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article imageDepartment of Defense to extend benefits to same-sex couples Special

By Greta McClain     Feb 12, 2013 in Politics
Washington - Outgoing Department of Defense Secretary, Leon Panetta, has announced the Pentagon will begin extending benefits to same-sex partners of service members.
In a memo issued on Monday, Panetta says the implementation of the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" in essentially complete and that discrimination based on sexual orientation "no longer has a place in the military".
The memo says the Defense Department has identified benefits the Pentagon can "lawfully" extend to same-sex civil partners and dependents of military service members by making changes to Department of Defense policies and regulations.
In a statement issued by the Department of Defense, Panetta said:
"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."
In order to be eligible to receive benefits, same-sex partners either need to be legally married in the District of Columbia or one of the nine states that have legalized same-sex marriage, or sign a "declaration of domestic partnership". The benefit extension includes: dependent ID cards, hospital visitation, emergency notifications, "space-available" seats on military aircraft flights, emergency leave, child care, legal assistance, joint duty assignments, access to on base movie theaters, gyms, commissaries and exchanges, and disability and death compensation for dependents of service members held captive. The entire list of benefits can be seen here.
Same-sex partners will not be eligible for medical benefits or survivor benefits such as pensions or life insurance policies. It will also exclude same-sex partners from seeking assistance in gaining a visa when a partner is deployed overseas and will not offer legal immunity for some laws in foreign jurisdictions. A service member who is in a partnership with a member of the same sex is also prohibited from requesting the partner be buried in a military veterans' cemetery. These benefits are excluded due to the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).
DOMA has defined marriage as a union between a man and a woman. Several federal courts have ruled DOMA to be unconstitutional. The Supreme Court will hear appeals regarding DOMA in March. The White House ordered the Department of Justice not to defend DOMA before the Supreme Court.
Panetta has offered a contingency plan in the event DOMA is overturned, saying:
“If the event that the Defense of Marriage Act is no longer applicable to the Department of Defense, it will be the policy of the department to construe the words ‘spouse’ and ‘marriage’ without regard to sexual orientation, and married couples, irrespective of sexual orientation, and their dependents, will be granted full military benefits.”
Although housing benefits are not specifically prohibited under DOMA, officials want to examine the extension of housing benefits further to make sure it would not “violate the spirit of the law.”
Some applaud Panetta's announcement, with Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign saying:
"Today, the Pentagon took a historic step forward toward righting the wrong of inequality in our armed forces, but there is still more work to be done. Gay and lesbian service members and their families make sacrifices every day, and this country owes them every measure of support we can provide."
OutServe-SLDN executive director, Allyson Robinson, said Panetta and the Pentagon have done all they can do under current law, but that the rest is up to the Supreme Court. She continued by saying:
“In the end though, this comes down to the Supreme Court. I hope they see now that the only way to get out of this unjust and untenable situation is to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act.”
Others are critical of the announcement, with Sen. James M. Inhofe (R-OK) telling the Los Angeles Times:
"Once again, the president is eroding our military's apolitical stance and forcing conformity onto the rest of society by pushing his liberal social agenda through the Department of Defense."
Inhofe went on to tell the Washington Post:
“The Department of Defense is essentially creating a new class of beneficiary that will increase costs and demand for limited resources that are currently available for military families, active and reserve forces, and retirees.”
Pentagon officials say the cost of the expanded benefits would be "negligible" however, estimating approximately 9,000 same-sex couples are on active duty or serving in the National Guard and Reserves, while 8,000 have retired.
Digital Journal spoke with two former and one current members of the military and asked what they thought of Panetta's announcement. A current National Guard member who asked to remain anonymous, citing he had not received permission from the Media Affairs office to speak to the press, stated:
"I personally don't have a problem with it. I have served with gays before and they do their job just like any straight soldier does. They lay their lives on the line just like I do and should not be treated any different."
Charles, a former Marine, told Digital Journal:
"There are too many more important things for the military to worry about than gay couples. Focus on improving services for current and former members of the military and stop wasting time trying to discriminate against a certain group that serve their country with the same pride and dedication as any other member of the military. As far as I am concerned, give them full benefits and if Congress wants to jump up and down and hold hearings and appeals and whatever, let them. It will just show the American people that Congress is more worried about appeasing their donors than doing what is right and treating all members of the military with the honor and respect they deserve."
T., a former member of the Army, said:
"With the drastic cuts proposed due to the sequester, I don't think adding to the military's budget is a good idea. It may be a small amount in the grand scheme of things, but I think the whole debt ceiling fiasco needs to be addressed first. I also think if benefits are going to be given to gays who sign a "domestic partnership oath", than the same option should be given to heterosexual members of the military. Most soldiers will get married so their families can receive benefits, especially in the event they are killed in the line of duty, but some choose not be get married for whatever reason. They should be allowed to sign a declaration too so their "partner" can get benefits."
Benefits must be extended to any eligible same-sex partners no later than October 1, 2013.
More about Department of Defense, Pentagon, Military, Benefits, samesex
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