US: Secretary of Defense announces extension of benefits to same-sex military couples

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a pink background.

The US Defense Secretary has confirmed recent reports that the Pentagon is to extend some benefits to same-sex military couples.

Last week, reports suggested that that the Pentagon was preparing to extend some benefits to same-sex partners of gay service members.

A statement from Leon Panetta, Secretary of Defense, referred to the repeal of the ban on openly gay military service people, Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, which was repealed on 20 September 2011.

A study released in September 2012 revealed that the repeal of the ban on openly gay people serving in the US military, one year on, had no negative impact.

Today’s statement read: “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.

“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.

“Extending these benefits is an appropriate next step under current law to ensure that all service members receive equal support for what they do to protect this nation.”

Referring to the Defense of Marriage Act, which still stands as law, defining marriage on a federal level as being exclusively between one man and one woman, Mr Panetta said that the scope of benefits which could be offered was limited.

He said that he did not foresee that it would be repealed during his time as Defense Secretary, but that he looked forward to a time when equal benefits were enjoyed by all.

Earlier this week, a former disgraced Navy chaplain, Gordon Klingenschmitt PhD, argued that allowing equal benefits would lead to “discrimination against heterosexuals”.

The Pentagon recently backed army leaders at a North Carolina base who chose not to intervene in the case of the wife of a lesbian service member who was denied admittance into a spouses’ club, citing that discrimination laws did not extend to sexual orientation. 

The wife of the lesbian soldier who was denied membership to Fort Bragg’s spouses club was later invited to become a full member, hours after winning the base’s “Spouse of the Year” award.

In late January, a coalition of businesses formed in support of the Respect for Marriage Act, which would repeal the Defense of Marriage Act, to allow equal marriage recognition to same-sex couples federally.

Several states have found that DOMA is unconstitutional, and although it has not been repealed, in February 2011, President Barack Obama said his administration would cease enforcing the federal ban on equal marriage.