Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Pentagon Grants DP Benefits to Same-Sex Couples

Outgoing Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta announced on Tuesday that the Department of Defense will extend as many benefits as it can without violating the Defense of Marriage Act to same-sex couples who register as domestic partners with the Pentagon.

Statement from Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta on the Extension of Benefits to Same-Sex Partners

            “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.”

The organization OutServe SLDN has a very cool list of frequently asked questions which documents the exact list of benefits that are being extended as well as the likely date that they will  go into effect (by October 1, 2013).

An interesting question is what impact this move will have on the ongoing litigation over the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act in United States v Windsor. It can't be lost on the Supreme Court that there are actual servicemembers who are being negatively impacted by the existence of DOMA, since the Secretary of Defense is clearly saying that DOMA is limiting what benefits the Pentagon would like to extend to the men and women who are fighting and dying to protect our country while that very same country is treating their loved ones like second-class citizens.

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