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Same-sex couples hit roadblocks overseas

Command sponsorship unavailable in some locations

Jan. 27, 2014 - 02:23PM   |  
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When Alex Viana Hart and his husband, an Army sergeant, were discussing where they wanted to live for their next duty assignment, they knew they wanted to go to Vicenza, Italy.

“We wouldn’t have picked Italy if we hadn’t been told we could go together,” Hart said. “Now it’s up in the air. ... We’re not happy.”

They’re supposed to be leaving for Italy the first week in July. But his husband doesn’t have orders yet, and Hart’s status as a command-sponsored spouse is uncertain. If the Army doesn’t allow him to be command-sponsored for the overseas assignment, he’ll have to pay for the shipment of his household goods and won’t have access to housing and other benefits on base — which means he might have to stay behind because of the cost.

“Emails he’s been receiving say I’m perfectly fine to go, but we hear from others who are being denied, including one couple trying to go to Italy,” he said. “It’s very frustrating.”

After the Supreme Court overturned parts of the Defense of Marriage Act on June 26, the Defense Department issued guidance that same-sex spouses could begin enrolling in the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System on Sept. 3 and receive the same benefits that heterosexual spouses receive.

But when it comes to command sponsorship for overseas assignments, it’s not clear-cut.

“So many people thought that as of Sept. 3, it’s all fine. In reality, they have to drop back and punt,” said Ashley Broadway, director of family affairs for the American Military Partner Association.

There needs to be accurate information provided through the chains of command, Broadway said. “We need to open up the lines of communication. ... Families are frustrated.”

Unified combatant commanders reportedly have been working with State Department teams to address the issue with each country. Eight have agreed to command sponsorship of same-sex spouses, allowing them to be assigned as dependents to live in their countries: United Kingdom, Spain, Canada, Nepal, Australia, Laos, New Zealand and Austria, according to an official who spoke on background.

Same-sex spouses also are being assigned to Japan and South Korea. Japan, for example, agreed to expand the definition of spouse under SOFA to include same-gender spouses.

But some personnel officials are telling service members they can get command sponsorship for overseas assignments for their same-sex spouses when that might not be the case, Broadway said.

“They don’t realize the [Status of Forces Agreement] has an impact. These SOFA agreements between the U.S. and host nations address how the domestic laws of that country will be applied to military personnel who are in that country.”

Yet one sailor whose wife is set to leave for Rota, Spain, when the guided-missile destroyer Ross moves there in June, said she and her wife have been told same-sex spouses will not be command sponsored.

The sailor said she is leaving the Navy in April and wants to accompany her wife to Spain. The command has been very supportive, she said, but their hands are tied. If she has to foot the bill, she estimates the costs will be between $200 and $1,000 for documentation, more than $1,800 for the flight each trip, and about $2,500 for household goods move.

Hart, who is hoping he and his husband will be able to move to Italy together, left the Navy in November, mainly, he said, “so we could be together.” Now that could be questionable.

He and his husband have experienced a long-distance relationship during a Japan tour that continued for 18 months after Hart’s then-fiancé returned to the U.S. They saw each other twice during that time, and the flights cost about $1,500. “Except for those two times, I wouldn’t have seen him at all without Skype. And we were underway a lot, so I often didn’t have Skype.

“I don’t want to bash DoD because I enjoyed my time in the Navy. But it’s very frustrating.”

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