No military family, whether hetero- or homosexual should be denied benefits because of outdated regulations.
Nearly 16 months after the Pentagon ended the ban on openly gay men and women serving in the US military, it is now ready to grant certain benefits to same-sex partners of those serving. Although a final decision has not been made concerning which benefits will be made available, officials say Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is considering the issue, and the benefits to be extended may include “access to the on-base commissary and other military subsidized stores,” there is also the possibility that some health and welfare programs that were previously not available to same-sex partners of military personnel will become so.
The Associated Press reports,
Panetta must walk a fine, legal line. While there has been increased pressure on the Pentagon to extend some benefits to same-sex partners, defense officials must be careful not to violate the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA. The federal law forbids the federal government from recognizing any marriage other than those between a man and a woman.
Officials have said there are still last-minute discussions going on to determine legal details, and that the military will most likely require documentation that designates the “military member’s partner as a legitimate recipient” of any benefits determined to be available to same-sex partners. They also expect to begin issuing identification cards of some type to same-sex partners of military personnel which would give them access to military installations and programs. Until now same-sex partners have been denied military identification that granted them access to bases and military events.
This decision comes after President Obama has openly supported gay rights and called for sweeping changes to the way homosexuals are treated in the US. He said in his inaugural address, “Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law — for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.”
Also, last year the top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, Representative Adam Smith of Washington state, introduced a bill that would give benefits to same-sex spouses of both military personnel and veterans. This legislation would require both the Defense Department and the Veterans Affairs Department to “recognize any marriage that has been recognized by a state, the District of Columbia, commonwealths or territories.” Smith asserts that with gays now being allowed to serve openly in the armed forces, their spouses should receive the same benefits as heterosexual spouses of military personnel. He said, “Building on the repeal of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,’ this is another big step toward full equality in the military. No individual should be deprived of the benefits they have earned simply because of who they have married.”
Although the Pentagon has been reviewing the policies and procedures surrounding benefits for same-sex partners since the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” in September, 2011, they have to be cautious about violating DOMA. However, the Supreme Court is expected to rule in June on the constitutionality of DOMA, and if they find it to be unconstitutional it may open up the possibility of same-sex partners becoming eligible for the same benefits afforded to heterosexual military spouses.
However, some advocacy groups argue that there are any number of administrative steps the Pentagon can take that will not violate DOMA but would still treat same-sex military couples more fairly. The president of the American Military Partner Association, Stephen Peters said, “Considering DADT was repealed well over a year ago, our families have waited far too long for the Defense Department to extend benefits to same-sex military spouses.”
The announcement from the Pentagon should be made within the next few days.