Just in time for President Obama’s State of the Union address tomorrow night, the Defense Department announced it would extend benefits for same-sex couples.
Seventeen months after the repeal of “Don’t ask, don’t tell,” the Pentagon can only offer so many benefits because of the Defense of Marriage Act. The changes will allow the issuance of military ID cards, hospital visitation rights, and more, but stops at housing benefits and burial in Arlington National Cemetery.
“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,” Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said.
“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,” he said.
“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.”
Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) sent a letter to Panetta last month advocating the extension of benefits to gay servicemen and women and their families.
“While I’m obviously pleased by this morning’s announcement, I also recognize that much more remains to be done to ensure full and complete equality for LGBT families, starting with the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). LGBT Americans and families deserve equal treatment under the law and as long as the DOMA remains in place, important benefits will be unavailable to same-sex military couples,” Shaheen said. “That is an unacceptable reality and I’m committed to doing all I can to see DOMA abolished.”