As reported and anticipated, the Pentagon has announced that it will make some benefits, but not all, available to the married partners of gay soldiers. Outgoing Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta issued the following statement on the change of policy:
“Seventeen months ago, the United States military ended the policy of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” We have implemented the repeal of that policy and made clear that discrimination based on sexual orientation has no place in the Department of Defense.
“At the time of repeal, I committed to reviewing benefits that had not previously been available to same-sex partners based on existing law and policy. It is a matter of fundamental equity that we provide similar benefits to all of those men and women in uniform who serve their country. The department already provides a group of benefits that are member-designated. Today, I am pleased to announce that after a thorough and deliberate review, the department will extend additional benefits to same-sex partners of service members.
“Taking care of our service members and honoring the sacrifices of all military families are two core values of this nation. Extending these benefits is an appropriate next step under current law to ensure that all service members receive equal support for what they do to protect this nation.
“One of the legal limitations to providing all benefits at this time is the Defense of Marriage Act, which is still the law of the land. There are certain benefits that can only be provided to spouses as defined by that law, which is now being reviewed by the United States Supreme Court. While it will not change during my tenure as secretary of defense, I foresee a time when the law will allow the department to grant full benefits to service members and their dependents, irrespective of sexual orientation. Until then, the department will continue to comply with current law while doing all we can to take care of all soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines, and their families.
“While the implementation of additional benefits will require substantial policy revisions and training, it is my expectation that these benefits will be made available as expeditiously as possible. One of the great successes at the Department of Defense has been the implementation of DADT repeal. It has been highly professional and has strengthened our military community. I am confident in the military services’ ability to effectively implement these changes over the coming months.”
Among the new benefits that will be extended to same-sex spouses: participation in the group life insurance policy; survivor benefits; hospital visitation privileges; commissary and exchange privileges; legal assistance; and joint duty assignments. The directive also says that if DOMA is repealed or overturned, any and all additional benefits offered to spouses will apply regardless of gender. A big step in the right direction.