States. I have met so many wonderful people and along the way my colleagues have become my closest friends. Despite the treatment of my family as second class citizenry, I will treasure my memories of public service with the Department.
You can read her entire post here.
First off, I completely understand and think the Department is within its right to refuse to hire someone because of a medical issue that could affect where they can serve. Why should someone join the Department and be exempt from Day One from serving in hardship posts. What that means is that those of us who have served at hardship posts have that many fewer positions we can serve in at the "nice" posts that often serve as a means of decompression after a hardship tour. I am fine with someone who comes in capable of serving in hardship posts and then has a decline in health making them unable to. They came in prepared to do their fair share but life intervened. But coming in with no ability to serve a hardship tour? That's not fair to the rest of us.
But here is the second thing: what does the ability to have sex have to do with serving? It sounds like she was not hired because of her need for ongoing treatment for her breast cancer and that the "disability" is being used as an excuse to try to make the Department hire her. Employers are supposed to make reasonable accommodation to people who have disabilities that might ordinarily keep them from serving. For example, a blind person could expect items printed in brail or a reader. Why on earth would they not hire her because she can't have sex (after the Nachman incident, it would seem to make them MORE likely to hire her) and what accommodations could they possibly make.
I mean seriously. I hope the Department doesn't give in. Hire her if she is qualified and her cancer is in remission so that she can serve in hardship posts. But this is absurd.
Here is the story:
Court rules sexual disability is protected under anti-discrimination laws
WASHINGTON A South Carolina breast-cancer survivor has beaten the State Department and convinced judges in Washington that the inability to have sex is a disability protected under federal anti-discrimination laws.
The new appellate court ruling gives Piedmont, S.C., resident Kathy E. Adams another potential shot at serving overseas. More broadly, the ruling cracks open the courtroom door for additional legal challenges by those who are sexually incapacitated.
“I think it’s a major victory for former cancer patients, and for anyone who has had their sex life disrupted,” Adams’ attorney, David H. Shapiro, said Tuesday.
Adams, also a practicing lawyer, wants to compel the State Department to hire her as a foreign service officer and provide back pay. She’ll now go before a jury and trial judge, unless the State Department relents first.
The Russian-speaking Adams aced the State Department’s Foreign Service written and oral exams in 2002, ranking seventh out of 200 candidates. She was in line to start training in January 2004.
Before her training started, doctors diagnosed her with breast cancer. She underwent surgery, but the State Department subsequently denied her entry into the Foreign Service.
“The department could not guarantee (her) access to the required medical follow-up and surveillance at all overseas assignments,” a State Department nurse testified.
State Department officials added, and the dissenting appellate judge agreed, that the department didn’t know about Adams’ sexual disability when it declined to hire her. The court majority, however, reasoned that “it makes no difference whether an employer has precise knowledge of an employee’s substantial limitation” so long as the employer knows about the impairment.
In this case, the State Department knew about Adams’ breast cancer but didn’t know how the cancer treatments impaired her sex life.
Sunday, July 20, 2008
I found this today on IntLawGrrls. It is the first time I have visited the blog, but it seems to be one I will add to my regular list of blogs to read. I recommend you check it out.
On this day in ...... 1953 (55 years ago today), Frances E. Willis became the 1st woman U.S. Foreign Service Officer to be appointed an Ambassador. Previously an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Vassar College, Dr. Willis, who'd earned her Ph.D. at Stanford, was appointed Ambassador to Switzerland. She presented her credentials on October 9 and served until May 5, 1957. Willis later served as Ambassador to Norway, from 1957 to 1961, and Ambassador to Ceylon, now Sri Lanka, from 1961 to 1964. The 3d woman ever to be a Foreign Service Officer, upon her appointment to that position on August 29, 1927, she was appointed a Career Ambassador on March 20, 1962. Willis, who died in 1983, was honored on the postage stamp above.
Friday, July 18, 2008
Census won't recognize gay marriages in 2010 count
Same-sex marriage is legal in two states, but not a single one will show up in the 2010 census.
The Census Bureau says the federal Defense of Marriage Act bars the agency from recognizing gay marriages in the nation's 10-year count, even though the marriages are legal in Massachusetts and California.
