In response to the Supreme Court decision that struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, the Defense Department announced its plans last August of offering benefits to same-sex spouses of military personnel and other employees.

In a memo released by the Pentagon, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said the Department of Defense remains committed to ensuring that all men and women who serve in the U.S. military and their families are treated fairly and equally.

With this plan, spousal and family benefits such as health care coverage, housing allowances and survivor benefits, will become available to gay couples as long as they are legally married. Same-sex spouses of service and civilian Defense Department employees will be able to claim entitlements retroactively, starting with the date of the decision.

In order to qualify for the benefits, same-sex couples should provide a marriage certificate which is valid in the place of celebration.  As for those who may have to travel to a jurisdiction (any of the thirteen states plus the District of Columbia) where same-sex marriage is recognized by law to get married, Pentagon says it will grant leave.

Hagel says, “This will provide accelerated access to the full range of benefits offered to married military couples throughout the department, and help level the playing field between opposite-sex and same-sex couples seeking to be married.”

According to this policy, personnel stationed within the United States will have up to seven days of leave to travel to a state where marriage is legal while those outside may receive up to 10 days of leave.

However, when a draft of the policy with this provision was released, Senator James M. Inhofe of Oklahoma, currently the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, begged to differ with what he termed “the preferential treatment” shown by the policy towards same-sex couples.

In a statement, Inhofe claims military leave is granted by statute and while there are special provisions in law for adoptions and emergency situations, there are no special provisions for marriage, same-sex or otherwise.

Last February, the Pentagon announced it would grant some benefits to the committed same-sex partners of service members in less than two years after President Obama ended the military’s “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy and one year after the administration says it would not defend the constitutionality of laws blocking same-sex spouses of military personnel from receiving benefits.

According to the Defense of Marriage Act, the 1996 law defines marriage as the union of man and a woman. Full benefits could not be offered to same-sex partners of its personnel who are federal employees. Health care coverage and some other entitlements are withheld.

A Defense Department spokesman said last Wednesday that it did not have an estimate of home many people are expected to gain benefits under the new plan.

In February, officials estimated that about 17,000 military personnel and veterans would apply for partial benefits for their domestic partners, 5,600 of whom were active-duty service members.


Source: The New York Times

Written by: Emmarie Huetteman