Military to Extend Some Benefits to Gay Partners

Leon Panetta's last week as Defense secretary will see the extension of some partner benefits to gay military personnel.


  UPDATED: November 14 2013 9:05 PM ET

Dear Secretary Panetta,
As you prepare to leave the Department of Defense, please accept our gratitude for your years of service to the Nation, including your many years as a member of the House of Representatives.
During your tenure, the American military has taken the historic step of stopping discrimination against gay and lesbian service members by ending the policy of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT), which allowed gays, lesbians and bisexuals to serve in the military, provided they did not reveal their sexual orientation. This change has not only made our military a truer reflection of the country it protects, but it has also occurred without any of the disruption that critics had predicted.  Much of that is due to your leadership and the senior leadership of the Armed Services.
However, as a recent article in the New York Times illustrates, the end of DADT has not meant the end of unequal treatment of same sex spouses of U.S. service members, who are denied a wide range of services and benefits – from health insurance to pre-deployment counseling, to access to base commissaries.  As long as they remain in place, these restrictions have the effect of perpetuating discrimination against same sex spouses and their families.
We understand that most of the benefits available to veterans, service members and their families are granted directly by Congress. Well over a hundred of these statutory benefits are contingent on marital status. These benefits will remain unavailable to legally married same sex couples unless the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is repealed or declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court this year or individual statutes are modified by Congress. In the meantime, there are several executive actions that you can take to ease the burden and increase the inclusiveness of all of our service members and their families.
We strongly urge you to issue same sex spouses military identification cards and registration in the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System (DEERS). This is the easiest and simplest step to include same sex partners as part of the Department of Defense family.
We urge you to allow same sex partners access to Morale, Welfare, and Recreation (MWR) programs. Current regulations leave open to Installation Commanders the possibility of opening up limited access to certain MWR programs to guests and the general public. These exceptions would be applied regardless of sexual orientation or individual situations; in other words, a same sex spouse could receive guest privileges, just as the girlfriend or boyfriend of a straight service member receives at present, and would likely be treated as any non-dependent member of the public.
We also urge you to allow same sex partners access to family programs. The Department uses a flexible definition of “family” for the purpose of implementing Family Centers and programming, but leaves it up to the individual Service Secretaries to determine eligibility. Thus, each branch of the service (and each installation commander) determines the extent to which same sex spouses and partners have access to these programs, which include deployment support, marriage and family counseling, relocation assistance and financial management.
Department of Defense current policy is treating service members, their same sex spouses and families as second class citizens. As President Obama stated during his inaugural speech, “Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law, for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal, as well.”
We strongly urge you take immediate action to rectify the inequality of benefits available to families of gay or lesbian service members.
Adam Schiff
Co-signers: Jackie Speier, Gwen Moore, Barbara Lee, Jerrold Nadler, Alan Lowenthal, Julia Brownley, Sam Farr, Gerry Connolly, Jim Moran, Mike Honda, Rick Larsen, Tim Bishop, Tulsi Gabbard, Raul Grijalva, Judy Chu, Chellie Pingree, Carolyn Maloney, Michael E. Capuano, Dina Titus, Beto O'Rourke, Steve Israel, Carol Shea-Porter, Jared Polis, Jared Huffman