The agency's director, Steven Murdock, said in an interview Thursday that the 1996 federal law "has that effect, in terms of being a federal agency. We are restricted by it."
The Census Bureau does not ask people about their sexual orientation, but it does ask about their relationships to the head of the household. Many gay couples are listed in census figures as unmarried, same-sex partners, though it is an imperfect tally of all gay couples.
Murdock said the bureau will strive to count same-sex couples in the 2010 census, just as it has in the past. But those people who say they are married will be reclassified as unmarried, same-sex partners.
Same-sex couples with no children will not be classified as families, according the bureau's policy. Those with children who are related to the head of the household will be classified as families.
The bureau relies almost entirely on people's responses to classify them by race, ethnicity, age and income. But not marital status _ at least not in 2010.
"It really should be what you say you are, not what I perceive you to be," Murdock said. But, the agency director added, "We have some limitations. This particular act limits us in regards to this issue."
The issue was also covered by the Washington Post:
Census Won't Count Gay Marriages
Although gay marriage is legal in Massachusetts and California, census officials say that same-sex partners in both states who list themselves as spouses will be recorded as "unmarried partners" -- just as they were in the 2000 census.
Census Bureau spokesman Stephen Buckner cited the Defense of Marriage Act, approved by Congress and signed by President Bill Clinton in 1996, which prohibits the federal government from recognizing as a marriage the union of anyone but a man and a woman.
The law "requires all federal agencies to recognize only opposite-sex marriages for the purposes of administering federal programs," Buckner wrote in an e-mailed statement. "Many of these programs rely on Census Bureau statistics."
Census officials have said the agency will retain same-sex spouses' original responses but will edit them for the published census tabulations. The policy was first reported by the San Jose Mercury News.
Critics of the policy -- and the law -- say it ignores the changing legal and political landscape in states that contain about 14 percent of the U.S. population. And it ensures that the census results will be factually incorrect, they say.
"Unfortunately the stupidity and unfairness of that law gives [the census] something of a colorable argument," said Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.). "It was aimed very specifically at this. It's all the more reason to repeal it. . . . What is it accomplishing by not having an accurate count? It's not even good demographic policy."
The lack of data about same-sex married couples will inhibit researchers who want to better understand a variety of issues, such as wage differences for gay married couples and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, said Gary Gates, a demographer at the UCLA School of Law.
"It limits our ability to get quality information," said Gates, author of the Gay and Lesbian Atlas. "In 2000, the census could very legitimately make the argument that with a same-sex couple, someone couldn't [legally] be a husband or wife. And so they were making an inaccurate response accurate by changing them to an 'unmarried partner.' The situation now is different. You are changing potentially accurate responses to inaccurate responses."
The policy will, for example, require that the couple's children be listed as having single parents, Gates said. And it will cause the census to undercount families, defined as two or more people in the same household related by birth, adoption or marriage, he said.
In Massachusetts, 10,490 same-sex couples were married between May 2004 and August 2007, according to state figures. California, which began same-sex marriages last month, does not keep similar figures. A ballot initiative would amend the state Constitution to ban same-sex marriage.
If I don't count, why do I have to pay taxes?
Wednesday, July 16, 2008
Gates warns of militarization of US foreign policy
WASHINGTON — The U.S. military's growing role in rebuilding war-battered nations has fueled concerns about a "creeping militarization" of American foreign policy, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Tuesday.
As the conflict in Afghanistan shows, coordinating war-fighting with diplomacy, job creation and road-building often doesn't work well, the Pentagon chief said in remarks prepared for delivery at an international policy dinner.
"Getting all these different elements to coordinate operations and share best practices has been a colossal _ and so far an all too often unsuccessful _ undertaking," said Gates.
He added that the increased involvement of the military in jobs that historically were done by civilian agencies has led to concerns of "a creeping militarization of some aspects of America's foreign policy."
Gates has repeatedly said that the State Department and some non-governmental organizations have been underfunded and understaffed for too long. And he has warned that military might alone cannot win wars.
Instead, he has called for more support for so-called soft power, with civilians contributing more in nonmilitary areas such as communication, economic assistance and political development.
Gates on Tuesday was introduced by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice _ a choice that reflected their generally strong working relationship and his vocal support for giving her more resources.
