Updated: Panetta extends benefits to same-sex military families
Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta on Monday announced he will extend to nearly the full extent permitted under current law the benefits available to gay and lesbian service members and their families.
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 — advocates called the package “substantive” and acknowledged that the Pentagon has done almost as much as it can with the federal 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,” said Allyson Robinson, Executive Directory ofOutServe-SLDN, an national advocacy group for LGBT service members and veterans.
“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 militaryfamilies,” said Robinson.
The package of recognition, support, and benefits — which includes the issuance of military identification cards, access to family support initiatives, and joint duty assignments — does not address the larger issues of health care, housing, and survivors’ benefits restricted by DOMA and other federal statutes.
“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,” said Chad Griffin, President of the Human Rights Campaign.
“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,” said Griffin.
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.”
The Supreme Court is set to consider DOMA next month, and is expected to issue a ruling later this year.
Developing story, stay tuned for updates.
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