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BREAKING: Defense Secretary Panetta extends same-sex military benefits

DOMA Repeal DOMA trials

By Scottie Thomaston

Outserve-SLDN is reporting that Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta is extending some benefits to same-sex military families. This story was first reported on February 5, but no details were provided at the time. Outserve-SLDN notes that the Defense Department did not extend all the benefits it could – even with the Defense of Marriage Act still the law:

The package of recognition, support, and benefits – which includes the issuance of military identification cards, access to family support initiatives, and joint duty assignments – does not address the larger issues of health care, housing, and survivors’ benefits restricted by DOMA and other federal statutes. The Supreme Court is set to consider DOMA next month, and is expected to issue a ruling later this year.

“As encouraging as this step is for our military families, the passing yesterday of U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer Charlie Morgan and the needs of her family – needs in danger of going largely unmet because of the Defense of Marriage Act – reminds us of how far we still are from true equality.” said Robinson.

Freedom to Marry has also issued a statement:

“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,” said Evan Wolfson, founder and president of Freedom to Marry. “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.”

Towleroad has Secretary Panetta’s statement and a copy of the memo:

“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.”

Outserve-SLDN has a FAQ on the benefits extension.

The Supreme Court hears a challenge to DOMA on March 27. If the Court strikes it down, the military will be allowed to extend equal benefits to same-sex and opposite-sex families.

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