Germany, temporary home to about 38,000 U.S. service members, is the latest nation to join the growing list of places where same-sex U.S. military spouses can receive command sponsorship for full legal protections overseas.

Pentagon officials on Thursday confirmed the change, which clears the way for same-sex military spouses to receive the same special treatment that the German government provides to other military dependents, such as longer visas and special consideration in the criminal justice system.

The change comes nearly four years after the official repeal of the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy. That opened the door for gays and lesbians to serve openly and required the Defense Department to provide full benefits for same-sex couples.

"A huge burden has been lifted off of the shoulders of so many of our military families," said Ashley Broadway-Mack, head of the American Military Partners Association, a group that advocates for married gay troops.

"With thousands of service members stationed in Germany, this was a serious concern that our families still faced after the successful repeal of 'don't ask, don't tell' and the eventual recognition of same-sex spouses by the Department of Defense," Broadway-Mack said in a statement. "This is incredibly welcome news for so many service members who had to leave their families behind or go through extraordinary lengths to stay together."

Expanding the list of places where troops can live with their same-sex spouses has been a slow process because it requires the U.S. State Department to consult individually with each host nation to determine whether the change creates any violation of the current "status of forces" agreements.

One important ally where the issue of same-sex couples remains unresolved is South Korea, home to nearly 30,000 U.S. troops.

Current available locations for command sponsorship of same-sex spouses are:

Argentina, Australia, Austria, Bahrain, Belgium, Bolivia, Brazil, Burma, Cambodia, Canada, Columbia, Costa Rica, Curacao, Cyprus, Denmark, El Salvador, Fiji, Finland, Georgia, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Laos, Mexico, Mongolia, Nepal, New Zealand, Norway, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Taiwan, Thailand, Timor-Leste, United Kingdom, Uruguay and Vietnam.