"We cannot kill or capture our way to victory," Gates said, adding that military operations should support measures that promote economic and political growth. That effort, he said, must be coordinated with the U.N., NATO, other nations and agencies such as United States Agency for International Development.
"The Foreign Service is not the Foreign Legion, and the U.S. military should never be mistaken for a Peace Corps with guns," said Gates.
Monday, July 14, 2008
Ashamed that Nachman is So Shameless
Nachman is a disgrace, one who makes every Foreign Service Officer sick because of his misuse of his office, and now he is trying to make the argument that he so immersed himself in the culture of the Congo that he didn't think it was wrong to have sex with young girls? I'm virtually speechless at the arrogance and idiocy of this pitiful attempt to mitigate his crimes. Like so many others in the Foreign Service, I hope he gets the 20 years the prosecution is seeking.
You can read her entire post here.
Friday, July 11, 2008
I have avoided covering this issue, mainly, in all honestly, because I am embarrassed that this man was in the FS. But his latest, which TSB covers very well below, is just beyond belief. To suggest that we, as diplomats, should be allowed to take advantage of children while overseas because of some perceived cultural difference (girls there age faster, he argues, so it isn't like having sex with children) is just offensive, and, for our service as diplomats, beyond the point. We can't smoke pot in Amsterdam either.
Damn! I was so looking forward to seeing Gons Nachman get sentenced tomorrow at the Federal Courthouse in Alexandria. But now he's gotten a last-minute postponement. According to today's AP story:
"An ex-diplomat [Gons G. Nachman] convicted of having sex with teenage girls in the Congo and Brazil and taping the encounters is asking a judge for leniency, claiming that cultural differences in those countries make sex with girls more acceptable.
The judge has agreed to postpone sentencing until August 22, so that a "noted forensic psychologist" can probe Nachman's psyche as part of a defense ploy to show that Nachman became so highly attuned to Congolese cultural norms while serving as a U.S. Embassy political officer in Kinshasa that he came to believe it was only slightly improper to have sex with 14 year-old girls. And, if you buy that premise, then he shouldn't be punished as harshly as if he'd had sex with 14 year-olds in more Puritanical countries. Seriously. That's his story, a cultural subjectivist interpretation of statutory rape laws: your Honor, having adopted the values of my exotic surroundings, I did not regard those particular 14 year-old girls as deserving of the protection afforded them by U.S. law, and I ask that you respect my cultural beliefs.
But Gons isn't betting everything on this novel legal theory. According to the AP story, he also wrote a jailhouse letter to the Director of the U.S. Foreign Service in an apparent attempt to lay the groundwork for an appeal of his conviction.
"Another odd twist is Nachman's prominence in the nudist community: In the 1990s, when attending law school at the University of Pennsylvania, Nachman led several public demonstrations advocating nudity. Nachman now contends that he was targeted for investigation in part because of his well-known affinity for the nudist lifestyle.
In his letter to the Foreign Service director, Nachman says investigators knew of his interest in nudism and illegally searched his apartment with the notion of finding images that, taken out of context, could be used against him.
Nachman says in the letter that he disclosed his activism and lifestyle to the Foreign Service and had no problems receiving a security clearance. State Department spokeswoman Nicole Thompson declined to comment directly on whether an individual's advocacy for public nudity would be a factor in the State Department's hiring process."
Now I'll have to wait another five weeks for the next installment of the Gons Nachman saga."
You can read all of TSB's post and the subsequent comments here.
Thursday, July 10, 2008
Playing Catch Up
By Alyssa Rosenberg
July 10, 2008
When it comes to employee benefits, "the federal government should be leading the way rather than following," Sen. Gordon Smith, R-Ore., said in December.
This criticism might seem unwarranted because the government does offer many benefits that are competitive with or even superior to those in the private sector. Smith, however, was referring to one area where the government falls behind: extending health and retirement benefits to same-sex partners.
Late last year, Smith and Sen. Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., introduced the latest iteration of legislation (S. 2521) to bring the federal government up to speed. But the legislation stalled, as did similar bills dating back at least to 2001.
