Pentagon may revise same-sex benefits

2013-08-08 12:00
(File, AP)

(File, AP)

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Washington — The Pentagon is poised to extend healthcare, housing and other benefits to the same-sex spouses of military members by the end of August, but may reverse earlier plans to provide benefits to gay partners who are not married.

According to a draft Defence Department memo obtained on Wednesday by The Associated Press, the department instead may provide up to 10 days of leave to military personnel in same-sex relationships so they can travel to states where they can marry legally.

While no final decisions have been made, the memo from Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel to top defence leaders would reverse an earlier plan that would allow the same-sex partners of military members to sign a declaration form in order to receive limited benefits, such as access to military stores and some health and welfare programmes.

The recent Supreme Court decision extending federal benefits to legally married same-sex couples eliminates the need for such a plan, Hagel said in the draft.

"As the Supreme Court's ruling has made it possible for same-sex couples to marry and be afforded all benefits available to any military spouse and family, I have determined, consistent with the unanimous advice of the members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, that the spousal and family benefits far outweigh the benefits that could be extended under a declaration system," Hagel wrote.

According to a US official, the memo is under legal review by the Justice Department, and the Pentagon will not be able to take any action until that review is finished. The official was not authorised to discuss the memo publicly, so spoke on condition of anonymity.

No sweeping declarations

Pentagon officials would not comment on the specifics of the memo. A Defence Department spokesperson, Lieutenant Commander Nate Christensen, said only that the Pentagon "is working alongside the Department of Justice to implement the court's decision as quickly as possible".

In February, then-Defence Secretary Leon Panetta announced that by no later than 1 October the Pentagon would extend some limited benefits to same-sex partners of service members. Housing benefits were not included, but the plans called for same-sex partners to get special identification cards granting them access to commissaries and other services.

The benefits would be contingent on the service member and their same-sex partner signing a declaration that they were in a committed relationship.

At the time, officials said that if the Supreme Court ruled on the federal Defence of Marriage Act the issue would be revisited. The act prohibited the federal government from recognising any marriage other than that between a man and a woman.

In late June, the court cleared the way for legally married gay couples to be recognised under federal law, and also allowed same-sex marriages in California to resume. It did not issue any sweeping declarations that would allow same-sex couples to marry anywhere in the country.

When the ruling was announced, Hagel said the Pentagon would reassess the department's decisions on benefits for same-sex couples, and also begin the process of extending benefits to same-sex spouses of military members.

18 000 gay couples in the US military

In the new draft memo, Hagel says the department intends to treat all married military personnel the same and "make the same benefits available to all military spouses, regardless of sexual orientation".

But, recognising that same-sex couples are only allowed to marry in a limited number of states, Hagel said the provision allowing service members to travel to states where the unions are legal is a way to help overcome those challenges.

Defence officials estimate there are 18 000 same-sex couples in the active-duty military, National Guard and Reserves. It's unclear how many of those are married.

The repeal of the ban on openly gay military service took effect in September 2011.

Read more on:    us  |  gay rights

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