Same-Sex Spouses Approved to Accompany US Troops to South Korea

Capt. Dawn Tanner, 51st Medical Operations Squadron Family Advocacy element leader, Facetimes her wife, Dana McCown, retired lieutenant colonel, at Osan Air Base, Republic of Korea, Sept. 13, 2013. (U.S. Air Force Photo/Airman 1st Class Ashley J. Thum)

Same-sex spouses will now be able to accompany U.S. service members on overseas tours to South Korea, according to Defense Department documents.

The paperwork was obtained and released by the American Military Partners Association, a Washington, D.C.-based organization that advocates on behalf of gay military families.

"A huge burden has been lifted off of the shoulders of so many of our military families," Ashley Broadway-Mack, president of the association, said in a press release. "This is incredibly welcome news for so many service members and their families who now don't have to go through extraordinary lengths to stay together."

Although gay spouses became eligible for U.S. military benefits in 2013, they're often still not permitted to join the family members at overseas duty stations due to restrictive status of forces agreements with the host countries. 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.

South Korea, which hosts about 30,000 American troops, had been the last major U.S. host country to deny the special visa used by command-sponsored dependents overseas that allows them to stay continuously in the country.

Typically family members who follow a service member to a host country without command sponsorship are unable to use base services, including the commissary and Exchange.

However, because of a 2013 decision by U.S. Forces Korea, gay military families who chose to go to South Korea could still use base facilities. But without South Korea's buy-in, stateside officials could not grant to those families sponsorship and the perks that come with it, like travel funding, housing and special vias.

Germany began granting sponsorship in August of last year, while Italy changed its rules in July of 2014. The majority of the nations that continue to prohibit command sponsorship of gay U.S. military families are locations where homosexuality is illegal, such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

-- Amy Bushatz can be reached at amy.bushatz@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @amy.bushatz.