Supporters including employee groups such as the National Treasury Employees Union and the American Federation of Government Employees say same-sex partner benefits are not simply a matter of fairness.
Approval of such benefits "will only strengthen the federal workforce and help the government recruit and retain the skilled and talented employees it needs," NTEU President Colleen Kelley said when the Smith-Lieberman bill was introduced.
The federal government shouldn't be afraid to set an example, Lieberman said, but he acknowledged the legislation would merely allow the government to catch up with the private sector.
Businesses have been learning the hard way, largely since the early 1990s, that a workplace that is unfriendly or indifferent to the concerns of gay and lesbian employees runs the risk of losing those workers to more supportive organizations. Offering same-sex partner benefits is a concrete way for organizations to show they want to recruit the best and brightest regardless of sexual orientation.
The Village Voice was the first company to offer same-sex partner benefits in 1982. Lotus became the first publicly traded company to do so in 1990. By 2004, almost three-quarters of the 50 biggest companies on the Fortune 500 list offered same-sex partner benefits. By 2006, the majority of Fortune 500 companies had followed suit.
These companies aren't necessarily making a statement about corporate values or social justice. Their main motivation is profit, and that means getting the best people, in part by treating them equally.
"Keeping qualified employees with domestic partners happy could help an employer retain employees," the 2003 edition of Domestic Partner Benefits: An Employer's Guide by Joseph Adams and Todd Solomon noted. "Domestic partner benefits can be a source of competition within industry sectors, and employers wishing to keep pace with their peers may want to offer domestic partner benefits. In fact, some employers already appear to have offered domestic partner benefits as a way to keep up with their competition."
One of the federal government's selling points to new employees is the strength of the benefits agencies offer. But for gay and lesbian employees, the financial value of those benefits may be less if they have to purchase additional health insurance for their partners.
Other employers have already made what initially might have been a difficult decision to extend partner benefits; the government might want to consider following their example.
I am pleased to announce that this year the Department will be offering the Foreign Service Officer Test (FSOT) for the first time during the summer. This is an excellent opportunity to recruit the talented young interns who have been working with us over the past several weeks. If you have noticed an intern with the skills and passion to succeed in the Foreign Service, please take a moment to suggest that they take the test this summer.
The FSOT will be offered July 12-19. Interested candidates should register at www.careers.state.gov. They will need to complete a structured resume and reserve a slot at a nearby computer test center on one of the test days. The test itself will take about three hours. To show our support for their efforts, please allow interested interns time off to take the test during the work week.
Thank you for hosting interns in your bureau this summer and for helping us to recruit the best talent for the State Department.
Harry K. Thomas, Jr.
Wednesday, July 09, 2008
AP: Attack Outside US Consulate in Turkey, 6 Dead
ISTANBUL, Turkey (AP) - Men armed with pistols and shotguns attacked a police guard post outside the U.S. consulate in Istanbul on Wednesday, sparking a gunbattle that left three attackers and three officers dead.
Turkish and U.S. officials called the shooting a terrorist attack. The U.S. ambassador to Turkey and Turkey's foreign ministry said security around all American diplomatic missions in Turkey had been increased.
Yavuz Erkut Yuksel, a bystander, told CNN-Turk television the attackers emerged from a vehicle and surprised the guard.
"One of them approached a policeman while hiding his gun and shot him in the head," Yuksel said.
Footage from a security camera at the site showed four armed and bearded men emerging from a car and killing a traffic policeman, then running toward a guard post some 50 yards away as other policemen fired back, the Dogan news agency reported.
The shootout caused panic and scattered people who were waiting in a line for visas. U.S. security personnel went inside the compound because they are not authorized to engage in armed action on Turkish soil, Dogan said.
A fourth policeman and the driver of a towing vehicle were wounded in the attack, Istanbul Gov. Muammer Guler said.
U.S. Ambassador Ross Wilson said the consul general in Istanbul, Sharon Wiener, told him that that consulate staff were "safe and accounted for."
At least two of the attackers were Turkish nationals, Guler said. Police said they were pursuing a fourth attacker who escaped in a car after the attack outside the high-walled consulate compound in the residential Istinye district around 11 a.m.
"There is no claim of responsibility so far," Interior Minister Besir Atalay said at the scene.
