I can't believe we are spending our last Christmas in Tallinn (and that I have still not managed to get a white Christmas out of this tour, since last year we were gone at Christmas and that is the only one of the three with snow!).
I will be sad to leave Estonia in about 7 months. This place is amazing, and I will always love it here.
And as much as I missed my family this year, I am glad to have spent Christmas with some of the amazing folks we have met here.
Christmas Eve was spent at one friend's house, with I think everyone from the embassy who is in town showing up at least for a bit.
And then yesterday, after a pancake breakfast courtesy of my awesome wife and lots of fun unwrapping the presents with the pets (seriously, the dog "helped" me unwrap my "Dog Shaming" calendar...how perfect is that!), we went and had dinner at another friend's house, together with her husband and four kids, another friend, her husband and child, and one more friend. It looked A LOT like Christmases with my big Catholic family!
Which made me a little more and a little less homesick.
The amazing thing about the Foreign Service is that while you don't lose your family of origin, you can a new, wonderful, large family of fellow Foreign Service folks. And we really come together as a family when we can't be home with our family of origin.
It is moments like these that I am certain keep me in the Foreign Service even when I would rather be home.
So Merry Christmas to you, my friends, family and Foreign Service family, where ever you are, from me, my wife and the pets.And may you have the most blessed of New Years.
Nicholas Kralev, who wrote America's Other Army: the U.S. Foreign Service and 21st Century Diplomacy, did an interview last week with Jan Krc, a diplomat who was expelled from the Foreign Service in 1983 for being gay and successfully fought to come back.He was able to rejoin in 1993 and is not the Public Affairs Officer at our embassy in Vienna (man would I love THAT job!).
It really illustrates what an extraordinary year this has been for marriage equality.
In one year, eight states (EIGHT!) have been added to the number of states with marriage equality. LGBT people can now legally marry in seventeen states. And more importantly, the Supreme Court on June 26 overturned a key portion of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act, meaning marriages in those states are legal in the eyes of the federal government. Meaning my marriage was legal federally and my friends who had married non-Americans could apply for their spouses to become American. And some of them are already in the process of doing so. Deportations of legal spouses stopped. And my friends serving this country could plan to come home when they retire, home to the country they love with the spouse they love.
And now, a majority of Americans support the right of gays and lesbians to marry.
Quite a year indeed.
And then I woke this morning to discover that the picture I shared last night was wrong.
(Which is huge, because it could ultimately result in the overturning of all of the constitutional bans on same-sex marriage. According the to article:
"[Judge] Shelby writes the issue of same-sex marriage is “politically charged in the current climate” and more so because the current law is in place as a result of referendum. However, Shelby rules that even a vote of the people can’t defy the U.S. Constitution.
“It is only under exceptional circumstances that a court interferes with such action,” Shelby writes. “But the legal issues presented in this lawsuit do not depend on whether Utah’s laws were the result of its legislature or a referendum, or whether the laws passed by the widest or smallest of margins. The question presented here depends instead on the Constitution itself, and on the interpretation of that document contained in binding precedent from the Supreme Court and the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals.”
The judge concludes by drawing on the 1966 case of Loving v. Virginia, which struck down state bans on interracial marriage throughout the country, saying the defense in favor of these bans 50 years ago is the same the state provided for Utah’s ban on same-sex marriage.
“For the reasons discussed above, the court finds these arguments as unpersuasive as the Supreme Court found them fifty years ago,” Shelby writes. “Anti-miscegenation laws in Virginia and elsewhere were designed to, and did, deprive a targeted minority of the full measure of human dignity and liberty by denying them the freedom to marry the partner of their choice. Utah’s Amendment 3 achieves the same result.”")
And that court ruled there would be no stay, and LGBT people could marry immediately.
And one hour later, two men were married in Utah.
A simple, ordinary, beautiful, wonderful thing. In Utah.
There are lots of ways where this ruling will save folks money. And couples are allowed to re-file for their returns from the last three years if that will result in a higher refund for them.
I don't think it will make much difference for us since we earn very similar salaries. But man do I wish that option had been around when I was still in grad school and my wife was working!
What it does mean for us though is that my days of doing our taxes are done. With property in three states, two of which don't have marriage equality, so having to file jointly for federal and one state and separately for the other...it makes my head hurt thinking about it.
And finally, I just wanted to share with you a link from Time magazine. They nominated Edith Windsor as a runner-up for their person of the year. I personally think she should have won. Her case, which resulted in DOMA being struck down, has certainly affected my life personally in many profound ways. Take time to watch both videos. They are beautiful. Love won.
"Men like Mustafa Akarsu, who are at work at any given hour of the day at over 250 embassies and consulates around the world, are much more than faceless figures in uniform standing inside guard booths. Their dedicated efforts enable American diplomats to operate freely and unencumbered by threat. They know that at any time they can bear the brunt of a terrorist strike against the embassy. The fact that the only people killed that fateful afternoon in Ankara was the bomber and Mustafa Akarsu was a testament to the training and courage that these guards display on a daily basis. Akarsu made the ultimate sacrifice so that the men and women he swore to protect would be safe from harm.
