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Retiring Defense Secretary Leon Panetta Extends Some Military Benefits to Same-Sex Couples

Yesterday, the Pentagon announced that it would begin extending benefits to gay and lesbian service members and their families. The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) praised yesterday's announcement but said the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) still prevents gay and lesbian military families from enjoying full equality:

"Today, the Pentagon took a historic step forward toward righting the wrong of inequality in our armed forces, but there is still more work to be done. Gay and lesbian service members and their families make sacrifices every day, and this country owes them every measure of support we can provide. Since the repeal of ‘Don't Ask, Don't Tell,’ the Obama administration has shown true leadership on this issue. But even today, the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act makes inequality for gay and lesbian military families a legal requirement.

It's time to right this wrong. When the Supreme Court considers the constitutionality of DOMA in the coming weeks, they should take note of the real harm this law inflicts every day. 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. 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."{C}

Earlier this year, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) publicly called on Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to extend benefits to same-sex couples. On their blog, HRC Vice President for Communications Fred Sainz said:

“We urge the Secretary to act immediately, and ensure all members of the armed services have equal access to housing benefits, military ID cards, legal services and spousal privileges. These regulatory changes can be made independently of existing federal law, like the Defense of Marriage Act.”

Though it is a very historic move to extend benefits, these couples will not receive all benefits. Politico reports that:

"Same-sex couples will now be able to receive benefits for child care, family readiness support, emergency leave, commissary and base exchange privileges, sexual assault programs, school transportation for dependents, death and disability compensation, pay benefits for service members who are missing in action, legal assistance, space available travel on military transport, participation in military surveys, emergency leave and the ability to get a hostile environment waiver if both service members are deployed to a war zone."

Same-sex couples will not receive housing and/or health care benefits. As of now, the Defense of Marriage Act is hindering the extension of all benefits. The Obama administration has made extraordinary efforts in regards to the military with legally allowing women to serve in combat and the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell. Unfortunately, Defense Secretary Panetta will be retiring before the end of his second term. 

As of now, it is unclear who will be next Defense Secretary. Hopefully, that person will continue to make progressive leaps and bounds in the future.