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Should Gay Military Spouses Go Overseas Anyway?

Same-sex military partners, many of who cannot accompany their spouse on an overseas PCS because the host country won't recognize them as dependents, can now get command sponsorship to Italy.

Countries that host US military bases have a status of forces agreement (SOFA), with the US that governors how Americans live in the country, including whether or not military families can receive a visa that allows them to live there for the duration of their spouse's assignment.

But because same-sex marriage is such a hot button political and religious issue, many countries won't yet grant visas to same-sex American spouses. A change to the SOFA with the Italian government means same-sex military spouses can now receive command sponsorship and PCS with their service members to bases there.

You can read all the details about the addition of Italy to the list over here in my Military.com story. 

Germany, where domestic gay partners are legally recognized, tops the list of countries with a large US military presence where no visible movement has been made on altering the SOFA to allow gay spouses. And officials there won't offer command sponsorship without a SOFA alteration.

But that doesn't seem to have to be the way it goes. In Korea, for instance, US officials simply wrote a letter last year to the Korean government informing them that gay spouses will be given many aspects of sponsorship. However, the US cannot force Korea to stamp SOFA-affiliated visas, and so no gay spouses there currently have one.

The bulk of the 36 nations that have given a solid "no" to a SOFA change are located in Africa, where homosexuality is illegal in many countries. Since US officials in Korea decided to allow gay spouses with or without a SOFA change, it's certainly possible for them to do that elsewhere. A Defense Department document tracking how current SOFA agreements stack up on this issue notes that, for some of these countries, living as an openly gay spouses - even as an American - can result in violence against them.

Still, is that a risk that military members should be allowed to decide for themselves whether or not they want to take? Should the Defense Department simply allow these families to stay together through a PCS without the country's support? Or should the Defense Department continue to make respecting the wishes of the host nation on this issue a top priority?

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