Atalay said the police would not reveal the identities of the attackers and their possible affiliations for the sake of the investigation.
Television footage showed four people lying on the ground at the foot of the consulate's wall before officials removed the bodies.
"The Turkish police responded quickly and effectively. We are deeply grateful for the work that they do to protect our official U.S. government establishments here," Wilson said. "It is, of course, inappropriate now to speculate on who may have done this or why. It is an obvious act of terrorism. Our countries will stand together and confront this, as we have in the past."
The secure U.S. consulate building was built after homegrown Islamic militants linked to al-Qaida carried out suicide bombings in 2003 that targeted two synagogues, the British Consulate and a British bank in Istanbul. Those attacks killed 58 people.
"There is no doubt that this is a terrorist attack," said Guler, who described the three slain policemen as "martyred."
The shooting coincided with the visit to Istanbul of top American officials involved in the fight against illegal drugs. Michele Leonhart, acting administrator of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and Scott Burns, deputy director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, were attending an anti-drug conference in another part of Istanbul Wednesday morning. It was not clear if they had planned to visit the consulate but visiting U.S. delegations almost always visit diplomatic missions.
Istanbul prosecutor Aykut Cengiz Engin said the attackers were armed with pistols and shotguns. Forensic teams were seen examining a shotgun on the ground.
The consulate occupies an imposing structure on a hill in Istinye, a densely residential neighborhood along the Bosporus Strait on the European side of Istanbul.
A reporter for The Associated Press who visited the consulate last week drove unimpeded past an entrance for the public and parked on a residential street two blocks away. The area directly in front of the entrance was kept clear of vehicles.
Several guards stood in separate locations outside the entrance, but weapons were not on display; Turkish civilians seeking visas and other documents sat at cafes across the street.
Associated Press Chief of Bureau in Turkey, Christopher Torchia, and AP Writers Selcan Hacaoglu and Suzan Fraser in Ankara contributed to this report.
Friday, July 04, 2008
I realized yesterday as I was leaving work (and telling the guard that I would be back today), that with the exception of my first (when I was in language training), I have worked every 4th of July since joining the Foreign Service.
Overseas, that is a given. The 4th there is really about presenting America to the world. I didn't care for it much, because my idea of celebrating my country's birthday generally involves hamburgers, hotdogs, watermelon and fireworks. Overseas, you wear business attire, often in sweltering heat, and eat generally nasty finger food (was that samon wrapped in fried egg?). But it is cool when the locals tell you "congratulations."
Since coming back to the states, I have still not managed to escape working the 4th, since my job is a 24/7 deal. At least this year, I am on the afternoon shift, so I won't (unlike last year) be listening to the booming fireworks from the national mall while watching them on a two second delay on tv at work.
On a side note, one of the members of GLIFAA (Gays and Lesbians in Foreign Affairs Agencies) put together a list of all of the incentives offered to officers to entice them to serve in Iraq that are NOT available to those whose spouses are same-sex partners. They include:
** continued housing at post of employee’s pre-Iraq assignment
** inclusion in Cost of Living (COLA) allowances
** Separate Maintenance Allowance (SMA)
** R&R benefits to travel with the employee
** eligibility to apply for spousal employment in Iraq
And that is aside from the host of other benefits that opposite sex spouses get (like access to health units, evacuations, diplomatic passports, visas....).
So on this July 4th, I just want to thank EVERYONE who serves this country, both in the military and in the Foreign Service, even those who serve while being treated like second-class citizens.
Thursday, July 03, 2008
Gay marriage: until deportation do us part?
By Mary Milliken
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Rita Boyadjian wishes she were in a better mood to celebrate the weddings of fellow gay friends after California began legally marrying same-sex couples last month.
But her partner of six years is a German woman whose U.S. student visa runs out soon. Even if they were to legally marry in California, Margot (not her real name) could not stay in the United States because the federal government does not recognize same-sex marriage for immigration purposes.
This month the well-to-do couple and their nine-month-old baby will move to Germany so they can stay together.
"It's a little bittersweet, I have to be honest," said Boyadjian, 38, a first-generation American who owns a Hollywood entertainment marketing company.
