CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — The Japanese government said Friday that it has no issue with the U.S. military allowing same-sex spouses to accompany servicemembers or civilian workers stationed here.
Some gay spouses headed to Japan have been denied federal benefits granted to straight partners, such as housing, medical treatment and shopping on U.S. installations, due to concerns that gay marriage is not authorized under a 53-year-old status of forces agreement governing troops in the country, according to The Washington Post.
U.S. Forces Japan and the Department of Defense said Thursday that they are reviewing SOFAs in Japan and elsewhere in the wake of a landmark move this summer to extend full marriage benefits to gay couples.
The SOFA signed with Japan addresses issues such as legal jurisdiction, mail service and taxes for military personnel but does not define spouse or marriage. A Japan Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman said the definition of who qualifies as a spouse under the agreement is up to the U.S. government.
“And there is no reason that Japan has to disagree with a decision made by the United States,” he said.
The ministry said no formal bilateral talks had been planned on the issue and that it was being handled through informal dialogue among U.S. and Japanese officials.
Last month, the Pentagon announced it would extend a range of marriage benefits such as health care, housing allowances and family separation pay to same-sex couples after the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, which had prohibited the federal government from recognizing gay unions.
Military leaders lauded the move as ensuring fair and equal treatment in the ranks, but the decision has also caused some conflicts, such as National Guard units in Louisiana and Texas refusing to process requests for same-sex benefits due to state bans on gay marriage.
Those benefits are also being snagged on concerns over troop and personnel agreements signed with U.S. allies around the world. The DOD is now trying to surmise the consequences for hundreds of thousands of U.S. personnel overseas.
“The Department is carefully reviewing command sponsorship for overseas tours, as well as all applicable status of forces agreements,” Lt. Cmdr. Nate Christensen, a DOD spokesman, wrote in an email response to Stars and Stripes.
Christensen said the review of applicable status of forces agreements is being done in coordination with the State Department, which also has a large number of employees stationed overseas.
On Thursday, the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo directed questions to the military.