Sec. Panetta Announces Benefits for Same-Sex Military Spouses and Partners

By Michelle Garcia

Originally published on Advocate.com February 11 2013 2:28 PM ET

Same-sex partners and spouses of military personnel will now be allowed certain rights and benefits that were once restricted to heterosexual military spouses, like identification cards, and joint duty assignments.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, in one of his final duties in the post, made the rumored policy change official on Monday. The benefits will be available at some point between August 31 and October 1.

"Today, our military leaders are ensuring that all America's sons and daughters who volunteer to serve our nation in uniform are treated with equal dignity and respect, regardless of their sexual orientation," he said in a statement. "Our work must now expand to changing our policies and practices to ensure fairness and equal treatment and to taking care of all of our service memebrs and their families, to the extent allowable under the law."

Additional benefits for same-sex domestic partners include:
- Dependent ID cards, which will be renewed in accordance with existing policies
- Commissary privilges
- Morale, welfare, and recreation programs
- Surveys of military families
- Quadrennial quality of life review
- Emergency leave
- Emergency leave of absence
- Youth sponsorship program
- Youth programs
- Family center programs
- Sexual assault counseling program
- Joint duty assignments
- Exemption from hostile-fire areas
- Transportation to and from certain places of employment and on military installations
- Transportation to and from primary and secondary school for minor dependents
- Authority of service secretary to transport remains of a dependent
- Disability and death compensation: dependents of members held as captives
- Payments to missing persons
- Space-available travel on DoD aircraft
- Child care
- Legal assistance

Other benefits, such health care and housing allowances, can only be granted to same-sex couples once the Defense of Marriage Act is repealed, because those statutes are governed using the words "spouse" and "marriage." DOMA bars the federal government from recognizing the legal marriages of same-sex couples.

Additionally, Panetta said, "With regard to on-base housing, burial, and benefits related to command sponsorsip overseas, these benefits present complex legal and policy challenges due to their nexus to statutorially prohibited benefits and due to ongoing reviews about how best to provide scarce resources. The Military Serices will continue to review these benefits to determine how best to esure that all service members are treated equally regardless of sexual orientation."

Chad Griffin of the Human Rights Campaign heralded the news and said the Supreme Court should consider DOMA's harm when it comes to military families when it hears cases challenging that law as well as California's marriage ban, Proposition 8.

"The court should reflect on the sacrifice made by Americans like Staff Sergeant Tracy Johnson, whose wife was killed in action late last year, or the family of Chief Warrant Officer Charlie Morgan, who succumbed to cancer earlier this week," he said in a statement Monday. "In both cases, DOMA barred specific benefits that could soften the tragic blow of the loss of a loved one. The court should strike down this hateful law once and for all so that this country can finally guarantee full equality for all who serve."

The president of the American Military Partner Association, Stephen Peters, added that the announcement is a good step, but more must be done.

"The so-called Defense of Marriage Act continues to undermine our military families who sacrifice so much for our nation," Peters said. "This summer, we hope that the Supreme Court will make it clear that our families are just as important and deserve the same protections, benefits, and support that federal recognition brings."