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Secretary of Defense Panetta Extends Benefits of Gay and Lesbian Servicemembers
Posted by: Claude J. Summers on 02/11/13
Last updated on: 02/11/13
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Leon Panetta.

On February 11, 2013, outgoing Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta announced the extension of benefits previously unavailable to gay and lesbian servicemembers and their families. In a memorandum addressed to the secretaries of the military branches, Secretary Panetta said, "Today our military leaders are ensuring that America's sons and daughters who volunteer to serve our Nation in uniform are treated with equal dignity and respect, regardless of their sexual orientation. Our work must now expand to changing our policies and practices to ensure fairness and equal treatment and to taking care of all our servicemembers and their families, to the extent allowable under law."

In a separate statement, Panetta said that "At the time of repeal [of Don't Ask, Don't Tell], 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."

He added, "One of the legal limitations to providing all benefits at this time is the Defense of Marriage Act, which is still the law of the land. There are certain benefits that can only be provided to spouses as defined by that law, which is now being reviewed by the United States Supreme Court. While it will not change during my tenure as secretary of defense, I foresee a time when the law will allow the department to grant full benefits to service members and their dependents, irrespective of sexual orientation. Until then, the department will continue to comply with current law while doing all we can to take care of all soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines, and their families."

Among the benefits that Panetta's action confers to the families of gay and lesbian servicemembers are military ID cards for spouses, commissary privileges, Exchange privileges, joint duty assignments, travel support, emergency leave, some death and survivor benefits, child care, legal assistance, and access to support programs for military families.

The new benefits will be made available "as expeditiously as possible" but no later than October 1, 2013.

Allyson Robinson, executive director of OutServe-SLDN, issued a statement praising Panetta for his action, while also pointing out that it has been a long time coming and does not include "the larger issues of health care, housing, and survivors' benefits restricted by DOMA."

"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.

Robinson also called attention to the death on February 10, 2013 of Chief Warrant Officer Charlie Morgan who fought for equal treatment of her family.

"In light of Charlie Morgan's untimely passing and the Pentagon's long-awaited move toward equal treatment, the harm DOMA inflicts on gay and lesbian service members and their families, and on the strength of our military, could not be clearer. I hope our Supreme Court Justices are watching as these events unfold, and that they see that striking down DOMA is the only way this unjust and untenable situation can be rectified. The forces that defend 'liberty and justice for all' must be freed to embody that principle as well, and our nation must be allowed to offer our LGBT troops and their families the respect and support that their sacrifice is due," said Robinson.

In reaction to Panetta's action, the Human Rights Campaign issued the following statement: "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."

Panetta's memorandum, which may be accessed below, lists "member-designated" benefits as well as the additional benefits for same-sex partners. The memorandum also includes a domestic partnership document that may be executed by servicemembers and their partners.

Same SexBenefitsMemo by

In the video below, President Obama pays tribute to Secretary of Defense Panetta.

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