The Pentagon has decided to extend new benefits to same sex military families, according to sources notified about the decision. New benefits may include housing privileges, joint duty assignments for uniformed couples and access to base recreational facilities.
Legal experts say there are more than 100 other spousal benefits, such as offering health care coverage, that are unlikely to be offered while the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) remains in effect.
The announcement comes as momentum has grown to offer full equality for same-sex couples. President Obama appealed for gay Americans to be “treated like anyone else under the law” in his inaugural address last month, and just last weekend encouraged the Boy Scouts of America to end its ban on gay members.
The Supreme Court is expected to rule on the constitutionality of DOMA, as well as other related matters, this coming June. Supporters noted that the new guidelines come on the heels of rescinding the ban on openly gay service members as well as the decision to allow women to serve in combat units, and hope these changes will shore up support for marriage equality.
“If you provide benefits to individuals seen as the most deserving and the social fabric doesn’t tear, that does make it easier down the line to do away with DOMA,” said Tammy S. Schultz, the director of the National Security and Joint Warfare Program at the Marine Corps War College, “It could be a flanking maneuver to keep chipping away at it,” the Washington Post reports.
The military has continued to struggle with issues relating to same-sex couples ever since “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was repealed in September of 2011, and currently has a two-tiered system in place that treats families differently.
Since December, the military has been under increasing pressure, as Ashley Broadway, the wife of a female lieutenant colonel, was denied full membership to an officers spouses organization at Fort Bragg. The organization finally relented the same day that Broadway was named “military spouse of the year” by the Military Spouse magazine, and granted her a full membership.
As the issue has continued to gain momentum in recent months, various senators and lawmakers have pushed for reform. In a letter to Panetta by Rep. Adam Schiff (D.-Calif), signed by 25 lawmakers, he stated that the, “Department of Defense current policy is treating same sex service members, their spouses and families as second class citizens.”
A letter written by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and co-signed by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and urged Panetta to, “secure your legacy on this critical issue, we urge you to change Defense Department rules to extend as many benefits as possible.”
Cmdr. Leslie Hull-Ryde, a Pentagon spokeswoman stated that the department has already granted some benefits to same-sex spouses, mainly relating to troop deaths and other emergencies, but has been conducting a “deliberative and comprehensive review of the possibility of extending eligibility for benefits, when legally permitted, to same-sex domestic partners.”
Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta is expected to make a formal announcement this week.