An updated agreement between the U.S. and German governments will allow same-sex military spouses to move to Germany as command-sponsored dependents.
The change is estimated to impact hundreds of gay troops who currently live in Germany without their families or who pay out of pocket for them to travel to and stay there. The U.S. military population in the country totals about 45,000 people, including some 38,000 military members and roughly 7,100 dependents, according to Pentagon data from March.
Although gay spouses became eligible for military benefits in 2013, they are often not permitted to join their service members at overseas duty stations due to restrictive status of forces agreements with the host country. Because many countries don’t recognize same-sex marriage -- a hot-button political and religious issue around the world -- they don’t allow American same-sex dependents as part of their agreements.
As command-sponsored dependents, gay spouses headed to Germany will now be able to receive paid travel, housing, passports, special visas that allow them to stay continuously while their service member is stationed there, commissary privileges, household goods shipments, and use of Defense Department schools for their children.
The update was announced this month by an Air Force family travel manger in an email obtained by Military.com.
The Defense Department later confirmed the policy change. "We can confirm that same sex spouse command sponsorship for Germany has been authorized," Matthew Allen, a spokesman at the Pentagon, said in a statement.
Ashley Broadway, president of the American Military Partners Association, welcomed the news. She estimated that more than 100 AMPA members in the last two years have either moved to Germany without their families or paid out of pocket for them to move and live there.
“Members of our organization are going to be elated that finally, two years after the Supreme Court decision ruling the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional, their families will not be separated or burdened by financial hardships,” she said. “It’s going to have a huge impact, especially for those junior enlisted individuals who just can’t fork out thousands of dollars to move their spouse and their children.”
It was not immediately clear what caused the lengthy negotiations with Germany. While same-sex marriage is not legal there, same-sex domestic partnerships are recognized.
Status of forces agreements are negotiated by the State Department. As of June, 47 countries permitted command sponsored same-sex spouses, according to a document obtained by Military.com. Another 87 countries did not allow them.
Of Japan, Germany, Italy, the UK and South Korea -- which host the majority of military personnel stationed overseas -- now only South Korea does not currently provide visas for same-sex spouses. Military officials moved forward in late 2013 with allowing same-sex spouses there commissary and PX privileges without local government approval. The South Korean government, however, is still not approving visas for those military dependents.
--Amy Bushatz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org