The Pentagon is set to announce that it will extend some partner benefits to gay and lesbian service members as early as today. While the Department of Defense is unlikely to find a way to offer full health-care coverage and more than 93 other spousal benefits granted by Congress while the Defense of Marriage Act remains in effect, outgoing Defense Secretary Panetta must seize the opportunity to extend these benefits to same-sex military spouses to the fullest extent possible under the law.
The checklist of 11 benefits Secretary Panetta can and should extend to same-sex military spouses include:
- Allowing same-sex dual-military spouses to be considered for joint duty assignments to assure that their families will not be forced to separate as a result of the military’s need to routinely relocate personnel. As the regulation is currently written, same-sex spouses are not eligible for joint duty assignments, so they are at increased risk of separation when they receive orders for a new duty station.
- Issuing explicit guidance that states a same-sex spouse cannot be prevented from visiting a spouse or a child in a military hospital because that couple’s marriage isn’t recognized by the federal government. Current Pentagon regulations allow military health treatment facilities that do not participate in Medicare to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation.
- Issuing military identification cards to same-sex partners of military personnel so they can shop at military commissaries, and access gymnasiums, movie theaters, and other family support programs on bases and posts that are freely available to heterosexual spouses. Military regulations currently do not allow a same-sex spouse to obtain such a military identification card and bar these military family members from taking advantage of on-base benefits and support programs.
Since the 2011 repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” military families headed by same-sex spouses have been barred from accessing these legally available benefit programs and support services. In his last days before leaving office, Defense Secretary Panetta can and must extend benefits to same-sex military spouses. Doing so would not only uphold the strong civil rights record he has accrued at the Defense Department, but would also send a clear message to Congress and the Supreme Court that we must ensure that all our military members — gay, straight, male, or female — are treated with the dignity and respect they deserve.
Our guest bloggers are Robert Avruch, intern for CAP External Affairs, and Katie Miller, Special Assistant for LGBT Progress.