As one of his final acts as secretary of Defense, Leon Panetta is expected to establish more equal benefit rights for gay and lesbian military couples and their families.
According to Outserve-SLDN, Panetta will make the announcement this week, before officially leaving office. The organization has been lobbying the Pentagon and federal government to extend benefits as simple as housing and military ID access to same-sex partners of military personnel since "don't ask, don't tell" was repealed officially in 2011.
The Washington Post reports that Pentagon officials are trying to determine which benefits can be extended to same-sex couples without violating the so-called Defense of Marriage Act, which bars the federal government from recognizing same-sex relgationships. An estimated 100 benefits may be extended to partners, spouses, and families. Currently, same-sex partners and spouses are granted minimal rights.
According to the Human Rights Campaign, some of the regulatory changes that Panetta could make include housing, military identification cards, access to commissaries and exchanges, personnel assignments, legal services, and privilege to refuse to testify against spouses.
“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," said Outserve-SLDN executive director Allyson Robinson. "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.”
Robinson also praised Sen. Chuck Hagel, who is expected to be confirmed as Panetta's replacement, for assuring that he would uphold support for LGBT military families to the extent of the current law.
“Considering DADT was repealed well over a year ago, our families have waited far too long for the Defense Department to extend benefits to same-sex military spouses,” said Stephen Peters, president of the American Military Partner Association. “No military family should suffer because of outdated regulations. For the sake of our families, we hope for substantive action and look forward to hearing from Secretary Panetta on exactly what benefits will be extended.”
Rep. Adam Schiff and 25 other members of Congress urged Panetta to allow same-sex spouses certain benefits, such as military identification cards and access to Morale, Welfare, and Recreation (MWR) programs, and to allow access to family programs like deployment support, marriage and family counseling, relocation assistance, and financial management.
"We need to make sure that all military families — including those with same sex partners serving at home or abroad – have access to the very best care, facilities and services possible," Schiff said in a statement Tuesday.
Read the full letter from the 26 representatives to Secretary Panetta on the next page...