Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is responding positively to a request made by Congressional leaders to fix inequities for gay and lesbian employees at the State Department.

Wisconsin's openly gay Representative Tammy Baldwin (D) is behind the request. She said in an exclusive OUTTAKEOnline ( interview that she had made similar requests to Clinton's predecessor, Condoleezza Rice, but little had come of the effort.

In a letter dated Feb. 2, Baldwin was joined by Senators Russ Feingold (D-WI) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Florida Republican Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen in asking for policy changes for gay diplomats that would not require Congressional approval.

Baldwin outlined an “extensive” list of items where inequities exist between straight and gay employees including discrimination in a gay spouses' access to training, medical services and emergency evacuations from an overseas post. Gay spouses are classified as “members of household,” a designation with few benefits.

And on Wednesday, Clinton responded, saying she would look for ways to provide “training, benefits and protections” to gay spouses.

In her first town hall meeting with State Department employees, a gay diplomat, Ralan Hill, asked Clinton about the issue.

“I have a same-sex partner, who's been recognized as member of household by the Department of State,” Hill said. “Because of that, the Department actively discriminates against me and my family in a number of areas by limiting our access to benefits routinely and customarily provided to other families here in the Department.”

“As one example, if I were assigned overseas to a post that came under a mandatory evacuation order, I would be required to leave, although the Department is under no legal obligation to do anything to help my partner. He could be left literally to fend for himself in a war zone.”

Clinton acknowledged the shortfalls in the policies: “You know, this is an issue of real concern to me. And even though, as you pointed out, all of our personnel share the same service requirements, the partners in same-sex relationships are not offered the same training, the same benefits, and the same protections that other family members receive when you serve abroad.”

“So I view this as an issue of workplace fairness, employee retention, and the safety and effectiveness of our embassy communities worldwide.”

“So I have asked for a staff review of current policies, especially those that are set forth in State Department regulations, and recommendations and a strategy for making effective changes,” Clinton said.

Clinton also reminded employees that gay spouses, even if legally wed, are not recognized by federal law under federal DOMA which defines marriage as a heterosexual union for government agencies. That law, signed by President Bill Clinton, she said, greatly curtailed her authority on this issue.

On the Net: Rep. Baldwin's interview is at