hillaryclintonDuring a town hall meeting at the Dean Acheson Auditorium in Washington, D.C., Secretary of State Hillary Clinton addressed the topic of same-sex partner benefits for State Department employees. Clinton told an audience member that she has ordered a review of current policies, and plans to develop a strategy for implementing changes.

“I view this as an issue of workplace fairness, employee retention, and the safety and effectiveness of our embassy communities worldwide,” Clinton said.

Openly lesbian Rep. Tammy Baldwin recently sent Clinton a letter urging her to take specific actions to address the inequities for gay and lesbian department employees.

The transcript of the exchange follows:

QUESTION: Thank you, Madame Secretary, and thank you for coming to address us today. My name is Ralan Hill. I’m a Foreign Service officer. I am here in Washington on TDY, going to Paraguay. I have a same-sex partner, who’s been recognized as a member of household by the Department of State. Because of that, the Department actively discriminates against me and my family in a number of areas by limiting our access to benefits routinely and customarily provided to other families here in the Department. As one example, if I were assigned overseas to a post that came under a mandatory evacuation order, I would be required to leave, although the Department is under no legal obligation to do anything to help my partner. He could be left literally to fend for himself in a war zone.

While I hope you find the current situation unacceptable, my question is what can you do to eliminate this discrimination, and what timeline do you see for making such changes? Thank you.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, thank you for raising that. (Applause.) You know, this is an issue of real concern to me. And even though, as you pointed out, all of our personnel share the same service requirements, the partners in same-sex relationships are not offered the same training, the same benefits, and the same protections that other family members receive when you serve abroad. So I view this as an issue of workplace fairness, employee retention, and the safety and effectiveness of our embassy communities worldwide.

So I have asked for a staff review of current policies, especially those that are set forth in State Department regulations, and recommendations and a strategy for making effective changes. This is on a – it’s on a fast timeline, but we’ve begun that process. We are reviewing what would need to be changed, what we can legally change. A lot of things we cannot legally change by a decision in the State Department. But let’s see what we can determine is within our realm of responsibility, and we are moving on that expeditiously.