military gay benefitsInternational: Same-sex marriage is not legal in Japan, although homosexual relationships are widely accepted there.

Yet U.S. Forces Japan is providing spouses of gay and lesbian troops and Defense Department civilians with the same benefits and privileges as heterosexual couples, reports

As the Defense Department works to extend full benefits to gay and lesbian families, the inconsistent policies among overseas commands are creating confusion and causing financial and emotional hardship for an unknown number of same-sex couples.

At issue are the Status of Forces agreements between the United States and host countries, military officials said. The agreements establish the rights and privileges of U.S. military personnel present in a host country, including criminal jurisdiction, tax and employment issues.

But the SOFAs for the most part do not recognize same-sex spouses as “dependents,” military officials said.

Without agreements to include same-sex spouses as dependents, the command cannot offer command sponsorship and its host of benefits. That compels gay and lesbian families to stay in the U.S. or to pay their own airfare, moving costs and rent — without SOFA legal and visa protections that permit them to stay in country for more than 90 days.

U.S. commands in Asia have successfully resolved the issue, not always waiting for the relevant country to agree. In December, Japan, where same-sex marriage is not legal but homosexual relationships are not a political issue, agreed that the word “spouse” applied to anyone legally married to Defense Department personnel, officials at U.S. Forces Japan officials said.

In Korea, the American command pushed ahead, apparently without an agreement, informing the Korean government in a letter in November that same-sex dependents of troops, civilian employees and contractors would get full benefits.

“It is our hope that the ROK government will understand and respect the U.S. government’s decision,” a USFK statement said.

U.S. Forces Korea added a caveat: Although it would assist in A-3 visa applications for all dependents, whether the Korean government would issue the visas to same-sex spouses was “a decision of the Korean government,” the command said.

The issue is a remaining difficulty for military gays and lesbians, who have made remarkable gains after centuries of sexual-orientation-based discrimination.

Until three years ago, when the so-called “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy was revoked, homosexual troops faced investigation and discharge from the military if their orientation became suspected.

In June, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down key parts of the Defense of Marriage Act, which had prohibited the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriage. The decision paved the way for Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to announce the same benefits available to all military spouses, regardless of sexual orientation, as soon as possible.

A number of countries have offered no opposition to treating U.S. military same-sex couples the same as heterosexual married couples.

Canada, Nepal, Australia, Laos and New Zealand have agreed to define same-sex spouses as dependents, said a Defense Department spokesman who declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of the issues.

Two countries — Bangladesh and Sri Lanka — have told U.S. officials that they will not allow command sponsorship of same-sex spouses, according to military officials. In numerous countries in the Middle East, South Asia and Africa, where homosexuality is harshly criminalized, no such agreements are likely.