Since 1961, the year the Peace Corps was formed, married couples have been allowed to serve together in the international humanitarian group, but until today, same-sex couples did not have that luxury. However, starting Monday, June 3rd, same-sex couples will be able to apply for Peace Corps opportunities together as a married unit, even if the state they live in does not recognize their marriage.
“The Peace Corps has long looked to expand opportunities to serve and respect the diversity of the US abroad,” said Shira Kramer, Press Director for the Peace Corps. This move toward acceptance is a result of President Obama’s 2009 directive that asked federal agencies to take steps where feasible to expand access and benefits to members of the LGBT community. “It’s something that’s been in discussion for a long time,” said Kramer. “We’ve recognized an interest among perspective volunteers. We wanted to make sure all the policies were in place and all the pieces were there to get it right.”
While volunteering as a LGBT individual has never been an issue, the experience of volunteering as a couple can make the Peace Corps experience much more unique. “We think they’ll bring new skills and experiences to the field that will benefit our organization… it’s a very impactful and eye-opening experience both couples and individuals alike,” said Kramer.
The Peace Corps conducts volunteer work around the world, and in some cases, in countries where being gay is illegal or dangerous. 43% of the Peace Corps’ work is done in Africa, where homosexuality can fall into that illegal or dangerous category, but Kramer said these issues will be taken into account when placing LGBT couples. “We will work to foster safe and productive environments for same-sex couples… We’ll only be considering placement of same-sex couples in countries where homosexual acts are not criminalized.”
Any couple that wants to enter the Peace Corps together must provide formal documentation of their union, and this process is complicated in states like Virginia where same-sex marriage, and even civil unions, are not recognized. But Kramer clarified, to accommodate couples in these states, there is also a legal affidavit that couples must sign as verification of their relationship.
“Service in the Peace Corps is a life-defining leadership experience for Americans who want to make a difference around the world,” Deputy Director Hessler-Radelet said in a press release about today’s announcement. “I am proud that the agency is taking this important step forward to allow same-sex domestic partners to serve overseas together.”
The Peace Corps website has more details about same-sex couples interested in working with the international group. Anyone hoping to get involved must pass their rigorous application process which can be found here.