"I am very happy for my friends and I do know a lot of people who are getting married this summer ... but I am sad that while the celebrations are going on, I have to leave."
Gay rights activists estimate that 40,000 binational gay and lesbian couples in the United States are caught in the same legal limbo. A solution, they say, is years away.
When California's Supreme Court struck down a ban on gay marriage in May, becoming the second state after Massachusetts to allow same-sex nuptials, Boyadjian said she was inundated with congratulatory calls from friends believing the couple's problems were solved.
But the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services confirms that nothing changes with the California court's ruling.
"The couples are married under state laws in California. The federal government does not recognize these marriages for immigration purposes," USCIS spokeswoman Chris Rhatigan told Reuters.
Binational couples could make matters worse if they wed since getting married signals intent to stay in the United States.
"We cannot get married in California without jeopardizing Margot's future visa applications," said Boyadjian.
Indeed, legal experts are telling these couples not to rush to the altar in California, which, unlike Massachusetts, will marry non-resident gays and lesbians.
'UNFAIR AND UNJUST'
Rachel Tiven, executive director for advocacy group Immigration Equality, is pinning hopes on passage of the Uniting American Families Act in the U.S. Congress "in the next few years." That act would let U.S. citizens in binational same-sex relationships sponsor their foreign-born partners for immigration.
Tiven said gay and lesbian couples have learned to live with their lack of rights because their relationships make it all worth it. But the immigration inequality "can cost you the relationship itself," she said.
Shannon Minter, legal director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, said he has seen many gay and lesbian couples like Boyadjian and Margot leave the country to stay together.
"We have a gay brain drain," said Minter.
At least 19 nations worldwide provide some form of immigration benefits to the same-sex partners of citizens and permanent residents, while the U.S. still refuses. They include Canada as well as about a dozen European countries.
Thom Vernon, a California arts educator with two graduate degrees, had to move to Canada to save his relationship with his partner, who is from Zimbabwe. They have since married.
"I am an American citizen, for God's sake," said Vernon from his home in Toronto. "The fact that I can't bring in my partner of nine years is incredibly unfair and unjust."
As a highly educated professional, Vernon has an advantage in seeking residency in another country like Canada, but binational couples of lesser means don't have that option.
One such couple is formed by Dora, a Mexican national who has not been able to secure permanent residency in the United States, and Patty, who was born in Mexico but recently became a U.S. citizen. The lesbian couple resides in the San Francisco Bay Area, plans to marry and asked that their last names not be used due to immigration concerns.
"We do live with the fear of deportation," said Dora, who is now here legally and has a job driving a garbage truck. "We don't know what would happen. It is not like Patty could go to Mexico because she has her daughters here."
Minter can't predict when these gay and lesbian couples will be able to breathe easy, but says he is encouraged by the growing public support for gay rights in the last four years.
"We are seeing the fear dissipate and I think that will eventually spill over to the immigration context," Minter said. "Real families are being torn apart and once it clicks in, that is 90 percent of the battle."
(Additional reporting by Tim Gaynor in Phoenix and Martha Sanchez in Los Angeles; Editing by Eric Walsh)
The letter is admittedly a little more forward leaning than the last response. Still, the last paragraph is a bit annoying in its almost chiding tone. We are all aware that MOHs include more than just same-sex partners. But in a fair world, same-sex partners would be treated like married spouses. But even those legally married in Massachusetts or California still are not.
Here is the letter:
Dear Ms. Balwin,
Thank you for your letter of May 7 regarding the Department's treatment of gay and lesbian Foreign Service officers.
The Department believes that treatment of Members of Household (MOH) is a matter of great importance. We are currently examining initiatives that would address some of your concerns, taking into account statutory and procedural requirements and any resource considerations. We will keep you informed of our progress in this regard.
Please note that MOH concerns are not limited to the Department's treatment of same sex partners. This is a much broader issue that could affect many Department empluyees, as well as those of other agencies with personnel stationed abroad. Members of Household include all unmarried partners, parents, children, and even siblings who, despite being adults, are reliant on our Foreign Service members to comprise their households. Any change to our regulations must take into account this broader picture.
We hope that this information has been helpful to you. Please do not hesitate to contact us if we can be of further assistance.
Jeffrey T. Bergner