The Peace Corps, one of the largest government-run volunteer organizations in the U.S., announced on Tuesday that as of June it is changing its policy to allow same-sex couples to volunteer together in the overseas service program.
"Service in the Peace Corps is a life-defining leadership experience for Americans who want to make a difference around the world," said Deputy Director Hessler-Radelet in a statement. "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, established by former President John F. Kennedy in 1961, works in 76 different countries in various social and economic development programs, aimed at helping people better understand Americans, while at the same time offering U.S. citizens more insight into people of other cultures.
The Peace Corps says that married heterosexual couples, who have been allowed to serve together since the beginning, fill only 7 percent of the agency's assignments, as opportunities for couples are limited. The organization added that expanding service opportunities to same-sex couples further diversifies the pool of Peace Corps applicants. There are currently 8,000 volunteers serving in the 76 host countries.
Reuters noted, however, that consideration will have to be taken in deciding where to send gay couples, as some of the host countries where the Peace Corps operates do not allow homosexual practices.
"The Peace Corps is only going to consider placement for same-sex couples in countries where homosexual acts are not criminalized," spokeswoman Shira Kramer explained. "We're obviously aiming to foster the most productive and safe environments for same-sex couples.
"The Peace Corps will foster safe and productive assignments for same-sex couples and provide them with guidance for maintaining their safety and well-being. The agency will provide country-specific information to applicants once they are invited to serve, and Peace Corps staff will provide additional information and training once volunteers arrive in-country," she added, according to CBS News.