Pentagon expected to extend benefits to gay couples

The Pentagon is expected to announce this week that it will extend certain benefits to the spouses of gay and lesbian military personnel, according to the Human Rights Campaign.

HRC president Chad Griffin said on Feb. 5, “We welcome the news that benefits will be extended to the same-sex spouses and partners of gay and lesbian service members, and urge Secretary (Leon) Panetta to make sure every benefit possible under the law is included. This is the logical next step in ensuring all our military families are treated with the dignity and respect they deserve."

The repeal of "don't ask, don' tell" in 2010 allowed for gays and lesbians to serve openly in the Armed Forces, but repeal did not lift barriers to gay servicemembers receiving equal benefits for their spouses and families.

HRC and other groups have repeatedly called for the Defense Department to issue military IDs to same-sex spouses and extend to same-sex couples benefits not specifically barred by the Defense of Marriage Act.

HRC said inequities include:

• Housing. Same-sex spouses in the military are ineligible for on-base housing, such as rent-free living quarters.

• Military ID cards. Same-sex spouses are ineligible for the identification card that is essential for accessing bases, morale and recreation programs and a number of other on-base amenities and services.

• Access to commissaries and exchanges. Same-sex spouses can’t access the discounted stores where most military families typically save an average of 30 percent on grocery bills.

• Personnel assignments. Military regulations do not include same-sex spouses when considering assignments. However, opposite-sex, dual-career military couples may be assigned to the same geographic reason.

• Legal services. Opposite-sex military service members and their families have access to free legal services on a variety of items, including the drafting of wills and serving as advocate and counsel. Same-sex spouses and partners do not have access to such free legal services.

Griffin said, "The military leadership have dragged their feet long enough. Two years after ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ was relegated to the dustbin of history, it’s time for our heroes in arms to finally receive the justice they deserve."

Outserve-SLDN executive director Allyson Robinson said, "Secretary Panetta established a strong civil rights record long before taking office at the Pentagon, so his unwillingness to extend support and recognition to gay and lesbian service members and their families where it is clearly within his authority to do so has baffled many of us. We are hopeful that he will not take half-measures here; for him to grant anything less than the full extent of benefits available under current law would be an anticlimactic end to an otherwise exemplary record on civil rights."

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