Pentagon Confirms Military Spousal Benefits for Same-Sex Couples

The Department of Defense and Social Security offered clarifications on how each federal agency will treat married same-sex couples in light of the Supreme Court's historic ruling striking down section 3 of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act.

BY Sunnivie Brydum

August 09 2013 4:21 PM ET UPDATED: August 14 2013 4:10 PM ET

The Pentagon will extend health care, housing, and other benefits to married gay and lesbian members of the military by September 3, according to a memo released by the Department of Defense today. But the department will not offer those benefits to unmarried same-sex partners, despite earlier speculations that it might do so. 

To help reconcile that inequity, the memo confirms that gay and lesbian service members within the continental U.S. will be allowed up to seven days of nonchargeable leave to travel to states where they can legally marry, subsequently allowing them to access the full roster of federal benefits, including military pensions and on-base housing. Service members stationed outside the U.S. will be allowed up to 10 days of nonchargeable leave to travel to a location with marriage equality. The DoD will recognize any marriage that is legal in the jurisdiction where it was performed, regardless of a service member's state of residence. 

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel elaborated on why the DoD decided to extend benefits only to married same-sex partners, rather than allowing service members in same-sex relationships to sign a declaration form allowing them to access some federal benefits provided by marriage. 

"The Department of Defense welcomes the Supreme Court's recent decision declaring section 3 of the Defense of Marraige Act, which prevented Federal recognition of same-sex marriages, to be unconstitutional," wrote Hagel in the memo, dated Tuesday. "It is now the Department's policy to treat all married military personnel equally. The Department will construe the words 'spouse' and 'marriage' to include same-sex spouses and marriages, and the Department will work to the make the same benefits available to all military spouses, regardless of whether they are in same-sex or opposite-sex marriages. The Department will continue to recognize all marriages that are valid in the place of celebration."

The Social Security Administration announced Friday that it was moving to implement the Supreme Court's historic rulings, which on June 26 struck down a key section of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act and dismissed California's marriage equality ban, Proposition 8, on a legal technicality. 

"I am pleased to announce that Social Security is now processing some retirement spouse claims for same-sex couples and paying benefits where they are due," said Carolyn W. Colvin, acting commissioner of Social Security, in a statement released Friday. "We continue to work closely with the Department of Justice. In the coming weeks and months, we will develop and implement additional policy and processing instructions. We appreciate the public’s patience as we work through the legal issues to ensure that our policy is legally sound and clear. I encourage individuals who believe they may be eligible for Social Security benefits to apply now, to protect against the loss of any potential benefits. We will process claims as soon as additional instructions become finalized."

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