By Michelle Garcia
Originally published on Advocate.com January 31 2012 4:38 PM ET
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is being urged to start extending all benefits and recognition to the families, partners, and spouses of gay members of the military.
Aubrey Sarvis of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network wrote an open letter to Panetta, calling for immediate action to extend such benefits, as the one-year anniversary approaches of the Defense Department issuing its guidelines on "don't ask, don't tell" repeal.
“The repeal of 'don't ask, don’t tell,' while an historic victory for equality, has created two classes of service members in the U.S. military—those who receive all available benefits and support and those who don’t" Sarvis said in a statement Monday. "Secretary Panetta has the clear authority, within the confines of the law, to make same-gender married couples and their families eligible to take part in some of the programs that are available to all other service members, even while the Defense of Marriage Act is still on the books."
Earlier this month the military announced its Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Program. The program ensures that if a member of the military is sexually assaulted, that person and his or her family should also have the opportunity to go to counseling. Sarvis applauded the program in his letter but said this initiative excludes the same-sex partners of gay, lesbian, and bisexual service personnel.
"While we applaud your efforts to expand this program to cover many more people in the military family, we are troubled that it continues this same sort of discrimination," he said in a follow-up to a similar letter sent to Panetta in August.
Other benefits and programs that exclude service members with same-sex partners include joint duty assignments, family center programs, and military family housing.