The U.S. Peace Corps will begin accepting applications from same-sex couples who wish to serve overseas together for the first time next month, the agency announced Tuesday.
The move follows a broader shift by the Obama administration toward publicly supporting gay rights and denouncing LGBT discrimination globally through U.S. diplomatic efforts, including at the State Department and the United Nations.
The Peace Corps said opening its doors to same-sex domestic partners "further diversifies the pool of Peace Corps applicants and the skills of those invited to serve overseas in the fields of education, health, community economic development, environment, youth in development and agriculture."
Same-sex couples can begin filing joint applications June 3.
I knew gay Peace Corps Volunteers when I lived in southern Africa, and they served as well as any of their peers. I have no doubt that people in committed same-sex relationships will be able to do the same.
Still, same-sex couples serving together does bring one question immediately to mind: What will the implications of this move be in placement countries across the world where LGBT people's rights are routinely denied and their health and lives threatened?
The Peace Corps clearly made it a point to address this in its press release today, saying it "continually works with staff in host countries to identify placements that allow for safe and productive assignments."
The agency said it is already working with its field staff to determine safe placements for same-sex couples. Like other volunteers, same-sex couples will be able to express their preference of countries they'd like to serve in, but will not get to choose their final placement.
The agency will provide "country-specific information" about how local communities respond to same-sex couples to any couples placed, it said.
It also warned that not all applications are accepted.
"Opportunities for couples are limited, as both applicants must apply at the same time and qualify for assignments at the same post," the agency said in a statement. Many factors are considered when placements are decided, it said, including "an applicant's overall competitiveness, program availability, departure dates, and safety and medical accommodations."
The same standards have long shaped the Peace Corps, which was established by President John F. Kennedy in 1961 and has since placed more than 210,000 Americans across the globe. There are currently more than 8,000 volunteers working in 76 countries.
Straight married couples have been serving together in the Peace Corps since its inception. While this is a first for same-sex couples, it's definitely not the first time LGBT people will be serving as volunteers.
Here's a FAQ section for interested couples.
If this has you excited to apply for the first time, let us know!