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South Korea gives same-sex U.S. military spouses legal protection

April 17, 2016 (Photo Credit: Airman 1st Class Erin Babis/Air Force)

South Korea has been added to the growing list of overseas duty assignments approved for same-sex military couples, a Pentagon official has confirmed.

The move clarifies that same-sex military spouses can receive command sponsorship for the full legal protections that the South Korean government gives to other military spouses.

Advocates for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender military spouses and families applauded the move, which makes South Korea the 51st country to join the list.

"A huge burden has been lifted off of the shoulders of so many of our military families," American Military Partner Association President Ashley Broadway-Mack said. "With thousands of service members stationed in South Korea, 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. 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."

After the Supreme Court overturned parts of the Defense of Marriage Act in 2013, the DoD issued guidance that same-sex spouses could begin enrolling in the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System and receive the same benefits that heterosexual spouses receive.

But command sponsorship for overseas assignments wasn't as clear-cut. That's because of the impact of status of forces agreements. Those agreements between the U.S. and host nations address how the domestic laws of that country will be applied to U.S. military personnel stationed there.  

While opposite-sex military spouses could accompany their service members to these duty stations in South Korea, same-sex spouses and their children were often left behind.

The move clarifies that same-sex military spouses will receive the same legal protections that the South Korean government gives to other military spouses.

Over the past few years, military officials have reportedly been working with State Department teams to address the issue with a number of countries. Germany, another country with a high number of military personnel, was added to the list last summer. Approvals for several other countries are pending, Broadway-Mack said.

She noted the list of approved countries for same-sex military couples now includes: Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Austria, the Bahamas, Bahrain, Belgium, Bolivia, Brazil, Burma, Cambodia, Canada, Colombia, Costa Rica, Croatia, Curaçao, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, El Salvador, Estonia, Fiji, Finland, Georgia, Germany, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Laos, Macedonia, Malta, Mexico, Moldova, Mongolia, Nepal, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, Portugal, Republic of Korea, South Africa, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Taiwan, Thailand, Timor-Leste, United Kingdom, Uruguay and Vietnam. 

Karen Jowers covers military families, quality of life and consumer issues for Military Times. She can be reached at

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