Mustafa Akarsu had grown to love the country whose distant outpost he protected. He felt a unique sense of pride working for the United States of America, and playing a role in its defense overseas. And, this always-smiling member of the local guard force at the U.S. Embassy in Ankara wanted his children to live the American dream. Before his death he had applied for a Special Immigrant Visa; the SIV is reserved only for those who have dedicated many years of service for the U.S. government. Akarsu's hope was to become an American citizen and he dreamed of sending his children to university in the United States. Because he was killed before his SIV could be issued, the status of that request -- the fulfillment of his dream -- is now up to the State Department and special political consideration."
The current policy is that any local employee who has worked for the U.S. Government for 15 years or more is eligible to become a U.S. citizen with his family. With 22 years of service, Mustafa was already eligible for the SIV, and in fact was in the process of finishing his application when he was killed defending Americans. He was killed on the brink of realizing his dream of becoming an American.
The gist of the bill is this: The Mustafa Akarsu Local Guard Force Support Act "amends the Immigration and Nationality Act to provide special immigrant status for the surviving spouse or child of a U.S. government employee killed abroad in the line of duty, provided that: (1) the employee had performed faithful service for at least 15 years; and (2) the principal officer of a Foreign Service establishment (or, in the case of the American Institute of Taiwan, the Director) recommends, and the Secretary of State approves, the granting of such status.
States that this Act shall be effective beginning on January 31, 2013, and shall have retroactive effect."
This bill is fundamentally and foremost about fairness. It is about honoring the lives and dreams of those who died for us. Please take a moment to contact your representatives and express your support for this bill, because believe it or not, there are those who are opposed to it.
I did a short interview for International Relations Online on what it is like to be a Foreign Service Officer.
My favorite question they asked was:
Name three traits every successful Foreign Service Officer should have:
* flexibility (because the answer to most questions in the Foreign Service is “it depends”)
* reliability (the work we do matters, and if you don’t do it, it will fall on someone else),
*a good sense of humor (because a lot of what we do is stressful, and we get through it together by not taking ourselves too seriously).
It was not so long ago that our country was unwilling to sign on to demands that LGBT persecution end world wide.
It made me really proud to be serving when then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in Geneva that "Gay Rights are Human Rights and Human Rights are Gay Rights," adding that "people cite religious or cultural values as a reason to violate or not to protect the human rights of LGBT citizens. This is not unlike the justification offered for violent practices towards women like honor killings, widow burning, or female genital mutilation. Some people still defend those practices as part of a cultural tradition. But violence toward women isn’t cultural; it’s criminal. Likewise with slavery, what was once justified as sanctioned by God is now properly reviled as an unconscionable violation of human rights.In each of these cases, we came to learn that no practice or tradition trumps the human rights that belong to all of us. And this holds true for inflicting violence on LGBT people, criminalizing their status or behavior, expelling them from their families and communities, or tacitly or explicitly accepting their killing."
And that support for LGBT people worldwide has continued even after Secretary Clinton left, as is evidenced by the speech given yesterday by National Security Advisor Susan Rice.
“The United States remains firmly committed to promoting freedom, opportunity and prosperity everywhere,” Ambassador Rice said during a speech at the Newseum in downtown Washington, DC during Human Rights First’s annual Human Rights Summit on Wednesday. “We stand proudly for the rights of women, the LGBT community and minorities.”
“No one should face discrimination because of who they are or whom they love,” she said. “We’re working to lead internationally as we have domestically on LGBT issues.”
Rice noted the Obama administration supports “full equality” for LGBT Americans that includes the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” She also cited slain San Francisco City Supervisor Harvey Milk and the late-former New York Congresswoman Bella Abzug, who introduced the first federal gay rights bill in 1975, as among the “champions who fought to bring us closer to ideals” outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that members of the U.N. General Assembly approved 65 years ago this month.
“Continuing their work at home and expanding it around the globe is our great commission as inheritors of their legacy,” Rice said.
There has been a good bit of nonsense floating around that we are closing our embassy to Vatican City. It has even been repeated by some in Congress who really ought to know better.
Yes, we are moving the building (which is not the same thing as closing...). Yes, it will be located on the compound with the U.S. Embassy to Italy. Just like our embassy to UN agencies in Rome is already located on the same compound.
The main reason for the move is security. There are many cities where we have more than one embassy. Rome is one. Vienna is another. I could name others. The independent Benghazi Accountability Review Board renewed calls for all missions located within one municipal area to be moved into the same compound. That is what is happening here.
And our embassy to Vatican City was not located in Vatican City (no room), but like the embassies of other countries to Vatican City, it was located in Rome. And the new embassy will actually be a tenth of a mile CLOSER to Vatican City.
And you know what else? The building is 78% bigger than the current building. AND, it is a lot nicer.
Old building on the left, new on the right.
Photo courtesy of blogs.state.gov
This blog is intended to give anyone who is interested some insight into life in the Foreign Service. The views expressed here are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. State Department. But hopefully, I won't say anything that will even make you wonder.