RELATED DOCUMENTS:DODEA memorandum of understanding on transfer programDomestic partner relationship affidavit

Department of Defense schools will now recognize same-sex relationships when transferring overseas teachers to new assignments, according to an agreement this month between the department’s Education Activity and two teachers’ unions.

The decision means gay teachers in domestic partnerships with other teachers must be given the same consideration that married heterosexual teachers receive when requesting to be transferred to new jobs in the same area, the Federal Education Association union and school officials confirmed Friday.

The change of DODEA rules was approved by the agency’s human resources director, Lenoir Graham, FEA president Michael Priser and Overseas Federation of Teachers president Marie Sainz-Funaro and will affect transfers later this year. It also applies to committed but unmarried heterosexual couples involved in domestic partnerships.

“Our teachers have wanted this for years because we have a lot of teachers who have domestic partners,” said Debra Degalis, the Pacific area director of the FEA. “It’s a really big win.”

DODEA teachers are moved among districts around the world depending on transfer requests, experience and school needs. The joint-transfer benefit gives teaching couples a chance to stay together despite job moves to new school districts in other countries.

To be eligible, couples must either possess a legal civil-union certificate or sign an affidavit confirming they are committed to being “life partners,” according to copies of the rule changes and affidavit form obtained by Stars and Stripes.

The decision to recognize gay relationships among civilian teachers comes as the military braces for an expected review of its “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on homosexuality.

President Barack Obama has pledged to end the policy, which since 1993 has required gay servicemembers to keep their sexual orientation private or face discharge.

The issue has drawn heated debate between supporters of gay rights and those who fear openly gay servicemembers would harm the order and spirit of the military.

Meanwhile, Obama extended some benefits to same-sex spouses of federal workers last summer, moving away from the 1993 Defense of Marriage Act, a law signed by President Bill Clinton that had effectively barred the federal government from recognizing the unions.

Degalis said recent court decisions and a new presidential administration convinced FEA lawyers that it was time to press for expansion of the teacher transfer benefits.

Under the Bush administration, DODEA was not “willing to step out on a limb for that and we didn’t want to challenge it until a new administration came in,” she said.

Recognizing the same-sex unions will ensure equal employment opportunities for all teachers, according to an e-mail sent to top DODEA administrators by Ed Banka, deputy director of agency human resources.

“Employees who meet the criteria outlined in the agreement may now compete for available transfers on the same basis that’s been provided for many years to married [Department of Defense Dependent Schools] educators,” he wrote.

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