US Department of Defense confirms extension of benefits to same-sex couples

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The US Department of Defense confirmed on Monday that they would extend benefits to same-sex couples that had been previously denied, in a move that should push forward lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights for the American military.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said in a statement issued from his office that all active service members, straight or not, would now have access to military identification cards, family support initiatives as well as joint duty assignments.

Evan Wolfson, founder and president of Freedom to Marry, said in a statement released by his office that the Pentagon took a step in the right direction.

“Today’s announcement by the Pentagon that it will provide same-sex spouses of active service members some of the limited protections it can, within the discriminatory constraints imposed by the so-called Defense of Marriage Act, is a positive step that will help families and align with the military’s goals of treating service members fairly, while at the same time underscoring just how great a burden DOMA imposes on families and employers,” Wolfson said.

“All members of our armed forces provide the same service, make the same sacrifices, and take the same risks to protect our country – and the military, like many employers – would like to treat its people equally. But DOMA’s gay exception means that the federal government, including the Pentagon, may not provide family protections to families or even respect married couples as married, if they are gay. The problem is not what the military and employers would like to do; it’s that the law is tying the hands of employers and the military for no good reason. It is time to overturn DOMA and get back to the practice of federal respect for married people and families, especially those serving our country,” Wolfson added.

Last week, LGBT activists were advocating for housing privileges, joint duty assignments for gay military couples, and access to base recreational facilities after news leaked that Monday’s announcement was to come shortly.

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.

 

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