Outgoing Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta today extended some privileges to gay members of the military and their families. Among the benefits to be offered are military ID cards for spouses, joint duty assignments, and access to support programs for military families. Via press release from Panetta’s office:
Seventeen months ago, the United States military ended the policy of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” We have implemented the repeal of that policy and made clear that discrimination based on sexual orientation has no place in the Department of Defense. At the time of repeal, I committed to reviewing benefits that had not previously been available to same-sex partners based on existing law and policy. It is a matter of fundamental equity that we provide similar benefits to all of those men and women in uniform who serve their country. The department already provides a group of benefits that are member-designated. Today, I am pleased to announce that after a thorough and deliberate review, the department will extend additional benefits to same-sex partners of service members.
Reactions are below and I’ll add more as they come in.
Though Panetta’s announcement did not include a number of important items that could have been granted – including burial rights at national cemeteries and some overseas travel for spouses, which remain under consideration – [OutServe-SDLN head Allyson] Robinson called the package “substantive” and acknowledged that the Pentagon has done almost as much as it can with the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) still on the books. “Secretary Panetta’s decision today answers the call President Obama issued in his inaugural address to complete our nation’s journey toward equality, acknowledging the equal service and equal sacrifice of our gay and lesbian service members and their families. We thank him for getting us a few steps closer to full equality – steps that will substantively improve the quality of life of gay and lesbian military families,” said Robinson.
Human Rights Campaign
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.
Freedom To Marry
Today’s announcement by the Pentagon that it will provide same-sex spouses of active service members some of the limited protections it can, within the discriminatory constraints imposed by the so-called Defense of Marriage Act, is a positive step that will help families and align with the military’s goals of treating service members fairly, while at the same time underscoring just how great a burden DOMA imposes on families and employers. All members of our armed forces provide the same service, make the same sacrifices, and take the same risks to protect our country – and the military, like many employers – would like to treat its people equally. But DOMA’s gay exception means that the federal government, including the Pentagon, may not provide family protections to families or even respect married couples as married, if they are gay.