US: Same-sex military partners to receive limited benefits from September

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The Pentagon has announced that benefits for the spouses of military personnel in same-sex relationships will begin from 1 September. However, they will not be able to receive housing or healthcare benefits, leading many to feel that the changes are inadequate.

In February, the then US Defense Secretary, Leon Panetta, announced the Pentagon would extend benefits to same-sex military couples, but warned they would be limited by the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

On Thursday the Pentagon announced internally that same-sex military spouses would be able to claim education, survivor, commissary, travel, counseling and transportation benefits.

The list leaves out important housing and healthcare benefits, which cannot be granted due to DOMA.

As same-sex marriage is not universally recognised in the US, same-sex couples will be able to receive certain benefits by signing a declaration that “We are each other’s sole domestic partner, in a committed relationship, and intend to remain so indefinitely.” Opposite-sex couples must be married to receive benefits.

The President of the American Military Partners Association, Steve Peters, said: “While the benefits being extended to same-sex domestic partners are important and a step in the right direction, they are not inclusive of vitally needed benefits like health care, housing allowances, and command sponsorship for overseas duty stations.

“Some of the benefits not being extended are prohibited by the Defense of Marriage Act. If the Supreme Court does not rule in favor of same-sex marriages this month, our gay and lesbian military families will continue to suffer and sacrifice more than should be asked of them.”

The US Supreme Court is expected to rule on two cases related to equal marriage in the next three weeks, with the potential to overturn DOMA in a groundbreaking ruling for equal marriage in the whole of the US.

Family Research Council analyst Robert Maginnis condemned the Pentagon decision: “Sadly, Congress won’t do anything to defend the marriage law or force the Pentagon to stop granting member benefits to same-sex partners because it fears the Obama administration and homosexual activists. That fear became evident back in 2010, when a lame-duck Congress failed to stop repeal of the homosexual exclusion law without hearing from a single dissenting voice.”

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

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.