By Chris Huqueriza
With the mounting vocal demands of same-sex couples in the military, the Pentagon hopes to extend benefits to same-sex spouses.
“As long as they remain in place, these restrictions have the effect of perpetuating discrimination against same-sex spouses and their families. Department of Defense current policy is treating same sex service members, their spouses and families as second class citizens,” Rep. Adam B. Schiff wrote to Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta. The letter was co-signed by 25 lawmakers petitioning for benefit extension to same-sex couples.
While unclear which new benefits the Pentagon will grant, LGBT activists are advocating for housing privileges, joint duty assignments for gay military couples, and access to base recreational facilities.
Previously, the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996 excluded same-sex unions from recognition from the government. With the act still viable, the Pentagon may have difficulty extending up to 100 benefits.
“[The military] has established a two-tiered system regarding how they treat the haves and have-not families. It’s an untenable leadership situation,” said Executive Director of Outserve-SLDN, Allyson Robinson.
According to Pentagon Spokeswoman and Commander Leslie Hull-Ryde, for some time, a “deliberative and comprehensive review of the possibility of extending eligibility for benefits, when legally permitted, to same-sex domestic partners” has been underway.
The plan for benefit extension has been in progress since last October when the Joint Chiefs of Staff received the final version.
The push for same-sex couple extension benefits grew after Defense Secretary Nominee Chuck Hagel made anti-gay remarks on an openly gay ambassador and after President Obama declared equality for LGBT members in his second inauguration. “Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law,” said Obama.
Many LGBT advocates understand the Defense of Marriage Act will block numerous benefits, but hope the benefits will extend for same-sex spouses access to military identification, transportation privileges, family support programs and commissaries.
Hull-Ryde commented that same-sex spouses already have benefits that relate to troop deaths and other urgent situations.
Lower courts have argued against it, but the Supreme Court will listen to arguments on the legitimacy of the Defense of Marriage Act next month.
Panetta will make the announcement of extension benefits this week.